Natural Nature Learning

by Deborah Taylor-Hough

Our family hasn’t been blessed with acres of property off in the country for our children to frolic to their hearts content. But a small city lot and many local parks have offered us tremendous opportunities for outdoor learning activities.

PARKS

To make up for the lack of open natural space in our neighborhood, we go to various local parks at least two to three times per week. We don’t go to the parks for the play equipment but for the exposure to a more natural setting. We are about half-an-hour driving time from Puget Sound so we often frequent parks with direct beach access. Continue reading

Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Bard?

by Debi Taylor-Hough

A number of years ago (I think it was more than ten), we added Shakespeare to our family’s educational activities for the first time. My daughter loved our field trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and I don’t think I ever would have thought of introducing my children to The Bard at such a young age if it weren’t for the inspiration of Charlotte Mason, a British educator from the late 1800’s.

First, we read through Charles and Mary Lamb’s story version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the book Tales from Shakespeare just to enjoy the plot and make sure we understood the basic story line before attempting to wade through the Elizabethan English of the play itself. Continue reading

Frugal Easter Basket Ideas

j0401449.jpgIf you look forward to giving Easter baskets to your children each year but don’t enjoy the high price of expensive pre-made baskets, here are some simple ideas for saving money on this fun holiday tradition. Like anything else you buy, it helps to set a spending limit — maybe $5 or $10 per Easter basket. Then have fun being creative and trying to keep within your basket budget.

Our family usually reserves Easter baskets and Easter Egg Hunts for the Saturday just before Easter — saving Sunday for church and family celebrations.

I try to shop for Easter basket fillers in advance (I use the same principle for Christmas stocking stuffers, too). You can keep a basket in the corner of a closet for storing these types of items found throughout the year. Keep an eye out for small games and toys in clearance bins at the grocery store, at dollar stores, and during any stops to thrift stores or yard sales.

In the days immediately following Halloween, bags of candy often go on sale for half price (or less), so I’ll sometimes purchase several bags of family favorites and stick them in the freezer. Frozen candy will keep quite nicely until Easter.

Small, fun items that you’ll probably need to purchase for your children during the course of the year can be saved to include in their Easter baskets: crayons, felt pens, glue stick, glitter glue, novelty toothbrushes, fun-flavored toothpastes, hair ribbons, barrettes, a new hair brush, bubble bath in fun containers.

Ideas for the Basket Itself:

  • Wicker baskets can be reused year after year (a nice tradition in itself). These can be used other times during the year for decoration or for storing small items. You can also reuse the decorative grass from year to year.
  • Paper bags decorated with bunnies, eggs, flowers, etc.
  • Easter bonnets. If you’re going to be purchasing an Easter bonnet for your daughter, turn it upside down and fill with goodies.
  • Inexpensive colorful plastic sand pails. Include a shovel and sand mold.
  • Plastic mesh storage containers. Reuse to store toys, games, socks, childhood treasures, etc.
    Lunch box.
  • New novelty pillowcase.
  • Flower pot (fill w/packet of seeds, soil, drainage rocks, gardening gloves, instructions for growing their own Spring flowers).
  • For older kids/teens, try a make-up container (including sample sizes of soap, perfume, lipgloss, nail polish, etc.), a fishing tackle box (include a few lures), a personal popcorn bowl (containing a bag of gourmet popcorn), or a new purse.
  • For teen-agers or grown children, try a grocery bag filled with their favorite foods.

Filling ideas:

