Cooking with kids

In the Montessori preschool classroom, an entire section of the curriculum is devoted to “Practical Life”. Practical Life activities embrace care of oneself and care for the environment. It includes things like learning to lace and tie shoes, close a door quietly, clean a table, sweep the floor, and sew a button. Preparing food for snack is also part of the practical life curriculum in the classroom. 

Even the youngest toddler enjoys activities involving food preparation. Toddlers can peel and slice bananas, stir together the ingredients for biscuits, and knead and shape them (think edible playdough!). They can help peel and separate oranges and hull strawberries.

Including children in meal prep is a wonderful way to combine time together with practical learning and skill development. Here’s how to make the experience fun for everyone.

Slow Down and Let Go

Remember that every child is still developing fine motor skills. Let go of any expectations that every step of the process will be executed quickly or neatly. Expect a little more mess and adjust the time needed for prep. Allow your child to go at their own pace, which may be much slower than doing it yourself. Give yourselves time to stop and clean up as you go along. 

Remind yourself that practice is the path to improvement. Let them try. Each time they will get better and faster, but in the beginning, we need to allow for the mishaps of early experience with a task. Not all the flour will end up in the bowl. Some of the eggshells will end up in the bowl. Carrots won’t be as neatly peeled as you might have done. Diced may look more like chopped. The imperfections won’t matter to the finished dish and there is value in providing the opportunity to learn a new skill or practice a familiar one

Prepare the workspace

Before you begin working together, get organized. If you are cooking with 2-4 year olds, you may choose to measure out the ingredients ahead of time. On the other hand, letting them help gather supplies and ingredients is good practice in following directions, provided items are stored on low shelves that are accessible to small people.

Lay out a large plastic cutting board to work on, so that it can be lifted and carried to the sink for cleaning. Have appropriate utensils at hand. Soft foods, like bananas and strawberries, can be safely cut by young children with specially designed knives that are not sharp. Smaller spoons and whisks can also help smaller children be more successful.

Don’t Show and Tell

Talking as you are demonstrating requires the child to simultaneously process both what they are seeing and what they are hearing. Instead, when helping your child do a new task, take a tip from the Montessori classroom and separate the telling from the showing. Begin by saying what you are going to show them, without any movement. 

Then show them slowly and carefully how to do it, without speaking. This allows them to focus on watching what you are doing and eliminates the need to also process what they are hearing. This video from Viola Montessori is a great example of what this looks like.

Cooking together provides children with practical skills they will use for a lifetime. By the time they are tweens, they will have the experience to prepare meals for themselves and their family. 

Enjoy your time together in the kitchen! Leave a comment and let us know how it goes.

Outdoors Fun in Winter

If we never went outside when the weather was rainy, or cold, or windy, those of us in the wet Pacific Northwest, would be locked up inside most of the year. 

Winter is a time of renewal in Oregon. Rains bring needed water to fill the rivers and lakes, soaking the forests and nourishing the grasses across the valley. Cold air sweeps down from Canada, and warmer winds float up from the south, making our weather alternately cold and wet, then mild and a little less wet.

But that variability doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the great outdoors. Even during our cold and wet winters there is fun to be had in the Willamette Valley.

Take a Hike

As in all our other seasons, hiking is a great option during the winter. Should we luck into a little bit of snow that sticks to the ground and builds, hikers have the fun of finding animal tracks left in the snow. If it’s just wet, experience the way the trees create a canopy like an open umbrella and make a game of dashing from one dry spot to the next.

Look for birds

Many of our native bird species overwinter in the Willamette Valley. Spend some time seeing how many you can identify. Just this week I watched a tiny hummingbird perched at the top of my cherry tree and a regal Cooper’s hawk make a meal out of a recently killed raccoon on the side of the road.

Bundle Up

Make any outdoor adventure more fun with the proper clothing. Lined, waterproof boots keep your feet dry in all weather. Pair them with a pair of wool socks for extra warmth. A pair of rain pants over trousers will add a second layer of insulation to any pair of legs. Not just for the kids, rain pants keep adults warm and dry too. Keep that body heat in with a well-fitting warm hat, an insulated rain or snow coat, and pair of gloves or mittens. Bundled up with the right gear you’ll be warm for even the wettest adventure.

