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

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

Nature Study for City Dwellers

Even in the city, children should get their knowledge of nature first hand and get into the habit of being in touch with nature. Here are some simple nature/science ideas for city (and rural) families to share together:

 1) Press and mount flowers on cardboard. Write the names of the flowers, and where and when you found them. I recently saw a photo-album used to store pressed flowers. Having a field guide to identify flowers and flowering trees is very helpful.

 2) Keep a nature calendar. A calendar devoted to nature observation could be kept with simple entries on when the leaves first fell or the fruit tree in your yard first ripened for the year.

 3) Leaf identification. Children should know the leaves of their neighborhood. For example they can begin to notice that some leaves are heart shaped, some are divided, and some fall off in the winter.

 4) Give children a pocket compass, a magnifying glass and possibly a microscope. We like using the magnifying glass better. Buy the best magnifying glass or microscope you can afford and check it at the store — they seem to vary in how they focus.

5) Learn about the wind. A weather vane mounted on the housetop or porch railing is not only a decorative object but also a learning tool. Charlotte Mason said to teach children to notice winds. Tell the children that the wind is named by what direction it comes from; for example, if someone is a Mexican because they were born in Mexico, they don’t become a Canadian when they visit Canada.

6) Even children in the city can observe natural animal life. City dwellers can try to feed and observe city birds such as sparrows. Children can place a caterpillar in a box with a netting over it and watch it spin. Keeping an ant farm is fun and educational.

7) Swamps and ponds are an excellent resource for science learning. Have children go to the pond, gather some frogs’ eggs, and place them in a large glass jar. After the tadpoles begin to form legs, take them back and release them at the pond.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Catherine Levison is a popular speaker to parenting and educational audiences throughout the United States and Canada. She’s the mother of five, a grandmother, and the author of the book, A Charlotte Mason Education: A How-To Manual, the sequel, More Charlotte Mason Education, and A Literary Education. Catherine resides with her family in the Seattle/Tacoma area. Visit Catherine online at: CharlotteMasonEducation.com  Catherine Levison’s books can be browsed at:

Nature Notebooks

Copyright (c) Deborah Taylor-Hough. Used with permission. All rights reserved. http://www.simplemom.com


Nature Notebooks (also called Nature Diaries and Nature Journals) are essentially artist sketchbooks where the children can draw whatever natural items strike their fancy.

The more options you offer the child, the more likely they’ll find one or more ideas that spark their interest. The Nature Notebooks should be voluntary, by the way–not an assignment or a plea from the parent (“Now, draw the pretty bird for Mommy, honey. . . .”).

  1. Information from first-hand observation the child has done themselves (not things they’ve learned from “teaching” or in the classroom).
  2. Drawings of leaves, flowers, birds, insects or anything else discovered by the child in it’s natural setting.
  3. Labels for their drawings—both English and Latin names if applicable.
  4. Notations on where the object was found.
  5. Notations about the temperature or weather conditions, dates, etc.
  6. Life cycles of plants. Draw the bare tree in Winter; the Spring buds; the Summer blooms; the Fall colors and seed pods. Or in a backyard garden you could draw a seed; draw the sprouting seedling; draw the full grown plant; draw the stem, leaves, flower, etc.; draw the fruit, vegetable or flower; draw the new seeds for starting the cycle again.
  7. Draw and describe an ant hill or a bee’s nest.
  8. Take out a hand-held high-power magnifying glass and draw the intricate details of a bee’s wing, or whatever else might be fascinating viewed through a magnifying lens.
  9. Science experiments the child has actually performed. Set-up, observations, results, etc.
  10. Pressing and mounting leaves or dried flowers.
  11. Samples of different types of leaves: divided, heart-shaped, fluted, needles, etc.
  12. Samples or drawings of different types of seeds: nuts; seed pods; seeds that fall to the ground; seeds that float through the air; etc.
  13. Parts of the flower: petal, sepal, stamen, etc.
  14. Sketches of animal tracks.
  15. Sketches of the lifecycles of animals. Caterpillar to cocoon (or chrysalis) to moth (or butterfly); or egg to tadpole to frog (or salamander).
  16. Nature-related poems or quotes. The poems can be ones found during the child’s reading time, or poems composed by the child.

For an outstanding example of a fully developed Nature Diary, take a look at the beautiful book The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, 1906. This book was out-of-print for a number of years, but recently became available once again.