  • Plastic eggs can be reused every year. Fill with jelly beans or small plastic toys of interest to the child. Bags full of fake bugs, dinosaurs, etc., can often be found at dollar stores for under a $1 per bag.
  • Homemade candy and treats.
  • Homemade frosted Easter-shaped cookies individually wrapped. You can also make cookie lollipops by adding a lollipop or ice cream stick before baking.
  • Crispy Rice Treats or Popcorn Balls colored with pastel food coloring and shaped like eggs.
  • Sidewalk Chalk Eggs: Mix 1 cup plaster, 1/2 cup water and several drops food coloring. Pour mixture into empty egg carton sections. When dry, peel away the carton and hot glue two sections together at the center to form a complete egg.
  • Toys from fast food children’s meals can be found in “like new” condition at thrift stores and yard sales for $0.25 or less.
  • Rubber stamps and stamp pads.
  • Homemade play dough.
  • Crayons.
  • Small bag of potato chips.
  • Bubbles.
  • A jumprope.
  • Jacks.
  • A frisbee.
  • Chopsticks.
  • Fancy shoelaces.
  • Stickers.
  • Books.
  • Stationary, note cards, envelopes, stamps.
  • Coloring books or coloring sheets. Find some simple Easter related clip-art and print the picture out in black and white for homemade coloring sheets, or print out several and staple them together for a custom made coloring book.
  • Audio tapes you’ve made of yourself reading their favorite books aloud. Be sure to include a signal for them to turn the page if they’ll be reading along with you.
  • Look for small Dover Books at your local bookstore. These books are high quality and usually under $1 each. They have paper dolls, holiday activity books, coloring books, etc.

Happy Spring!

Basics of Inductive Bible Study — now FREE!

I changed the price of the ebook downloadable version of my Basics of Inductive Bible Study book … it’s now FREE! Yep, you read that right. I decided it was a lot more important to me that it got into people’s hands than making a few cents here and there.

Feel free to tell your friends. ♥

Blurb from the website:

Think the Bible’s confusing? You don’t understand the language? Don’t let the Bible intimidate you anymore! Here’s a simple, step-by-step guide to studying the Bible for anyone, both newbie and experienced alike. Learn to see for yourself what the Bible is really saying, what it all means, and then discover how to easily and practically apply its teachings to your own life. Topics covered include: Observation, themes, people, context, key words, interpretation, word studies, application, basic study outline, helpful suggestions for Bible study leaders, and several sample lessons from a study on the epistle (“letter”) to the first-century church at Philippi (aka “Philippians”). Basics of Inductive Bible Study is based on the teaching outline from the author’s class, “An Introduction to Bible Study.”

http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/basics-of-inductive-bible-study/5420832

The print version is still available, as well, but I I couldn’t lower its price to zero like I could with the ebook.

Winter Educational Ideas for Preschoolers


by Deborah Taylor-Hough


It’s always fun to use things in our children’s everyday lives to spark discussion and easy educational activities. Since many of us are currently in the midst of winter, this season can be a great topic of “study” for our littlest ones.

Study time with preschoolers at home mainly consists of talking and laughing with them, helping them notice the details of the world around them. No pressure. Just a fun time spent in the company of a loving adult.

To introduce the topic of “Winter,” ask your child what she knows about the seasons. Is she aware of spring, summer, autumn and winter? Does she know what the differences are between the seasons in your local area?

Don’t lecture. Just make conversation and find out what she knows already. Have her look out the window and tell you what she notices about the trees, bushes, flowers and gardens. Are there leaves visible? Buds? Flowers? Greenery? Bare branches? Brown stems?

Find a photo, painting, or picture in a book of an obvious winter scene. Ask your child if she knows what season it is in the picture. What things tell her what time of year it is? If she doesn’t know, point things out to her that will give clues: bare branches, snow on the ground, no flowers, people in warm clothes, etc. Hide the picture from view and have the child describe to you in her own words what she saw in the picture. Encourage as much detail as possible, but remember to keep it low-key and fun. This process of orally telling back what she’s seen, helps cement the image in her memory.

To suplement your discussion, enjoy together a winter-time picture book such as Ezra Jack Keat’s ‘The Snowy Day’ or the Alaskan tale ‘Momma, Do You Love Me?’ by Barbara M. Joosse. You can browse

these books online at:

Ask your child how people stay warm in the winter (warm clothes, mittens, fireplaces, warm houses, etc.). Let her brainstorm for awhile. Then ask how she thinks animals stay warm in winter (thick fur, migrate to warmer climates, hibernate in caves, etc.).

Sometimes a preschool child might say things like, “Baby squirrels snuggle up in a tree with a soft blanket to stay warm.” Ask her gently if she’s ever seen a real squirrel with a blanket. Does she think that’s how they’ll really stay warm in those cold, winter months? The line between fantasy and reality in preschoolers is sometimes thin … don’t harshly bring your child into reality, just gently coax her into thinking about how things really happen in nature.