Find a Festival

Festivals don’t stop when summer winds down. Throughout the year there are festivals celebrating many Oregonian favorites. Hazelnuts, Wine, Music, Dancing, Bird Watching. So many choices, even in winter. Visit the Willamette Valley Visitors website for ideas, locations, and dates.

Get Moving

Simply taking a walk in the neighborhood gives bodies the chance to get moving, with all the benefits of exercise and movement. Shake off the doldrums and get the blood flowing. Let your little ones hunt for treasures – that perfect pebble or shapely stick, while you enjoy our great, wet, outdoors this winter.

Don’t let the rain put the brakes on your family’s outdoor adventures. Dress for the weather, and continue to get out there and enjoy this beautiful area we call home.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

How to build community in a socially distanced neighborhood

Kids are heading back to school, sort of, but COVID mitigation strategies mean that even schools that are offering in-person classes might not continue for long. Mask mandates are back, and social distancing is recommended. As quarantines continue and the delta variant sends hospitalizations rising among kids as well as adults, it’s clear that the pandemic is far from over. 

COVID-19 won’t last forever. But with no end currently in sight, it’s time to rethink how we approach social capital and neighborhood relationships. Is it possible to build community in a world where social distancing isn’t a short-term solution, but a long-haul necessity?

Familiar neighborhood connections like carpools, sleepovers, and after-school parties may have to wait, but building relationships is more important than ever. Here are some ideas for how you can continue to strengthen connections with your neighbors, even while we have to stay distanced. 

Hold a neighborhood zoom party  

Neighborhood porch parties may be a thing of the past – for now – but community starts with communication, and the internet makes digital communication easy. At this point, everyone’s an expert at zoom, so why not invite your neighbors for a zoom party? Play games, split into breakout rooms for small group discussions or hold a contest for the funniest zoom background. 

Start a silly collaborative art project.

Even a simple art project can become a trend that takes off. In one neighborhood, a family started putting googly eyes on random objects throughout the neighborhood and posting pictures on social media, and the trend took off. In another neighborhood, one family posted a mayoral campaign poster for their cat, and other families quickly took up the project, with competing posters urging people to vote for Rover the Dog or Luna the Cat. It’s impossible not to laugh when you see a rock with googly eyes, and silly projects like this make it easy and fun for everyone to participate. 

Plant a community garden.

If you don’t yet have a community garden, there’s never been a better time to start one. If there’s a vacant, unused lot in your neighborhood, reach out to the landowner for permission to start gardening there. Even small plots provide an automatic boundary for social distancing while enabling you and your kids to socialize with neighbors. 

Build a little library. 

A little library is a wooden box in your yard for trading used books. Put books in it that you don’t want, and encourage neighbors to take books they want or bring books they don’t. You can download free plans for building a little library and do a construction project with your kids, or if that sounds intimidating, buy a premade kit to put together. 

Make a chalk obstacle course.

Get your kids – and the rest of the neighborhood kids – moving and jumping with a sidewalk chalk obstacle course. Use different colored chalk to design different activities such as a maze to walk through, a dance challenge, or a classic hopscotch path. Have older kids design and draw obstacles for younger ones. To get the whole neighborhood involved, draw your course on a public sidewalk that’s used frequently so everyone can enjoy it. 

Organize a car parade. 

Car parades are a great COVID-safe activity since each family in the parade is essentially inside their own “bubble” while in their car. Although it takes more time to set up than the other activities, the fun is worth the effort! Reach out to neighbors to recruit families who want to participate in the parade, and choose a theme for car decorations. Then spread the word to everyone about the date and time, and encourage families who are watching to gather at the end of their driveways. If someone in your neighborhood has a speaker, you can put it in a truck at the front of the parade to provide music.  

Hold a screen on the green

Although the delta variant is more contagious than earlier versions of COVID-19, most experts agree that outdoor gatherings are still relatively safe when combined with social distancing. All you need for a neighborhood screen on the green is a large grassy field, a spot to hang a sheet, and a projector and speaker. Make sure that everyone sits at least six feet apart from other families, and encourage everyone to bring popcorn. Choose a family-friendly movie so everyone can enjoy it, and start the show as soon as it’s dark.

Sharing activities together is one of the biggest ways that people build relationships in a neighborhood. While the pandemic has made that more difficult, it’s not impossible. With a little creativity, you can continue to get to know your neighbors and show your kids what community looks like – even in a pandemic.

