Kindness Eggs: Spring Idea to Inspire Compassion & Community Engagement

You may have heard of the spreading of joy and creativity via yarn bombs, seed bombs, art bombs, play bombs … but how about kindness bombs? This spring holiday season, rather than plastic eggs filled with sweet treats made out of corn syrup and artificial ingredients, consider swapping them out with little notes of kindness! Make it a part of your family tradition, donate a basket of kindness filled eggs to a community egg hunt tradition, or place your kindness eggs in a nearby park or playground for the joy of discovery by others. Brighten someones day while supporting values of kindness and community engagement.
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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 »

Let’s Play: Stories from Family Holidays to Inspire Creative Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Stories To Inspire Creative Free Play

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

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

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

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

December Collections

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

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December Resources

Related Posts:

 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

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

Let’s Play: 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 »

11 Ideas for Creative Free Play

Creative Free Play Encourages Child’s Development

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

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

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

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

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Bringing the Outside In: Activities for Toddlers

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

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

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

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Let’s Play: Guerrilla Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Play it Forward

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

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

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

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

February Resources


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

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

Let’s Play: Great Day for Snow Play!

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Go Out in the Snow a Bit Each Day!

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

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

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

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Enjoy the season!

January Collections

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

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

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


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

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

Let’s Play: 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.

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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.

Q&A: 5 Ways to Enjoy Shorter Days with Less Light

QUESTION AND ANSWERS

With shorter days descending upon us, how do you get your kids to enjoy the outdoors even with less light? We want to hear from you! Share your ideas here.

Now that the days are getting shorter, do you have any ideas or suggestion on how to get the kids to enjoy  outdoors even with less light?

Community recommendations from our readers include:

  1. Head Lamps
  2. Glow Sticks
  3. Explore the Night Sky
  4. Listen for Night Sounds
  5. Games

  • Audrey Nystrom Anderson writes, “Getting dark at 5pm gives you the chance to experience the dark in the eyes of a 3 year old. My son and I donned our head lamps and went outside into the dark…we first did a hunt for dinosaurs, then chased our cat around the yard, then just yelled and listened to our echos. It was pretty fun, and I look forward to doing it again tomorrow. Who says you have to be stuck inside when it’s dark out?!”
  • Jenna Lyn writes, “Glow sticks!! Lots of glow sticks!!”
  • Shoshona King writes, “That sounds like a great way to teach kids not to be afraid of the dark.”
  • Abbe Laine Schiowitz writes, “Take the outside inside and go to the rock climbing gym in Hadley, Central Rock Gym. They even have a mini rock wall upstairs for the littles!”
  • Theresa D Lafer writes, “Get your star map and explore the heavens; lie on a blanket and just look up… And while there are no more lightening bugs, there are plenty of night sounds; practice holding still and listening together… is there a neighborhood owl perhaps?”
  • Andrew Varady writes, “That never made any difference to us and I grew up in Canada where we get the short days a lot sooner.Hide n’ Seek, Kick the Can, Red Rover, Relieve-Le, Simon Says and other games too numerous to mention.  The closest pole with a street light was always home base.

[Photo credit: (ccl) SPH]

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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: Community Conversation on Creative-Free Play Continues

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

In a recent interview with the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Dr. Susan Linn, founder of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, says, "This is the first time in history that, even during leisure time, we can no longer assume that children are engaging in active creative play. Creative play is no longer the norm, the norm is now that kids will be in front of a TV." - How does your family protect, promote and reserve time for creative free play? There are many challenges, and many great ideas too! Share yours! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Leading up to the Dr. Susan Linn’s visit last week for the Hilltown Families Community Conversation, The Importance of Creative Play in a Commercialized World with Dr. Susan Linn, we engaged our readers on the topic of creative free play by asking them about favorite toys, how to reserve time for creative free play, and how they feel they can protect and promote play for their kids.
We started off by asking our readers to share their child’s favorite toy and if they remembered a favorite toy they had from their own childhood.

  • Kara Kitchen wrote: Legos! Me and my kids!
  • Sienna Wildfield wrote: We have a large cedar chest filled with dress up clothes, costumes and accessories picked up at tag sales here and there that our daughter loves! And when I was a kid, my favorite “toy” was my bike!
  • Jess Kuttner wrote: Legos at our house too! When I was very young I had a couple of dolls that were more like companions and went along with a lot of imaginary play.
  • Martha Maloney wrote: My kids – wooden blocks, me, wooden blocks and a favorite doll I still have from so long ago..

After sharing favorite toys, we asked families if/how they are able to reserve time for creative free play for their kids, inviting readers to share strategies or challenges they experience with finding free time for their kids to play.