But just so you don’t think it all needs to be a serious dose of reality, have some fun and brainstorm about “pretend” ways animals might stay warm. For fun, read one of these wonderfully fun and beautifully illustrated winter-time books by Jan Brett (one of my favorite children’s illustrators):

You can also visit Jan Brett’s website to print out coloring sheets and other fun projects based on Brett’s lavishly illustrated children’s books:

For a fun activity, throw a collection of clothing and accessories into a bag or suitcase. Without looking, have your child reach into the bag, pull out a single clothing item and then tell you if the item they grabbed is appropriate to wear in the winter. Have the child explain to you why each item is — or isn’t — seasonally appropriate. Include a variety of things in the bag such as: a warm hat, a pair of gloves or mittens, an open-toed sandal, a swimsuit, summer shorts, a warm sweater, a snow boot, a woolen scarf, a sleeveless top, etc.

Have your child finish the sentence, “Winter is …” For example: Winter is … “cold”; winter is … “snowmen”; winter is … “mittens”; winter is … “cocoa and marshmallows.” Consider writing down your child’s responses (she’ll feel so official seeing her words written down on paper). If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can even print out little “Winter is …” booklets using clip-art found on your computer that coincides with your child’s winter responses. Or have your child illustrate their own home-made “Winter is … ” book. Or let her cut out winter photos from magazines and newspapers, pasting them onto a large sheet of paper as a “Winter is …” collage.

Have a wonderful time as you explore the glories of winter with your preschooler!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough (freelance writer and mother of three) is the editor of the Bright-Kids and Simple Times e-newsletters. She’s also the author of A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity, Frugal Living For Dummies and Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month. Visit Debi online at: http://thesimplemom.wordpress.com

Winter Boredom Busters for Kids

by Deborah Taylor-Hough / http://www.SimpleMom.com


Since we try not to use the phrase “I’m bored!” in our home, I usually don’t hear my kids complaining about being bored during those long days at home during the winter. But I have to admit that we’re still an incredibly normal family. Even without the “b-word” in their vocabulary, there have still been those times when my three children just seemed to be at a total loss for something constructive to do.

A number of years ago I brainstormed with my kids and some of our assorted friends and we came up with a list of 200+ ideas for summertime activities. I decided to narrow the list down to just those things that can be done indoors and aren’t weather-dependent for those cold snowy days home from school or during winter vacation times.

You can put each item on this list onto individual pieces of paper, place the papers into a container, and when the children need inspiration for an activity, they can draw out two or three papers and then decide which idea they want to do, either as a group or individually. This method is usually more helpful than giving the kids a huge list of possibilities. By narrowing the choices down to just two or three, it’s easier for the kids to pick out the one that sounds the best to them.