I also highly recommend the book, Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a whole new way of seeing the world around you, by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. The book is written and illustrated by science educators who use Nature Journals as their primary way of teaching people to learn about nature firsthand. A beautiful book! It totally changed the way we approached Nature Journals — the first day we looked at the book, my oldest daughter and I spent two hours at the local beaver pond sketching red-winged blackbirds, Canada geese, rough-skinned newts, turtles, and wildflowers.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough (author, freelance writer, and longtime homeschooling mom of three) is the editor of The Charlotte Mason Monthly 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 the popular Frozen Assets cookbook series. Visit Debi online at: http://thesimplemom.wordpress.com/

Homeschool Coping Strategies

Catherine Levison, author and speaker, shares some of her favorite tips for coping with the daily challenges of home education.


One Possible Cure for “Super-Mom Syndrome”

When motherhood or home schooling is getting you down, stop and simplify. So often when we have a problem, we try to attack it with a monumental overhaul of the entire situation. Charlotte Mason taught quite a bit on the formation of good habits, and her emphasis was on implementing only one new habit or idea at a time.

To apply this to our homes and schools, we shouldn’t write a big list of things we want changed all at once and then post it prominently on the living room wall. Success in changing habits depends on setting one small goal at a time and achieving it.

For further ideas on simplifying your life, subscribe to the free twice-a-month email newsletter, Simple Times. The purpose of Simple Times is to provide inspiration, encouragement, motivation and practical help for those who (for whatever reasons) are choosing to simplify their lives. Topics covered include saving money for regular family expenses (food, clothing, utilities, etc.); saving time and energy through easier housekeeping and cooking techniques; defining simplicity and it’s meaning in the lives of people pursuing a simpler lifestyle; and more.

To subscribe, send ANY message to: join-simple-times@hub.thedollarstretcher.com


womanreadingReading for Refreshment

Enjoy some quiet time reading books that restore you and at the same time inspire you with constructive ideas. One suggestion for this is Victorian Family Celebrations also known as Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions.  In the pages of this book, you’ll find encouragement, inspiration, and some concrete ideas on how to raise a family and enjoy spending time together. Because home school families spend a lot of time together, I think we can all benefit from fresh ideas.

There are many books that moms find refreshing. For many, it’s the Bible, poetry, fiction or even a magazine. We home schooling parents read so much research type of writing and have to spend time in the education catalogs that sometimes we have to make ourselves stop and read something for the simple pleasure of reading. I have found the answer for me is poetry. The reason it’s refreshing is you put in as much effort as you want. When all your reading has been for studying, it feels good to read words that simply have beauty and rhythm. You can work you brain if you want when reading poetry, or you can just relax and enjoy it.


Menu Planning

Menu planning can save valuable time. And what, my friend, is more valuable to the home schooling mother than time?

I sit down with my children when we are all very, very hungry and we brainstorm about breakfast, lunch and dinner. We make a huge list of meals we like — the more, the better. The list can be kept in a computer file, added to from time to time, and referred to whenever you’re sitting down to plan menus or needing a batch of fresh ideas.

Years ago, I made a master grocery list, and the funny thing is, people always wanted a copy. The best way to make one is to think of how your grocery store is laid out and group your regular purchases accordingly. Most trips I make to the store start with me hitting “print” for the list and using a yellow highlighter to mark what I need.

Many families benefit from freezer cooking and it has become very well known. For further information on cooking ahead for the freezer, I recommend reading the book Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month (SourceBooks).

Also, be sure to visit the following web-page: Frozen Assets Home Page


Homeschooling with Preschoolers

1) Even preschoolers are subject to habits. They can be trained over time to play quietly while everyone else studies.

2) Try having a school box exactly like the other children with your preschooler’s name on it. Stock it with safety scissors, crayons, color books, lacing cards, quiet toys, etc.

3) Preschoolers often want to work in the same book as the older sister or brother. That problem is easily solved by giving young children used up workbooks. None of my little kids have cared that they were already written in, it’s the appearance of looking important enough to “do” school like the big kids that matters.

4) Waiting until your preshooler’s nap time is one solution that worked for me. We couldn’t get the whole school day accomplished in that short time but we could save the most important subjects for then.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Catherine Levison is the author of three Charlotte Mason-related homeschooling books: A Charlotte Mason Education: A How-to Manual, the sequel More Charlotte Mason Education, and her newest book A Literary Education: An Annotated Book List. Visit Catherine online at: http://charlottemasoneducation.com/