Keep Your Kids Learning This Summer – and Have Fun Doing It

If you have a school aged child, then summer learning loss has probably worried you in the past – but never as much as this summer. This school year was a once-in-a-generation experiment in educational innovation. Your child probably experienced virtual school for the first time, and they may have even been in virtual school the whole year. If the coming of summer has you wondering whether your child will be prepared for the next academic year, you’re not alone.

But if you think that means it’s time to hire a summer tutor, think again. Many school systems are offering catch-up summer school, but after a year that brought unprecedented stress to children as well as adults, more time in the classroom may not be what your child needs. Before you shell out your stimulus check for a summer math class, consider what education your child really needs to be prepared for the next school year. 

There’s plenty of academic education to discover in the adventures of real-life – and after a year in front of the computer, real-life adventure may be exactly what your child needs most. 

Practice real-life math with cooking. 

Remember all that sourdough you baked last spring? Maybe it’s time to break out your starter yeast again. Cooking, and especially baking, offers plenty of opportunities for kids of all grade levels to practice math skills. Younger kids can measure and count; older kids can convert recipes for different numbers of servings (hello, fractions!). Try doubling the recipe and bringing a loaf of sourdough to your neighbor. For bonus skills, have your kids invent a recipe of their own. 

Explore science at the park.

Science was invented in the great outdoors, and nature is the best teacher for kids of all ages. The inherent curiosity of kids makes them naturals at the scientific method: they’re constantly observing and asking questions about what they see. This summer, instead of googling the answers, help them figure it out for themselves with real-life experiments. Can that broken dogwood branch grow into a new tree? What do ladybugs eat? Only time – and a bit of experimenting – will tell. 

Take a geography trip. 

After a year of quarantine, many of us are itching to get out of town this summer. If you are heading out of town, take some of the planning off your plate and teach your kids geography by inviting them to plan part of your route. While they’re practicing skills like reading maps and estimating travel time, they can search for interesting points along the route that they want to visit. In addition to adding some adventure to your trip, having your kids identify locations they want to see – and predict how long it will take to get there – should cut down the endless whines of “Are we there yet?” 

Read, read, read.

As a parent in the 21st century, the value of reading with your kids has been drilled into you from the day you found out you were expecting. But if reading has gotten a little stale after months of being stuck in the house, try something different to spark your kids’ love of stories. Spend an afternoon in the library together, or hit up the library storytime. And if overuse of screen time during quarantine has your kids bored by non-moving words on a page, try downloading some audiobooks to listen to together while you do a craft, or read a book and then watch the movie. 

Play board games. 

Board games are a lot more than a fun family night – they’re an amazing tool for teaching a wide range of social and academic schools. In addition to helping kids practice taking turns and following the rules, board games can teach math (Monopoly), reading (Cards Against Humanity Kids’ Edition), and even logic (Clue). While there are plenty of board games that are explicitly educational, pretty much every board game requires some academic skills to play, so play what your kids enjoy! 

Write stories. 

Sitting down and writing a story over the summer may not appeal to your kids – but storytelling is a human instinct, and there are plenty of ways to help your kids rediscover the joy of sharing their ideas through narrative. Try getting them a set of puppets and building a makeshift puppet stage, or download an app for the green screen so they can make movies with their toys. Encourage them to write the story down so they can perform it for you (and maybe even the neighbors, too). 

Learn social studies through advocacy. 

2020 was a big year for political upheaval, and many people found themselves involved in political advocacy, often for the first time. Talk with your kids about political news, especially local issues that affect them. What rules will their school follow for COVID safety in the fall? What guidelines does the county have now for swimming pools this summer? Kids can write letters to representatives, call the school superintendent, and even make signs about an issue they care about. 

Watch for learning opportunities.

After a year of spending so much time together with family, paying attention may be the most difficult thing to do this summer  – but it’s by far the most important. Curiosity and interest are the biggest drivers of learning, and if you want to help your kids’ academic progress over the summer, the best thing you can do is pay attention. Notice when they ask questions. Notice what they’re interested in. Then look for ways for them to explore those interests and questions. When kids are interested, that’s when they learn. 

This past year of upheaval and change has been harder for parents than for anyone. After a year of worrying about COVID, working while teaching virtual school, and struggling to entertain bored children, the last thing you need is to add more stress this summer. Instead of working hard to make sure your children catch up on academics, seek out ways to let learning happen naturally – and make it fun for you as well as your kids. Fun, after all, is the best way to learn.

