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

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200+ Summertime Boredom Busters for Kids

by Deborah Taylor-Hough

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 summer months.But I have to admit that we’re still an incredibly normal family. Even without the “b-word” in their vocabulary, there are still those times when my three children just seem to be at a total loss for something constructive to do. 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!

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

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

An Autumn Poem …

I used to read this poem out loud to my kids each Fall when they were little… I love how it flows when read aloud. Honestly, the kids probably don’t even remember this poem. But I do. 🙂
.
WHEN THE FROST IS ON THE PUNKIN
by James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916)
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When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.
.
They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here–
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock–
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.
.
The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries–kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below–the clover over-head!–
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!
.
Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’ ‘s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too! …
I don’t know how to tell it–but ef sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me–
I’d want to ‘commodate ’em–all the whole-indurin’ flock–
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!
.
According to Dictionary.com, fodder is: “coarse food for livestock, composed of entire plants, including leaves, stalks, and grain, of such forages as corn and sorghum.” And a “fodder shock” is in the photo above, or at this link for a more modern version (Amish field): http://www.flickr.com/photos/cindy47452/60826148/