Category: Projects with Kids

teaching with context

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 11.31.15 AMI remember the first time my daughter saw a ripe strawberry on a small plant we had in a garden box on the roof of our apartment building. She was so excited as she slowly and tentatively picked it and ate it.  And then, I kid you not, she thanked the plant. While I wasn’t–and still am not–a knowledgeable gardener, I want my kids to know a little bit about where food comes from. I think it’s generally good to know and care about these things, and so each year we’ve planted a little garden.

Of course teaching kids about how things work is one of the jobs of being a parent–we are constantly helping children to make sense of their world and the things in it. Sometimes it’s with a short explanation, sometimes with an interpretation of a comment or joke, sometimes with a commitment to a garden for a few months, sometimes with a fun “lesson” on a theme.

One summer day, in need of a project and a goal, proved a perfect time to do such a “lesson.” This time our theme was ice cream. We made a day of it by going to the library and finding a couple of books on how ice cream is made (among them, Ice Cream: The Full Scoop by Gail Gibbons).  We read the books together, then, woo-hoo! went out for ice cream. Simple. Educational. Extremely satisfying and fun, and a terrific way to spend the afternoon. A winning combination.

Does your child love buses? Make it a day with a trip to the library then a bus ride. Or maybe it’s trains. Or a bakery, a farm, even the airport to watch planes take off. Slower days of summer for parents can allow time for creating these kinds of experiences, where kids have the opportunity to learn and preview something in a book at a slow pace, then connect the information to something real in their world. –t


the bake-off

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 11.34.18 AMSummer is here and we all have days or parts of days to fill with our kids.  In that spirit, we thought we’d share an idea that you can adapt based on the age of your kids.

The Bake-off:  Brownies, chocolate chip cookies, 7- layer bars, let your kids pick one and find a couple of recipes for it – online or in cookbooks.  Depending on the number of kids you plan to include, let each make a different small – batch version.  Have discussions about the differences in the recipes and predict what effect each will have.  If it’s a smaller batch and your kids are up to it, work through the math to halve a recipe.  And then when the oven timer goes off, have a taste test – blindfolded if your group is up for that.  Kids can record what each tastes like and even guess which went with each recipe (if they looked enough alike going into the ovens). -n


diy microwavable rice pillow

photo 1Know a mom who tends to overdo it at the gym, someone who could use a de-stressor, or a granny who would welcome some soothing warmth? The microwavable fleece Rice Pillow is a great DIY gift year ‘round, and a simple project if you’re looking for something to do with the kids (or by yourself) for Mother’s Day. A friend gave me one a few years ago for Christmas. While at first I missed her usual delicious baked goods, the Rice Pillow was truly a gift that kept on giving. I’ve used the thing a million times.

Here are some basic steps in making your own. This one will be about 16” x 8”, but you can make any size you’ve got the rice for.  You’ll need:

  • A piece of fleece (folded in half it will be about the size of your finished product)
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine or needle and thread
  • Rice (e.g. long grain, jasmine, basmati)
  • A funnel, pitcher with a spout, or paper to make a funnel to fill the pillow

Things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t use instant rice – it may catch on fire when heated.
  • A microwave is necessary to heat the finished pillow (i.e. if your grandmother doesn’t own a microwave, this will be a lame gift).
  • Measurements aren’t critical to the success of this project!

The Step-by-Step:

1. Fold the fleece in half, right side in, and stitch the side edges closed. Sew the top, leaving about 3” in the center open. If hand sewing, make sure your stitches are close together so that rice can’t escape.








2. Turn the rectangle-with-the-small-hole you just made right side out through that small hole.


3. Stitch a few seams from the fold to about an 1-½”  from the top (parallel to the edge). The space at the top will allow you to fill the sections.


4. Fill each section ⅔ – ¾ full with rice using the funnel or pitcher. It’s easiest to fill the outer sections first. Over a sink is a good idea!








5. Sew the hole in the top closed.








6. Wrap with a card containing instructions! This thing can look like a blob, and a wide ribbon around a rolled up pillow really does wonders for presentation. Instructions: Heat on high in microwave for about 2 minutes–smaller pillows obviously will take less time than larger–add time in 30 second intervals until the heat is just right…aaaaahhhh. Kick back and relax.


writing lettersCommunicating with pen and paper is increasingly rare these days. In our fast, digital, swipe and click lives, writing a note is a more deliberate, physical act that requires us to slow down, think it through, and write legibly.  

As we look for ways to find balance in our fast-moving days, here is a fun family activity: set up a mail system in your home. Turn an old box, a can, or a jar into a personal mailbox. Then decide on some period of time (a week or a month) and exchange notes.  Write notes and “mail” them when others aren’t around so checking is exciting and the surprise of finding a note is real. Deliver a compliment. Share a thought that might be easier written than said. Send invitations to play games or for outings. The pace and the method of interaction may inspire and offer connection in rare or unexpected ways.

recycle, reuse, scrounge, create!

scrounge artIn our book from the list called “Stuck Indoors – Feeling Mellow,” we share a favorite creative any day activity: scrounge! If you’re unfamiliar with scrounge, think recyclables that make good building materials.  It will become a habit before you toss something in the recycling bin to think “is this good scrounge?” and your scrounge box will fill.

