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 »

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’s Play: Simple Play at the Table

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

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

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

Let’s Play: Guerrilla Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Play it Forward

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

February Resources


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

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

Victorian Valentines Workshop & Era Days at Wistariahurst Museum

Victorian Valentines Workshop
Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke
Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Join museum staff for an afternoon of crafting valentines for friends, family and sweethearts on Sunday, February 10th. Antique valentines, bygone love poems and enchanting phrases will be on display for inspiration.

On Sunday, February 10 from 1-3pm, come to Wistariahurst Museum for this fun and creative program that will inspire the artist in everyone! In 1847, the year she graduated from Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts received her first Valentine’s Day card. She was so pleased with this English novelty that she tried making some valentines of her own. With the help of her brother, a salesman who carried her cards with him along with his other samples, she received $5,000 worth of orders her first year in business!

Esther was able to handle the large volume of orders by employing friends and using “assembly-line” techniques for the production of her cards. Her cards were covered with an array of linen lace, colored paper, hand-painted birds and flowers and hand-inscribed, rhymed messages.

Esther found herself a true businesswoman by the end of 1849. She continued to make valentines for two decades. She eventually would profit $50,000 -$100,000 annually from the sale of her cards. Esther Howland’s business success made her one of America’s first “modern woman.”

Channel your inner Esther by creating your own beautiful, unique card for special friends, family and sweethearts. Antique valentines, bygone love poems and enchanting phrases will be on display for inspiration. Reservations for the workshop are suggested. $5 per person.

Victorian Era Days

Holyoke: From Monday, February 18 to Thursday, February 21 from 11am – 12pm, step out of the winter doldrums and back in time at Wistariahurst Museum! The museum is offering daily craft workshops for interested Girl Scouts and other young women. Victorian Era days is a program designed to educate young women on pastimes of yore. $5 per person per activity. Reserve online at www.wistariahurst.org

Monday, February 18, 11am-12pm: Decorated Diaries
Each member of the Skinner family kept countless journals, diaries and scrapbooks. Help keep the tradition alive by binding and decorating your own diary and learning a bit more about what was in the heads of the Skinner family.

Tuesday, February 19, 11am-12pm: Build a Bookmark
Before Kindles & Nooks there existed books! Often acting as mini-scrapbooks, bookmarks were more than just a placeholder. Join us for story-time and the opportunity to make your own bookmark keepsake.

Wednesday, February 20, 11am-12pm: Historic Hats & Hatboxes
First, take a peek at some of the antique hats Wistariahurst has gathered over time in its archives. Then, after being inspired by such ornate headwear, decorate your own miniature hatbox to take home with you!

Thursday, February 19, 11am-12pm: Fancy Fans
Become bilingual in the language of the fan with an afternoon at Wistariahurst! Scouts can see some examples of antique fans and then have the chance to decorate their own. Ending the hour of fun is a lesson on the art of communicating with your fan.

Wistariahurst Museum is located at 238 Cabot Street in Holyoke. For more information, please call 413-322-5660 or go online at www.wistariahurst.org.

-Submitted by Marjorie Latham [Photo credit: (ccl) SLV]

Let’s Play: Great Day for Snow Play!

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Go Out in the Snow a Bit Each Day!

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Enjoy the season!

January Collections

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

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

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


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

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

Let’s Play: Alternate Identities

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Alternate Identities: Masks

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

What to Collect

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

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

Resources

Online

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

Books

Knitting Patterns


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

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

Let’s Play: Collages

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Crazy Collage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to Collection

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

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

Resources


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

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

Let’s Play: Special Places

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Clubhouses, Forts, Tents & Hideouts

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

Let’s Play: Tactile Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Kid Goop and Tactile Play

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

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

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

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

KID GOO RECIPES

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

COLLECTIONS

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

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

RESOURCES

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


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

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

Let’s Play: Miniature Playhouses & Creative Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Tiny Playhouses

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

WHAT TO COLLECT

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

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

Let’s Play: Monsters and Creative Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Monsters