  • Jeanne Westcott shared: The problem is that when parents discover the benefits of play and expect their children to explore those benefits in daycare or preschool settings, they will be very disappointed. the majority of these necessary organizations are still using the empty slate concept and forced early learning is the norm….I got so sad I had to change careers.
  • Diane Hinze Kanzler shared: I have to say that the Early Learning Academy in Greenfield, where my child attended pre-school, had the best free play EVER. No complaints here.
  • Pauline Delton shared:  I have an only child, and we don’t have a lot of kids in our neighborhood with whom we’ve connected. We found a group of families who make a conscious effort to gather at least once a week (the common thread is that we homeschool, so we do… this on a weekday). It is amazing what kids will find to do when they have their imaginative little brains working together. We went to the dinosaur tracks last week… the adults were wondering how on Earth this trip would last more than 30 minutes, but we were there for over 2 hours! Parks, wildlife sanctuaries, arts and crafts, cooking, reading, puzzles are all great activities. The challenge for us is when we’re inside, but even when my son is playng with toys (like Legos), he’s being creative.
  • Margaret Betts shared: ‎10 years ago we got rid of our TV. It is amazing how insulated we are from commercial media, Q&A: Toys and Play: hteven with computers and other technology. I encourage all people to throw away your TVs!
  • Melissa Moody Belmonte shared: One of the main reasons we homeschool.
  • Swansea Benham Bleicher shared: Not having TV connection is key for us.

And last week for our Q&A column we shared reader responses to how parents can protect and promote creative free play for their kids.

Let’s continue this Community Conversation on creative free play!  Share your questions, comments, resources and suggestions in the comment field to continue the dialog.

Unexpected Last Days of Summer Play

Running on Empty

He runs—five to ten miles per day with his cross country team. He jumps-before and after cross country practice-on a super charged pogo stick. He flips-on a trampoline before sunrise and way after sunset. He skates, scats skedaddles—up and down the street and around the block on a skate board, on a long board, on a bike, on two feet. He never stops; not even to fuel all that movement with food or drink.

It’s a typical summer scenario. Gannan, the quintessential boy, wakes up at the crack of dawn to soak up every single second of play time that he can wring out of a sweltering sunny day. Breakfast, if eaten at all, is usually a piece of fruit or a granola bar that he can shove down his throat as he’s whipping open the backdoor (only to throw the wrapper on the lawn as the back gate slams.) At lunch time, I scream my voice hoarse trying to locate my Prince-of-Playtime. He comes reluctantly, shoulders slumped, smelling of sweat and dirt and grass, but will stubbornly stay out on the front porch until the food is absolutely ready–not wanting to let one second of fresh air miss his awaiting nose. Somehow it is as if all that playing has caused his legs to forget how to bend him to a seated position. So he stands…and bounces…up and down… and wolfs a half a sandwich in one bite. He runs toward the front door. I yell “Halt” and hand him an 8 ounce glass of milk. Foot tapping, he drinks half and then those tapping feet bolt him out through the portal-of-play. Dinner is much the same. Even though I require that he must spend at least ten minutes at the family dinner table, he still will eat a half of a hot dog in a great big chomp and shovel a handful of fries into his mouth so that they stick out like the whiskers of the Energizer Bunny. Feigning a stomach ache he says he can eat no more and then bounces his right leg up and down, keeping the engine revving, looking at the clock, sighing with head in hand, blowing his long bangs out of his eyes, doing whatever it is so that he can get away from that table and back out to paradise. As he bolts once more, I again demand he drink “at least SOMETHING!” He dramatically takes in a gulp of milk and dashes off to greener pastures with his mother smiling after him, marveling at his energy.

Okay, so to some of you this description of a boy and his love for summer will conjure some smiles and make you wistful for the days of Andy and Opie walking to the “crick” with their fishing poles slung over their shoulders. However, after what happened this week, the description makes me feel ashamed. Yes. That’s right. I said ashamed. Not sunny. Not whistly. Not reminiscent of days gone by….nope. Ashamed. Here’s why.

Last Saturday, I awoke to a very ghostly looking boy standing at the foot of my bed asking me where the thermometer was. His arms were holding his comforter tightly around him, pathetically and weakly whispering, “I don’t think I feel good.” Since this is not a phrase that typically is spoken by Gannan because he knows it is one that would seal his fate INSIDE for the day, I immediately pop the thermometer in his mouth. It reads 103 degrees, and so I begin all the “mom” things that we do when we have a sick kid. Get him set up on the couch, ply him with Advil, coo and coddle. I suggest to him that he sip a little ginger ale and I wait for the protest. But to my surprise, he doesn’t. Instead he asks for water, and I give him water; glass after glass after glass. It seems as if he is a bottomless pit and can’t get enough H2O. That’s not the only thing that is unusual. He practically begs for food. I question my husband….”What’s that saying? Feed a cold-starve a fever. Or is it–starve a cold and feed a fever?” No matter. He wanted food; an egg and cheese sandwich to be exact, and then a bowl of cereal, and then a strawberry milkshake, and then another. All eaten in the span of two hours. He was ravenous. He was severely parched, very odd behavior for a sick kid. Or was it?

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The Power of Play

The Power of Play

While parental involvement is key to great playtime experiences, parents shouldn't feel a need to join in every aspect of their child's play. In fact, active time spent alone or with peers is an equally important part of a child's development. (Photo Credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Whether it’s a family checkers tournament or an afternoon spent examining anthills in the backyard, play is an integral part of a happy, healthy childhood. Parent-choice.org has put together a collection of articles and essays to offer a starting point for exploring how children play and how powerful play can be.  Click HERE to read more.

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