143 INDOOR WINTER BOREDOM BUSTERS for Kids

  • make paper snowflakes
  • clean out the toy box
  • send virtual greeting cards
  • choose photos for a family calendar
  • have an indoor picnic
  • bake and decorate cut-out cookies
  • go camping in the livingroom
  • clear out your email inbox
  • make a mobile out of found objects (acorns, rocks, branches)
  • write up some New Year’s Resolutions
  • create a simple Family Tree
  • make sandwiches and cut them out with large cookie cutters
  • play basketball with a wadded up piece of paper and a wastebasket
  • play board games
  • make a tent out of blankets
  • read books
  • make homemade play dough
  • play with play dough
  • write a letter to a relative, friend or pen pal
  • clean bedroom
  • vacuum living room
  • clean bathroom
  • make a craft
  • draw
  • color
  • paint
  • watch a movie
  • write stories
  • use magnifying glass
  • write a play
  • act out a play
  • invent indoor circus acts
  • perform an indoor circus
  • play card games
  • dust the house
  • brush the pet
  • write letters
  • read a magazine
  • play dress-up
  • play Cowboys
  • build a fort in your rooms
  • do a jigsaw puzzle
  • play on the Geosafari
  • play on the computer
  • listen to a story or book on tape
  • do extra schoolwork to get ahead
  • do brain teasers (ie: crosswords, word searches, hidden pictures, mazes, etc.)
  • cook
  • prepare lunch
  • surprise a neighbor with a good deed
  • play store
  • prepare a “restaurant” lunch with menus
  • hold a tea party
  • have a Teddy bear picnic on the floor in the livingroom
  • play with toy cars
  • play dolls
  • play house
  • learn magic tricks
  • put on a magic show
  • make sock puppets
  • put on a puppet show
  • crochet or knit
  • make doll clothes
  • sew buttons in designs on old shirts
  • make bookmarks
  • take a quiet rest time
  • take a shower or bath
  • organize a dresser drawer
  • clean under the bed
  • empty dishwasher
  • vacuum under the couch cushions and keep any change found
  • write these ideas on pieces of paper and pick out one or two to do
  • practice musical instruments
  • perform a family concert
  • teach yourself to play musical instrument (recorder, harmonica, guitar)
  • fold laundry
  • sweep kitchen or bathroom floors
  • vacuum or dust window blinds
  • clean bathroom mirrors
  • clean sliding glass doors
  • copy your favorite book illustration
  • design your own game
  • build with blocks or Legos
  • create a design box (copper wire, string, odds-and-ends of things destined for the
  • garbage, pom-poms, thread, yarn, etc.)
  • have a marble tournament on the livingroom carpet
  • make dessert
  • make dinner
  • give your pet a party
  • have a read-a-thon with a friend or sibling
  • check out a science book and try some experiments
  • make up a story
  • arrange photo albums
  • play hide-and-seek
  • create a symphony with bottles and pans and rubber bands
  • read a story to a younger child
  • string dry noodles or O-shaped cereals into a necklace
  • glue noodles into a design on paper
  • play jacks
  • make up a song
  • make an indoor teepee out of blankets
  • write in your journal
  • play charades
  • make up a story by drawing pictures
  • draw a cartoon strip
  • make a map of your bedroom, house or neighborhood
  • call a friend
  • cut pictures from old magazines and write a story
  • make a collage using pictures cut from old magazines
  • do a secret service for a neighbor
  • plan a treasure hunt
  • make a treasure map
  • make up a “Bored List” of things to do
  • plan a special activity for your family
  • search your house for items made in other countries and then learn about those
  • countries from the encyclopedia or online
  • plan an imaginary trip to the moon
  • plan an imaginary trip around the world, where would you want to go
  • write a science-fiction story
  • find a new pen pal
  • make up a play using old clothes as costumes
  • make up a game for practicing math facts
  • have a Spelling Bee
  • make up a game for practicing spelling
  • write newspaper articles for a pretend newspaper
  • put together a family newsletter
  • write reviews of movies or plays or TV shows or concerts you see during the break from school
  • bake a cake
  • bake a batch of cookies
  • decorate a shoe box
  • make a hideout or clubhouse
  • make paper airplanes
  • have paper airplane races
  • learn origami
  • make friendship bracelets for your friends
  • make a wind chime out of things headed for the garbage
  • paint your face
  • braid hair
  • play tag
  • make food sculptures (from pretzels, gumdrops, string licorice, raisins, cream cheese, peanuts, peanut butter, etc.) and then eat it
  • produce a talent show
  • memorize a poem
  • recite a memorized poem for your family

Have fun!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Deborah Taylor-Hough is the mother of three, a full-time college student, a displaced homemaker trying to make ends meet on a limited budget, and the author of several older (but still in print) books including the popular Frozen Assets cookbook series. You can visit Debi online at: http://www.SimpleMom.com

Twaddle-Free Holiday Celebrations

Copyright Deborah Taylor-Hough. Used with permission. All rights reserved. http://thesimplemom.wordpress.com


Since we’re currently in the midst of the December holidays, I chatted at length with Catherine Levison (author of A Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education) and we put our heads together to come up with ways to apply the concept of avoiding “twaddle” (or what modern parents might call “dumbed down” literature or activities) in our holiday celebrations, family times and Christmas reading materials.

Defining Twaddle in Literature

First, let’s look at the synonyms of twaddle which include: babble, drivel and silly. Ordinarily twaddle refers to literature written down to children. Books written specifically to children are not avoided. A good example would be any of Beatrix Potter’s works — she wrote to children but not down to them. Or the original A.A. Milne “Winnie-the-Pooh” books are another good example of twaddle-free just-for-fun reading material.

Regarding children’s literature, look for interesting content and well constructed sentences clothed in literary language. The imagination should be warmed and the book should hold the interest of the child. Life’s too short to spend time with books that bore us.