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

Resources

Collections

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

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

Let’s Play: Puppets and Creative Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Puppets

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

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

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

Play Bombs

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

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

Resources

Collections

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

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

Let’s Play: Books and Creative Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

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


Going on a Bear Hunt

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

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

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

Here it is:

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

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

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

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

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

Resources

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

Collections

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

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

Q&A: Consumerism and Commercialization During the Holidays

QUESTION AND ANSWERS

Many families make their own gifts as a way to beat excessive consumerism and commercialization during the holidays. One DIY gift is a personalized clipboard (click on image to enlarge). Partner it with a ream of copy paper and a box of 8 colored pencils and give to the young artists in your life! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

How does YOUR family handle excessive consumerism and commercialization during the holidays?

  • Amanda Saklad writes, “We don’t visit any malls from October until February. Crazy out there!”
  • Meagheanne Donahue writes, “My son gets “ten and a goat”. Santa brings him ten Christmas presents (not big ticket items, usually just movies, Legos, board games, etc.) and a donation in his name to Heifer International. Santa even leaves a Heifer International card under the tree with a note about how it makes such a difference. My son is 8 year old, this is our 5th year doing “ten & a goat” and he LOVES it! Plus, it keeps him from going crazy with the “I wants” this time of year.”
  • Angelique Phoenix writes, “Just say no!”
  • Pauline Delton writes, “We don’t celebrate Christmas, and we were very clear when our son was a baby that we wanted him to love relatives/friends for who they are and not for what they buy (for birthdays, random gifts, for Christmas–which the relatives celebrate). We discussed our love for and the benefits of secondhand items, visits/passes/experiences instead of “things” that would break/take up space/etc. Despite this, we had a set of grandparents who would bring a new thing on a WEEKLY basis, and we talked with them once about it and then even more firmly a second time, and thankfully it stopped. I know some people say it’s rude to reject gifts, but once someone has dismissed your boundaries and has made the choice to do something you clearly didn’t want done, it’s not you who’s being rude. *shrug*”
  • Susan Countryman writes, “We focus on giving instead of getting–and incorporate handmade gifts.”
  • Phoebe Shaw writes, “We hide. Then we just buy them everything they want at the last possible minute.”
  • Dawn Klein writes, “I’m making some of my gifts and my one-year-old doesn’t watch the tube, so no Disney, Elmo, etc. I want her to use her imagination. I purchased some musical toys. Any other suggestions for her? Thanks.”
  • Desiree DuBois writes, “We make a lot of our gifts- jams, flavored vinegars, cordials, cookies or festive breads make nice gifts, or we buy locally made maple syrup or other products by local farmers & artists & value- added producers to keep as much money as possible in our local community.”
  • Tracy Tirrell Griffith writes, This year we are focusing on helping others and keeping things very simple and focusing on the true meaning of Christmas.”

Victorian History Comes Alive During the Holidays

Victorian Holiday Traditions & Events

According to the Wistariahurst Museum, "During the Victorian Era, a London newspaper published a drawing depicting the royal family of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert adorning a Christmas tree with lighted candles, tinsel, ribbon and paper chains. With this, Christmas bloomed into a season rife with tradition." Families can make orange pomanders during the museums Victorian Crafts for the Holidays Youth and Family Program this Saturday, Dec. 10th from 1-3pm in Holyoke. And Wednesday, Dec 7th from 4-5pm, families can make lemon pomanders at the Pine Point Branch Library in Springfield. - Want to make pomanders at home with your kids? Click on the image above for a DIY pictorial

Did you know that many of our holiday customs have origins from the Victorian era?  From Christmas trees decorated with candies and fruits and presents placed under the tree, to plum pudding and Wassail, many of our modern day traditions can be traced back to the Victorian age.

Christmas in the 1800’s was authentic, and celebrations weren’t distracted by commercialization as our modern day Christmas observances can be.  The holiday focused on celebrating with friends and family.

According to the BBC, “The Victorians transformed the idea of Christmas so that it became centred around the family. The preparation and eating of the feast, decorations and gift giving, entertainments and parlour games – all were essential to the celebration of the festival and were to be shared by the whole family.”