Some examples of choice scrounge: packaging materials from electronics, yogurt cups, foam trays, bottle caps, paper towel and toilet paper tubes, sparkly things, fabric swatches, string, cardboard for a good base …anything in quantity! Small cuts on the edges of tubes and cardboard make for good stacking and building big fast.

When you need an activity, bring out the scrounge bin, scissors, glue, a roll of masking tape and a roll of duct tape and you’ve got a fun afternoon (full of robots, gardens, spaceships, or machines!).

gift ideas: especially for you

Gift their name in cookiesToday’s post highlights some favorite gifts that get personal. Amid the many, many customizable gifts that are available in our highly customizable on-line, one-click world, it is the effort and time that infuse these with such a special flavor. In the quiet glee that bubbles through a project for someone you care about, you just might find in them a gift to yourself as well.

1. Cookies in Your Name – How fun to receive cookies that spell your name? Simple or decorated, this project is a fun way to spend some time thinking yummy thoughts of someone you love. (We’re also quite fond of ye olde pancake version of this – even just a single letter, YOUR letter, on the breakfast plate is so sweet!).

2. A jar full of …  – For those who have followed our blog for a while, this project was “a jar full of memories” for Father’s Day. Fill a jar with colorful and thoughtful specifics: compliments, reasons you love someone, a couple of photos, hopes for them or for you together. Very special to “unpack.”

3. CD / playlist – What songs from the year will bring to mind the road trip, the spontaneous silly dancing, the beach day, cooking together at Thanksgiving, oh, and that song that just had to be played again and again and again? My husband, for each of the kids’ birthdays, would make them a CD of the songs they loved that particular year.

4. Photo book – for a young child with family far away, their first “photo album” is a great choice, whether you go an on-line route or fill a small album with old-school prints. When my daughter was 2, we lived across the country from pretty much all the rest of our family. One of her favorite “picture books” was a small photo album that had pictures of each of her grandparents, their houses, pets, her cousins, aunties and uncles. Simple straight-on snapshots are best, when the faces are clear: think “head shot” rather than “grandpa standing at the end of the pier.”

5. Personalized stationery  – OK, so this one is on-line and made-to-order, but was such a hit we had to include it. For kids there is something really magical about seeing their names in print. And it could well be the gift that comes back to you in a lovely and unexpected way.  A few that we thought were simple and sweet: here and here.

And for those of you who are still shopping, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite games.

Happy gifting,


a jedi robe

make a jedi robe costumeI really don’t think of myself as a crafty person, so when my Star Wars-loving son wanted a Jedi robe, I headed out to see what was in the stores. I didn’t find quite what I wanted, so I asked Tara where she’d look. Her suggestion was to stop looking and just make one! (Make one? Hmmm… How was that going to go?) Actually it went surprisingly well. Here is how:

 1. Start with brown fleece. (Fleece doesn’t unravel or need to be hemmed. Good to go right out of the gate!) Source: JoAnn Fabrics
2. Use your kid’s bathrobe or a hoodie as a guide. (Lay it down and trace it onto the fleece, leaving lots of extra margin at the edges to achieve the “robe” look. Alter sleeve openings and length if necessary.)
3. Cut out the shapes, one for the front and one for the back.
4. Sew them together. (I actually sewed it by hand.)
5. Cut the front opening.
6. Trace a hood and sew the parts together. Attach the hood to the robe.
7. Cut a strip for a belt. (Sew it on if you want it to stay connected.)

That’s it. Really! That was it! It was fun, not hard, way faster than I thought, and so satisfying!  And for the many kids who pass through our playroom, it continues to be the most worn item in the dress up bin. -n

apples to crisp

chopperIf you live in the northeast, the time is ripe for apple picking.  Apparently with all of the heat from the summer, the apple-picking season is well underway with many varieties available.  In our house, we always get carried away and return home with way too many apples. A great kid-involved project for post picking: crisp!  And three kid-specific tools to make this really fun: corer, peeler, & chopper.   All available at the small hands web site fairly inexpensively.

This apple crisp recipe is super simple and gets gobbled down in no time:

About 12 apples peeled, cored and chopped.  Sprinkle with juice from ½ lemon and cinnamon.

Mix 1 C flour, 1 C sugar & 1 stick soft butter.

Combine ¾ of mixture with apples, put in casserole, sprinkle remaining mixture on top.  Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

world-class craft project

photoIn continued homage to the Olympics, this is an inexpensive, easy and engaging craft project for kids.  The only supplies needed are a stack of colored construction paper (40 sheets are $2 at Target), scissors, glue sticks (about $1.50 each) and an almanac.  A creative babysitter of ours introduced us to this project.  The kids pick out a flag and then recreate it using construction paper.  These flags have created a ceiling border for each of my kids’ rooms and our basement playroom. Colorful, educational and fun to make! Quiz: Can you guess these 2 flags without the help of a google (or other) search? -n

Answer will be in next week’s post.

where in the world?!

where in the worldThe Olympics are on! And the Tour de France, which is a favorite annual event in our house, just finished with Bradley Wiggins being the first British rider to finish in Paris in the yellow jersey and win the tour! Amidst all the sports and flags and teams, my son asked, “Where is Denmark? Where is Croatia?” This reminded me of what a great opportunity these international sporting events are for talking about geography. Myself, I always loved the flags. There are so many entry points here, whether interest is in the various sports, the athletes themselves, the graphics of the flags, guessing the abbreviation of the countries, or locating countries on a map or globe.  Go team!  -t

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