If our children have only been exposed to junk food, they may resist trying nutritious food. If they’ve been raised on twaddle, they may need to be weaned slowly off of this mental junk food. Ideally, if they were not exposed to twaddly books in the first place, all involved would be way ahead of the game.

It’s our opinion that dumbed-down literature is easy to spot. When you’re standing in the library and pick up modern-day, elementary-level books, you’re apt to see short sentences with very little effort applied to artistically constructing them to please the mind. Almost anyone can write — but not everyone is gifted in this field. Gifted authors bring images alive with their choice of words. Gifted authors often write classic literature, and classics are an excellent way to spend one’s reading time.

Twaddle is easy to come by; the planet is filled with it. People coped with it in previous centuries, and we must cope with it in ours. If anything, literature has deteriorated even further. The best way to handle this excessive quantity of bad books is to stand firm and only spend our money on the best — even at holiday time.

But what about friends and relatives who unknowingly supply our children with twaddle at gift-giving times?

Try talking to those who are apt to buy gifts for your children and tell them about the direction you’re heading with reading material. Some people pick up on things easier than others, therefore, for some folks a simple explanation of the type of literature you want purchased as gifts is all they’ll need. If you’ve started to collect any particular set of children’s classics currently in bookstores or catalogues, you could provide Grandma with a list of titles you’d like. Be specific, and offer to help her with the ordering or perhaps even drive her to your favorite bookstore.

Twaddle-Free Holidays

How else can we apply the concept of twaddle to the holiday season as a whole?

Well, I firmly believe that twaddle is in the eye of the beholder. That means that some of the following ideas may appeal to you while others may not meet your expectations. Catherine and I put our heads together and came up with the following ideas — some of which were shared with us over the years by other people. As always, take what you like and ignore what you don’t.

During the holidays, I frequently discover a large number of low-cost entertainment options by reading the “What’s Happening” section of our local newspaper. For example, this week I found a listing for a singing group performing traditional Celtic holiday carols at a local church for just a small donation. Many churches and community groups put on low-cost (or free) live performances during the holidays.

Rather than taking the family to a newly released holiday movie, consider spending a few extra dollars and attend a ballet or classical concert instead. Many times attending a concert by a local symphony performing familiar Christmas songs is a very child-friendly introduction to symphonic music for children who haven’t previously experienced that type of music. Also, many churches offer sing-a-longs of Handel’s Messiah that are open to the general public.

As we all know, holiday music is drastically varied. Perhaps some attention to playing classical music around the house — while avoiding animated cartoon characters screeching their holiday favorites — would be more soothing.

Many families, including both Catherine’s and mine, buy one new Christmas book a year and have their collection on display. Catherine’s favorite is called The Christmas Story featuring the paintings of Gennady Spirin. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and priced accordingly — however Catherine insists it’s worth every penny. This is one way to include masterpiece artwork into this season of the year.

It’s also time to buy next year’s calendar. If you haven’t thought of it before, hold out until you find one featuring fine art rather than kittens, horses or cars. Along with being a practical item, the calendars often provide excellent prints to use for art appreciation throughout the year.

While grown children and other relatives visit, provide some old-fashioned fun that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Charades, sing-a-longs, board games and caroling are easy, affordable and fun. Catherine’s family collects Christmas jigsaw puzzles — which may appear to be a bit twaddly at first glance — but they truly enjoy spending time together which makes it more than an aimless pursuit. You could also choose puzzles depicting masterpieces or popular works of art.

Many families are constructing their own advent calendars from wood and incorporating photographs and other touches. If everyone participated in a project of this sort, then they can all look forward to getting it out each December.

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Well, if the snow doesn’t come to you then go to the snow. Some folks make an annual trek to the mountains during December in order to be assured of some contact with winter weather.

Obviously, there are countless good ideas that help families enjoy each other. Catherine and I send our absolute best to you this holiday season and may each of you be truly happy.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Deborah Taylor-Hough (author and mother of three) is a free-lance writer, editor of The Charlotte Mason Monthly email newsletter [ join-cm-monthly@hub.thedollarstretcher.com ], and author of the popular Frozen Assets cookbook series and several other books including Frugal Living For Dummies®. You can visit Debi online, connect with her blogs, and order her books at: http://www.SimpleMom.com