Making Music with Kids

In schools and childcare centers, teachers use music to support and engage children in the learning process. Research suggests music helps ignite cognition and memory, deepens language learning, and supports both fine and gross motor skills. 

At home, parents can also use music to support their child’s development,  help lower stress, and bring joy. Here are a few ways to incorporate a little music into your everyday routine.

Listen to Music

Add a little background music to your day by dialing into a radio station or creating a playlist and streaming it to a speaker.  Listening to classical music can lower tension and help calm anxiety.  Says Jane Collingswold at PsychCentral, “Listening to music can have a tremendously relaxing effect on our minds and bodies, especially slow, quiet classical music. 

This type of music can have a beneficial effect on our physiological functions, slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones.”

For children who need help settling into rest time, a quiet, gentle series of lullabies can set the mood and encourage sleep.  My all-time favorite rest time CD is the Bejing Angelic Choir’s Chinese Lullabies.

Sing Songs

Take a break from the normal routine and enjoy a sing-along. Toddlers delight in circle time, which can include silly songs with lots of body movement.  Some of my favorites are “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”, and “The Bear Went Over the Mountain”.  You can also incorporate singing into other family activities.  Riding in the car? Start a sing-along, complete with hand motions and silly faces

Make Instruments

Take it a step further and add instruments to your family sing-a-long. Create your own family band with instruments made from found objects. From simple storage container shakers to pan flutes and cereal box guitars,  Red Tricycle has put together a collection of 21 instruments you can make from things you have at home.

Have a Dance Party

Once the music is flowing, combine gross motor activity and music through dance. Turn up some rhythmic dance music and get moving. Or enjoy an acapella version of the Hokie Pokie for family fun that will have you all smiling.

Take a Deeper Dive

Have older kids? Help them explore the life and discography of a favorite composer or band. Check out your local library for materials, or search for information on the internet.  Add the composer’s music to a playlist and incorporate it into your family music listening (and dancing!).  You can also choose a period in history and see what you can find out about the music and musical instruments of that time period.  Or explore the music of a particular region or country.  Invite your kids to compare the music you find in your explorations to the music your family typically listens to.  How are they different?  What is similar about them? 

Learn to Play an Instrument

For the truly adventurous and dedicated, learning to play an instrument can provide a lifetime of musical enjoyment. It also builds confidence and improves patience.  Says classicfm.com, “Learning to play an instrument stimulates the brain, improving functions like memory and abstract reasoning skills, which are essential for maths and science.”  Learning a musical instrument takes time and commitment, but can bring joy that lasts a lifetime.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Gardening with kids

Gardening is the perfect family activity this summer, with many of us having more time at home together. Growing things together has so many benefits. In addition to the bonding that comes from shared activity, children who participate in growing vegetables eat healthier and are more receptive to trying new foods. Gardening can also help teach children how to relax and calm down. Being outside and tending to growing things increases levels of Vitamin D and helps reduce the stress hormone cortisol. 

You don’t need a big yard to enjoy the benefits of caring for vegetable plants or flowers. Even a patio planter in a sunny corner will work.

A garden gives you the opportunity to engage all the senses – the taste of a tomato fresh off the vine, the smell of rosemary, the sound of bamboo rustling in the breeze, the soft fuzz of a green bean pulled from the bush, and the beauty of a sunflower following the arc of the sun across the sky. 

Gardening teaches responsibility and patience, with visible results when plants are well cared for through regular watering. 

When getting started with gardening together, choose things to grow based on family favorites. For younger children, choose plants that are quick to sprout and easy to harvest. Two of our favorites are sugar snap peas and green string beans. Snap peas like cool weather and plenty of water, so are a perfect first crop in the late Spring. They will need a trellis, which is easy to make with three long poles tied together at the top, tee-pee style, and some twine. Snap peas can be eaten right off the vine – a favorite activity for toddlers and preschoolers. 

It’s not too late to sow some green beans this summer. Green beans come in both bush and pole varieties. Last week we replaced the sugar snap peas in our garden with green beans and expect to start harvesting by the end of August.

Kale and Swiss chard are other easy growers in the Willamette Valley. These, too, can be started now and will continue to grow as summer gives way to autumn. Kale will often overwinter in the Willamette Valley. 

We use lots of kale hidden in blueberry smoothies at our house. We also love it sauteed with some onions and bacon, or pounded raw into some olive oil and Italian seasoning as a salad.

Sunflowers are a fun option for family gardening. Although they require patience through their long growing season, they will provide lots of happy color once they bloom. Harvesting the seeds from the head of the sunflower is a perfect autumn activity. As the weather cools, the harvested seeds can be shared in bird feeders with our feathered friends.

If you are looking for options that come back year after year, consider a strawberry patch or adding a few blueberry bushes along a fence. Both of these perennial fruits are kid-friendly favorites for picking and eating.

Even the youngest toddler will enjoy helping prepare the soil for planting. Small trowels in a raised bed are perfect for this activity. Counting can be practiced as seeds are planted, and older children can practice math skills as they figure out how many seeds will fit in the space you’ve allotted. 

Green bean planting is perfect for this activity, as they are planted one seed at a time, four inches apart. Invite your elementary students to determine how many seeds will fit in your row. They can also help decide how much garden space to devote to each crop. If each plant will produce six string beans at a time, how many plants do we need to be able to pick enough for everyone at dinner?

Watering is a task that is vital to the healthy growth of the vegetable garden. Toddlers love anything that involves water, and will happily water the garden with you. Be sure to provide a watering can that is the right size for your small child. 

The necessity of watering throughout the summer here in the Willamette Valley helps build responsibility and self-confidence. With regular attention and a degree of patience, eventually, the fruits of your effort will be ready to pick and taste. Children can take pride in their contribution to the family table.

And if you’ve included flowers in your garden, invite your children to pick enough to make a beautiful bouquet for the dinner table. Bon appetit!

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at: www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Fun for the whole family: Backyard Birding

Looking for something fun while staying close to home this summer? The whole family can enjoy backyard birding together with these quick tips. 

Make your backyard bird-friendly.  Install a birdbath and hang a bird feeder or two in your yard.  Even better if they are all visible through a window of your house. Be sure to keep them clean and filled. Helping with this task is something even the littlest can do.  Birds will feel safer with bushes, trees, or even a pile of branches nearby to protect them from predators. Be sure to choose a location that your pets don’t frequent. 

Find some pictures of birds that live in the area. Books, such as bird guidebooks, are a great place to start to put pictures with the names of the birds that live in your neighborhood. The local library has many wonderful bird books designed especially for children. Online resources can also provide photos and descriptions of local bird species. Start by learning the names of just a few, then head outside and see if you can find them in nearby trees.

Learn to identify birds by sound. Bird sounds are classified as calls, which are usually just one or two notes, and songs, which are longer and contain many notes and tones. Birds use calls and songs for different reasons. There are many online resources for hearing the sounds different birds make.  Or you can ask Alexa and Google Assistant to help you learn common bird calls and songs. One of the most distinctive bird sounds is the chickadee, which is abundant in the Willamette Valley. If you already know a few birds by sight, listen to recordings of their calls and songs, then head outside and see if you can hear any of these birds in your backyard. Take a walk through the neighborhood and listen for the bird calls you have learned. When you hear one you know, see if you can locate the bird with your eyes. 

Be curious!  When you see a bird, watch what it does.  Can you figure out why it is behaving that way? Which sound is it making – a call or a song?  Can you figure out why?

Keep a log.  Keeping a record of the birds you’ve observed can be a fun way to track the different birds that come and go in your neighborhood.  Do you see different birds out and about in the morning? Do you see more or fewer birds in the evening? A log can help you see patterns and make observations about the birds in your neighborhood. Invite your older kids to make the entries in your family’s bird log.  They can even draw a picture of the birds that you see.

Play games. There are many games that can be adapted to bird watching. For example, create a bingo grid, with each square containing the name or picture of a common Oregon bird. Use markers (coins, small squares of paper, or even crayons to color in the square) to indicate which birds you see. Find five in a row? Bingo!

Expand your viewing with online live streams. Check out some of the many webcams that stream views of bird nests around the country.  For example, check out the Decorah (Iowa) eagles or look in on sea birds at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.  For more options, check out this collection of live stream feeds.

On the go, or close to home, enjoy some bird watching as a sweet addition to your next trip outside.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at: www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

DIY Summer Camp

It’s a strange new “normal” we find ourselves in this summer.  It feels like we’ve been waiting in place since mid-March.  Yet nature continues to move forward.  So while I feel like it’s still the week before Spring Break, the trees all have leaves, the rain is almost done for the season, and the vegetable garden has tiny tomatoes on summer tomato plants.

Every summer activity I had planned for the kids (and the family) has been cancelled, so my summer calendar stretches out as empty as the last three months.  

Disappointed and desperate for something to look forward to, I decided we’d design our own summer camp. I have declared this the summer of “Family Camp” and invited the kids to help me design our own summer camp experience.

In mid-June, we had a family meeting to brainstorm things we’d all like to do together this summer and decide on a ‘schedule’ for ‘camp’.  We amassed a long list of things that includes typical summer camp activities, time for reading and quiet time alone, and activities that will take us out of the house and off on an adventure.

At our planning meeting, we decided camp would run Tuesday through Friday, for three to four hours of the day. The brainstorming was so successful that I ended the meeting there before anyone could change their mind about how much incredible fun we were going to have together all summer. (Did I mention my kids are 12, 14, and 17?)

Our first official week of Family Camp arrived, but I had made camping reservations along the Oregon coast.  So we went camping for three days.  It wasn’t the day camp we’d planned, but we had an excellent time together doing something away from the house where we’ve been sequestered since March.

Before the next week started, we had a second planning meeting. This time we got more specific about what we’d do and when we’d do it. We’ll do this at the beginning of each week so that we have a schedule that everyone can look to if they forget what has been planned.

Each of the kids advocated for the activities they wanted to do during the week ahead and we were able to design a week with something for everyone and no complaints. I think we’ve learned some social skills while being home-bound for four months.

So Family Camp begins with bowling in the morning and some Khan Academy in the afternoon.  The following day we are having a friendly Nailed It! baking contest.  (We haven’t decided if it will be a team sport or if we’ll end up with four of the same cakes. I’ll let the group decision-making process decide that.)  We’ll bake together in the morning, then decorate and hold a friendly competition after lunch.

Next, we’ll be at home, playing board games and doing some reading.  And on our final day of camp this week, we’ll get out and hike.  My oldest did the research to find an easy day hike about an hour away.  We’ll pack a lunch to take with us and then picnic during the 5-mile hike in the Oregon woods.

It will be fun, but from a parenting perspective the most important part of this whole process hasn’t been the activities themselves, really, but the commitment we are making to each other.  To show up.  To have a schedule, with things planned and an agreement that we will do them together. Despite the empty calendar, we now have a plan.

If you’d like to plan your own “Family Camp” this summer, here are some of the things  on our list:

Field Trips: the beach, berry picking, swimming in a lake, overnight camping, hiking

Bowling (we joined the summer league at Highland Bowl)

Playing our violins and keyboard

Learn to play the guitar

Khan Academy 

Reading

Bible Study

Cooking/Baking together

Board games

Tennis

Naps/Quiet time

Make a plan and have fun!

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at: www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

6 Fun Do-At-Home Activities

Losing patience with those you’ve been locked up with during these weeks of social distancing? Looking for some new ideas to keep everyone busy while we wait for permission to get out and get social again? Here are some fun things people have been doing – you might find a few new ideas among them!

Sensory walk

Create a fun path to follow along the sidewalk out front. Incorporate hopscotch, spinning, hopping, walking sideways. Stephanie Westbrook created one that incorporates lots of gross motor activity.  You can also add other sensory stimuli – warm water in a dishpan, river rocks, sand, and mud.

Getty Masterpiece Challenge

The J Paul Getty Museum is inviting everyone to explore the museum virtually from home. They recently issued a challenge through social media, inviting you to recreate a famous work of art with objects from around your home. We had so much fun!

For more inspiration check out what others have done with this challenge in their newsletter.

Long-distance gaming

Set up a Zoom or Facetime session with loved ones and play some games together. Any board game that doesn’t require randomly shuffled cards is fair game. Try Yahtzee, Bingo, or Monopoly. Other collaborative activities that can be done over video conferencing include talent shows, trivia contests, and charades. One creative family invited family members to create a 6 slide PowerPoint presentation on any topic and then share them at a family zoom meeting.

Artist for Hire

Have a child that loves to draw? Invite friends and family to commission a drawing. My grandson invited people to request drawings of specific bird species. He draws the requested bird and then mails them to the recipient. He loves sharing his talent and recipients have loved the special ‘snail mail.’

Backyard “Camping”

 If you’ve got a tent stored away in anticipation of summer camping trips, pull it out and set it up in the backyard. Let the kids play in it, do school in it, or just take a break in it. Turn it into a destination – somewhere different to go. It just might help with the monotony of being always at home.

Puppets and Plays

For artistically inclined children, gather a variety of household items (fabric, paper, yarn, the recycling), some glue, tape, and a stapler and invite them to create puppets and invent a puppet play. If you have a large cardboard box, creating the puppet stage can be part of the activity. If not, drape a sheet over the dining table instead.

What have you done for creative fun during this time at home? Share your experience in the comments below.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at: www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Social Connections Help Build Strong Families

Just before my first child was born my husband and I moved from New England to the Midwest.  We were young, newly married, and knew no one in our new hometown. All of our friends and family were thousands of miles away and we had a baby coming in a mere three months.

My husband’s new colleagues provided our first group of social connections.  To make new friends, we were intentional about attending church regularly. But it was the Welcome Wagon that really helped us build deep and lasting friendships.  They came with a list of ways to get connected.

Through them, I joined a Moms group (which included a babysitting co-op), we joined a card club and an International Dining group (potluck, a different country’s cuisine each month), and I started attending monthly La Leche League meetings, where I joined other new mothers for regular support after the baby was born.

All of these avenues of connection helped us build strong social connections and gave us a support system at a time when our old support network was very far away.  Our new friends could reassure us when we felt overwhelmed as new parents. They offered advice, entertainment, and babysitting. They helped us feel welcome and cared for in our new community.

Social connections are one of the five protective factors for strong families. Friends can lend support when we are overwhelmed or just need a different perspective.  Others who are facing similar challenges can provide a listening ear or childcare assistance while you run to the doctor. When you have emotionally supportive friends, life gets easier – for you and for your children.

Here are some options for making connections with other parents in and around Corvallis:

HOME group. Meets at Northwest Hills Community Church, Tuesdays from 9:15 – 11:15 during the school year.  For moms with children 5 yrs and under. Childcare is provided while moms gather for fellowship and learning.  Emphasis is on equipping moms through gifted speakers, hands-on activities, and building a community of support through friendship.  https://www.helpingourmoms.com/

Osborn Aquatic Center.  Sign up the kiddos for swim lessons!  Parents participate in class with their youngest swimmers.  But as the children progress to independent lessons, parents watch from the bleachers – where they can visit with like-minded parents.

Corvallis-Benton County Public Library.  Activities for children and adults alike offer opportunities for parents to connect with other parents through shared activities.  In addition to the usual story hours and children’s reading clubs, the library also offers events just for adults. Looking for something to do without the kids?  Check out https://cbcpubliclibrary.net/events/adult-events/

Parenting Classes.  Check out The Incredible Years, for parents of preschoolers, or Make Parenting a Pleasure for those with older children.  Learn some new communication strategies and meet new friends in the process.  Many classes are free, with dinner and childcare provided. Details can be found here: https://www.parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting-programs/

Mid-Willamette YMCA. Offers programs for children and adults, such as their monthly Lunch and Learn, which is an opportunity to listen to a speaker while enjoying lunch with other attendees.

Community Events.  Corvallis has a long tradition of holding family-friendly community events –   like Benton County Fair in August, Fall Festival in September, and Downtown trick-or-treat in late October.  For more, visit: https://www.visitcorvallis.com/festivals-events

Other ways to make social connections:

Volunteer – in your children’s school, through a faith-based organization, or with an organization whose mission you support.  Watch for invitations to volunteer on social media, or reach out to an organization directly.

Join a Group – find a group of other adults doing something you love (biking, hiking, reading, knitting).  Attend their regular meetings and build friendships around your common interest. During the summer months, parents in Corvallis hold regular meet-ups at community parks.  The kids spend time together while the parents visit with each other.

Reach out – to your family and your friends.  Plan get-togethers, invite them over for coffee or a meal.  Be intentional about building strong relationships with those you already know.

Strengthening your relationships outside your family can provide concrete support when you need it most and will strengthen your family at the same time.