During the holiday season families can take a step back into history with Victorian influence singing, crafts and productions that happen throughout Western MA. Tomorrow afternoon, families can meet at the Pine Point Branch Library in Springfield and make lemon pomanders to give as gifts while learning about the history of this Victorian craft.  And this coming Saturday, Dec. 10th, the  Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke hosts Victorian Crafts for the Holidays where families can make orange pomanders, Christmas crackers and other Victorian crafts.

Christmas by Candlelight at Old Stubridge Village happens for three weekends in December where families can enjoy  horse-drawn sleigh rides, hands-on art activities, visits from Father Christmas, readings and listening to Victorian carolers.

Families can further enjoy Victorian caroling all weekend long this coming Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10th-11th, in the Berkshires at the Lenox Caroling Festival, and in the evening on Saturday, Dec. 10th the Victorian Singers will be singing holiday carols in period-costume at St. James Place in Great Barrington at 6pm.

Starting December 17th at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, families can journey back to Victorian England and experience the classic story, A Christmas Carol, performed by the Berkshire Theatre Group for eleven shows scheduled through December 30th.

Check the Hilltown Families list of Weekly Suggested Events every Thursday afternoon for more non-commercial events for the holidays.  And be sure to sign up for or weekly eNewsletter to have an updated mailed right to your inbox once a week.

Have a Victorian tradition your family enjoys?  Share in our comment box below.

[Photo credit (ccl) Aprile Clark]

How to Choose Non-Commercial Toys that Promote Creative Free Play this Holiday Season

TRUCE Action Guides: Toys, Media & Children

TRUCE is a national group of educators deeply concerned about the impact of children’s entertainment and toys on their play and behavior. Their goal is to raise public awareness about the negative effects of violent, sexualized, and stereotyped toys and media on children, families, schools, and society.

It’s Black Friday and many parents have holiday gift buying on their minds.  The discussion of holiday buying looms large in our community, with folks chatting about buying local, buying handmade, and buying non-commercial.

Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment (TRUCE), a Massachusetts based group of educators concerned about how children’s toys and entertainment are affecting the play and behavior of kids, has a few guides available on media and play that will help aid parents in making informed decisions and choices when it comes to toys that promote creative free play:

Toys, Play & Young Children Action Guide

This guide will help parents and educators promote children’s creative and constructive play, and make informed choices about toys, and work with others at home, school, and in the community to support positive play.

In this guide TRUCE highlights that toys have high play value when they…

  • Can be used in many ways.
  • Allow children to be in charge of the play.
  • Appeal to children at more than one age or level of development.
  • Are not linked to video games, computers, TV, or movies.
  • Can be used with other toys for new and more complex play.
  • Will stand the test of time and continue to be part of play as children develop new interests and
    skills.
  • Promote respectful, non-stereotyped, non-violent interactions among children.
  • Help children develop skills important for further learning and a sense of mastery.
  • Can be used by children to play alone as well as with others. Can be enjoyed by both girls and boys.

TRUCE invites parents to copy and distribute their guides to help spread the word in your community.  Download this guide here:

TRUCE: Toys, Play & Young Children Action Guide (pdf)
TRUCE: Toys, Play & Young Children Action Guide (Spanish pdf)

Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media Action Guide

Want to provide your little one with experiences that will enhance healthy play and development? This guide will help you understand why quality play is vital for your child’s growth and what you can do to support it.

In this guide TRUCE warns parents to  “Beware of BRANDING! Children’s media characters are often used by marketers on toys, clothing, and foods to capture young children’s attention. Why is this a problem? Whenever kids see it, they want it because it’s familiar. These kinds of licensing agreements, which support branding efforts, can lead to unwise buying choices, unhealthy eating habits and nagging.”

Download this guide here:

TRUCE: Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media Action Guide (Spanish pdf)
TRUCE: Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media Action Guide (pdf)

To learn more about TRUCE, visit www.truceteachers.org.


RELATED POSTS:

%d bloggers like this: