Welcome the Year of the Tiger

February 1 marks the beginning of the Year of the Tiger. It is the Lunar New Year, sometimes referred to as Chinese New Year, and it can be lots of fun to celebrate!

Let’s face it, with dragons and fireworks as two staples, what kid wouldn’t enjoy celebrating the new year? Add tigers and food, and you’ve got a sure winner. But learning about other cultures, the holiday, and the stories behind it, can be lots of fun, too.

A LITTLE HISTORY

Many libraries will have books about Chinese New Year (The Nian Monster by Andrea Wang is my favorite!), and they make it easy for kids to learn the basics about the holiday. Some will be stories that take place during Chinese New Year, and some will be purely factual. Whichever your family prefers, choose one with lots of bright, bold pictures. The visual images from Chinese New Year shouldn’t be missed!

If you can’t make it to the library, or books aren’t your preferred way to learn, check out ChineseNewYear.net, a resource to learn about all things related to the holiday. Did you know celebrations can last up to 16 days? And that people born each year are believed to share character traits with that year’s animal? From the zodiac to the food, you’ll learn tons of interesting details.

China is not the only country that celebrates Lunar New Year, however, so be sure to learn about other countries’ celebrations, as well. Though geared toward businesspeople, GTE Localize has a quick overview of other countries’ celebrations.

CELEBRATION

Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, is a really big deal. When it kicks off, there are literally hours of broadcasts encompassing dancing, performances, and fireworks, and they go all out. Check out YouTube and search for “spring festival 2021” to get a peek of the celebrations from last year. Then head back next week to check out the new videos this year as part of your own family’s celebrations!

In addition to sharing the video performances, celebrate with decorations, activities, and food to embrace the festive atmosphere. You can also learn how to write and say some words and phrases in Chinese. Here are a few sites to get you started:

DECORATIONS

Certain accents are typical this time of year, as part of the New Year celebration. These include lanterns and decorative signs with certain words or phrases.

Lanterns come in different styles. You can make your own decorative lanterns using simple supplies you likely have at home, such as construction paper, glue, and scissors. Here are a few different options for you to create:

To make decorative signs, the first step is to learn how to write traditional Chinese characters! The most common word used is “fu” (good fortune), but you can also include wisdom, courage, peace, and more. GoodLuckSymbols.com can help with some appropriate characters. Once you’ve decided what you want your signs to say, draw or paint them onto a paper or board you can hang up. Red is considered a lucky color, and it is often used in these signs. You can also choose to decorate your sign with gold accents, flowers, etc.

ACTIVITIES

Anything associated with dragons and, this year, tigers is fair game when it comes to holiday projects! Here are some of my favorite related activities:

Here are some websites to explore for other projects and activities:

FOOD

Food is a big part of Chinese New Year, and a big feast is often enjoyed on New Year’s Eve as families prepare for the arrival of Nian, the monster who was said to arrive that night to terrorize villages. To celebrate, your family can enjoy your own feast. If you would like to incorporate some traditional dishes, here are some ideas:

For more inspiration and information about traditional New Year food, check out the food section of ChineseNewYear.net.

As a whole, Lunar New Year is a vibrant, exciting celebration that both kids and adults can enjoy. How will your family celebrate?

Homemade Gifting

Whether you’re looking to save money or want a more personal touch to your gifting, homemade gifts can be a great solution. Below are many ideas for gifts that are made using items you may already have at your home, keeping your costs way down.

EDIBLE GIFTS

Cookies, breads, and other treats can make great gifts. Bake or make your favorite, or try something a little different.

BATH AND BODY PRODUCTS

Who couldn’t use a little pampering?

TO SEW OR NOT TO SEW

If you have fabric lying around, there are plenty of giftable items you can make. Here are some ideas:

UPCYCLED GIFTS

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure! In this case, turn unused items into great gifts.

JUST ADD PAPER

It’s amazing what you can make using paper. Here are some giftable ideas:

OTHER DIY GIFTS

Hopefully these give you some ideas for homemade gifts. They are certainly not the only options! Project ideas can be found all over the internet. Try searching for projects using items you have on hand and see where it takes you!

Getting Ready for the Holidays

Thanksgiving is done, and the weather is getting colder. Twinkling lights are popping up around town. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

First let me say that you don’t need to celebrate Christmas to still enjoy many of the things in this post. Holiday light displays and handmade decorations are great no matter what you celebrate! The important thing is to spend time with your family and have fun!

LIGHT DISPLAYS

It wouldn’t be the holidays without brilliant light displays. Simple decorations or over-the-top light explosions, seeing those pops of color and light on a dark night just makes everything cheery. Never underestimate a drive or walk around the block – or further! The closer we get to Christmas, the more homes will display their cheer.

To drive or walk through a larger, more elaborate display, you have plenty of options. Here are a couple of free ones to check out:

Free events incorporating light are around, as well. Here are a couple:

Check with your town to see if they are offering a tree lighting event or other holiday activities. For more holiday events, be sure to check out the events calendar on the website.

DECORATIONS

Holiday decorations don’t just consist of lights. Trees, wreaths, ornaments, candles, and so much more can make your home feel festive and fun. And with a few supplies you already have at home, chances are you can make your own festive decorations. Here are some project ideas:

  • What do you have lying around? Maybe some cardboard boxes, foam packing pieces, random paint or tape? Use this post for inspiration to create over-sized decor using whatever you have on hand: Giant Candy Garland
  • Whip up a batch of salt dough to create ornaments to hang on your tree or around your home. (A few optional ingredients will even make it smell like Christmas!): Salt Dough Ornaments
  • Have some craft sticks floating around? Turn them into giant snowflakes: Popsicle Stick Snowflakes
  • This garland uses coffee filters – and even used ones are OK! Coffee Filter Garland
  • How about this wreath made from cardboard tubes? Honeycomb Wreath
  • Do you keep cards you’ve received in the past? Or have this year’s cards started coming in? Turn them into a tree for your wall: Holiday Card Tree
  • This article has tons of ideas that kids can make. Take a peek, see what you have at home, and create to your heart’s content: 50 Easy Christmas Crafts for Kids

Need more ideas? Do a quick Google search for “DIY holiday decorations,” and you’ll get plenty of options to choose from. Add “kids can make” to the end of that for lots of great craft ideas to keep kids busy, too.

GIFTS

It’s hard to think Christmas without thinking about presents. Stores are filled with shoppers trying to get their fill! But you don’t have to spend much, if anything, to give a thoughtful, meaningful, and appreciated gift. In next week’s post I will be putting together a roundup of many projects you can make and give this holiday season. Here are a few simple ideas to get you started:

Stay tuned for lots more ideas! And happy holidays!

A Little Thanksgiving Fun

Thanksgiving is a great time to express gratitude and get together with family and friends. It’s also a great opportunity to have fun!

Depending on when your family eats the big meal, you may find yourself with spare time together, either before or after. Football and the parade are popular entertainment choices, but they are certainly not the only ones. Check out these games and activities to have a little fun with your family this Thanksgiving.

FUN AT THE TABLE

Waiting for the turkey to be done? Here are some simple activities that can be done right at the dinner table.

ACTIVE GAMES

Work off the big meal with a little active fun!

OTHER GAMES AND ACTIVITIES

Looking for more ideas? Check these out!

Whatever you choose to do, enjoy the time with your family. Happy Thanksgiving!

Grateful for Gratitude

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, now is the perfect time to express and share gratitude for all we have!

It’s always a good time to express gratitude, and everything I’ve read indicates that it’s really good for you, too! This time of year, however, we all seem to be more in the mindset to appreciate what we have. Here are some ideas to share this mindset with your children – and make it a little more fun in the process!

SHOW YOUR THANKS

Turning the things you’re thankful for into home decor is not only fun; it also keeps them front and center, so you’re reminded of them every time you walk by. Two of my favorite projects are gratitude chains and thankful pumpkins.

A gratitude chain is a super simple project that just requires some construction paper, a marker, and tape or a stapler. Write what you’re thankful for on strips of paper, then link them together to make a chain. This is a great activity for Thanksgiving day, if you have guests coming over. Give each guest a small stack of paper strips and have them add on to the decorative chain. Then you can hang up the chain, and all the guests will be reminded of all they have to be grateful for. Not getting together with a large group of people? That’s OK! You can still do this with just your immediate family, on Thanksgiving or anytime.

There are actually two types of thankful pumpkin activities. If you have a spare pumpkin lying around (leftover from Halloween, perhaps?), you’ll just need a permanent marker to turn it into a festive decoration. Here are the instructions. The other project is more of a craft, and it requires orange and green construction paper, a marker, and tape. It’s similar to the gratitude chain, but you’re turning your strips of paper into a pumpkin, instead. You can find instructions for the second project here.

What are some other ways you can showcase your gratitude?

EXPRESS YOUR THANKS

While it is great to be grateful for all we have, it’s also important to be grateful for who we have. Let people in your life know you’re grateful for them by expressing your gratitude. There are infinite ways of doing this, including saying it and showing it with hugs and smiles. But it doesn’t have to end there.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we could also see signs posted in many places to say “thank you” to essential workers, teachers, and healthcare workers. Signs are still a great option. To make it more personal, try making a card and sending it to someone you appreciate. Leave little notes where they can find it (especially if they’ll find it at unexpected times!), such as in a coat pocket, wallet, or stuck to a bathroom mirror on a sticky note. You can also get more high tech with a personal video, or by sending an e-card.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, though, to get the message across. The more heartfelt, the more appreciated the expression will be.

PRACTICE THANKS

One time declarations of gratitude are great, but it doesn’t have to stop there. Express your gratitude every day by incorporating it into your life. Say “thank you” to those who help, guide, and inspire. Take some time at the beginning of family dinners to discuss what you’re grateful for that day. Create a gratitude journal and take a moment each day to write down what you’re thankful for (this is also a great way for kids to practice writing!).

For more ideas on how to express gratitude – and make it fun and interesting for kids – check out these sites:

How does your family express gratitude?

Giving Back

This time of year, especially, it seems people are looking for ways to give back. Whether it’s volunteering or donating, or just spreading some cheer, sharing kindness can be a fun and fulfilling family activity.

There is no shortage of food drives happening right now, and gift drives will be starting before we know it. Blessing bags are another idea for donating. If you have extra to give, by all means contribute. But you don’t have to buy things to give back. Here are some ideas to get you started.

VOLUNTEER

Volunteering has loads of benefits, for both the volunteer and the beneficiary, and even young children can find ways to contribute. This brief article from Connecticut Children’s touts some of the benefits. Volunteering can be as simple as helping a neighbor rake leaves or shovel snow, or as involved as helping to build a house for Habitat for Humanity or helping train a service dog. Here are some sources for ideas and locations where your family can volunteer:

Think about what’s important to your family. Be sure to ask the kids, too! Are there particular groups in the community you would like to serve? Is helping the environment more your thing? No matter your interest, there is a volunteer opportunity (or several!) that you can take part in. Check out the websites of organizations that matter to you. Many will indicate ways you can help, and it’s not always about writing a check. Even spreading the word can make a difference.

DONATE

With kids, there is always something that’s become outgrown, no longer played with, or not loved. And chances are, you have items you no longer want or need, too. Everything from clothes to toys to old cell phones is fair game. Put these items to good use by donating them to someone who could use them. Here are some ways you can give your unused items a new life:

  • Donate to a local homeless shelter or domestic violence shelter.
  • Donate to Goodwill, Salvation Army, or Savers – they will sell the items and use the proceeds.
  • Donate to CT Mutual Aid (serving different parts of the state – groups are also on Facebook)
  • Join your local “Buy Nothing” group on Facebook and post items you no longer need.

Looking for more places to donate? Check out this article on 28 Best Places to Donate Your Used Stuff.

SPREAD CHEER

Don’t underestimate the power of making someone smile. You can make a card for someone, paint a kindness rock, or simply say something nice. For more ideas, check out my Spread a Little Happiness post from last month. It doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy to make someone’s day!

Ready for Halloween

Halloween is a great holiday for thrifty families. While it is certainly possible to spend hundreds of dollars decorating and dressing up, it’s also relatively easy to fully enjoy the holiday without spending anything.

FREE CANDY

When it comes to free handouts, Halloween definitely has it covered! Trick or treating is perhaps every child’s favorite festive activity. And it’s free!

But in addition to trick or treating on Halloween night, you can find many other opportunities for similar activities. Trunk or treats have become very popular in the past few years. Similar to trick or treating, but children travel from car to car – trunk to trunk – rather than house to house. Many towns offer their own version of trunk or treat, and some organizations, businesses, and even schools have gotten in on the action. Check out the Events Calendar to find some scheduled trunk or treat events around the state, but be sure to also check with your own town. Some towns will offer events just for their residents. Some of these events will also have other activities to add to the Halloween fun.

EVENTS AND ACTIVITIES

In addition to trunk or treat events, you will find other festive happenings on the Calendar. Games and activities, both light-hearted and spooky, are available for families to enjoy. Not seeing something you like? Check with your local library. Many have Halloween-themed activities to celebrate the holiday.

In addition to activities offered elsewhere, however, you can also partake in festive activities right in your own home. You can enjoy Halloween-themed crafts using items you already have on hand. This list of 100 Halloween Crafts for Kids is a great place to start for simple projects using common items. As a bonus, many of these items can be turned into decorations to make your home ready for Halloween.

Looking for some games? Here are some easy options:

With a little creativity, you can turn items you have on hand into lots of fun activities!

COSTUMES

It just wouldn’t be Halloween without a costume to wear! The easiest way to create a budget-friendly costume is to take a look at clothes your child already has in his closet. Then see what can be turned into a costume by adding just a few supplies you already have on hand. You can also peruse the links below to get some ideas for DIY costumes your child is sure to enjoy.

Need more ideas? Google “DIY Halloween Costumes” and you’ll find plenty of options!

Enjoy the season, have some fun, and don’t stress about the budget! Happy Halloween!

Spread a Little Happiness

Back at the beginning of the pandemic, ideas were tossed around that encouraged people to stay positive, interact with each other from a safe distance, and have a little fun. Restrictions may have lifted, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take some of the same ideas – and some new ones – and spread a little cheer.

GET CREATIVE

Cheerful pictures can brighten someone’s day, and they’re so easy to do! One idea that my kids and I have tried is taking sidewalk chalk and drawing pictures on the sidewalk near our house. Pretty pictures and even inspirational words and sayings can add a smile to someone’s day. Take a tip from a Kohl’s commercial and make a hopscotch board or other game out of chalk. Add a little pizazz to someone’s walk!

You can also try painting rocks with bright colors, pictures, and kind words to spread a little kindness. Large, smooth rocks work best. Tuck them where people can see them – at the edges of your yard, in a public park, or outside your school!

USE YOUR WINDOWS

Another simple idea is to create pictures on pieces of paper and hang them in your windows so passersby can see them. Use bold colors so they can see them from a distance. Or cut out colorful hearts or flowers and showcase those.

You can also send passersby on a teddy bear hunt and tuck stuffed animals (or pictures of stuffed animals) in your windows. Get neighbors in on the act for added fun.

WRITE IT DOWN

Who wouldn’t love a handwritten note saying something nice? It can be a quick “thank you” for delivery drivers and postal workers, a note of appreciation for your teacher, or an “I’m glad you’re my friend” message to your bestie. While you’re add it, leave little messages for your family members and neighbors. Tuck them where they will find them easily – but unexpectedly! Some note ideas:

  • Appreciation – why you’re grateful for them
  • Compliment – something you appreciate or admire in them
  • Poem or story – write your own or share a favorite (but remember to give credit!)
  • Coupon to do something together, like play a game or watch a movie

For a little added treat, draw a picture to go with your note or make a small token gift, such as a bookmark or paper flower.

GRAB YOUR PHONE (OR COMPUTER)

In this digital world, it’s easy to grab your preferred device and send a message to someone. You can call, text, or e-mail your way into someone’s thoughts. But you can also take it one step further by sending an e-card, photo, funny meme, or motivational message. You can even take a short video and forward that along. Why not share a favorite memory? Or make plans to play an online game together or watch a movie at the same time – and discuss it via text or video?

What are some other ways we can spread happiness?

Only in the Rain

When the weather’s not so great, and you want to stay inside, you have lots of options to keep you busy. I outlined several in a previous blog post. But what about when you want to enjoy the rainy weather? There are some things that can only be done on those dreary, wet days!

GET WET

Kids love water play, and that shouldn’t change just because the water is coming from the sky! Toys that can be used in the bathtub or swimming pool can certainly be used in puddles. Encourage kids to take it a step further with some creative building, and have them make boats for their toys, or build a dam to stop a stream of water. See if they can use only items they find in nature – sticks, rocks, leaves, etc. – in their creations.

Grab some empty bowls, cups, and containers, and have the kids fill, pour, and splash. With all the comparisons and measuring, they’ll be learning some math along the way!

Finally, don’t underestimate the simple pleasure of stomping in puddles. The bigger the better! Your child can also experiment with splashing by tossing some items, such as rocks, into puddles. How big a splash can he make?

GET MUDDY

For some messy fun, encourage your child to play in the mud! Make mud pies, draw in the mud, even make mud angels! Mud can be a great sensory experience, and its squishy firmness makes it a great medium for art projects. Give your kids permission to get messy, and you’ll be amazed at what they can create – and how much fun they’ll have!

BE A SCIENTIST

With an abundance of water available, take this opportunity to experiment. What materials sink or float? What materials dissolve in water? If you draw or paint, how does the rain affect your pictures? Does the color look the same? Does it even stay, or does it disappear?

Go for a nature walk and see how different nature can look when it’s wet. Do you see the same animals you would normally see? Are some hiding? Are some others – like frogs, ducks, or worms – popping up when you wouldn’t usually see them?

Use your senses. How does the rain feel against your skin? Does it feel differently on your head, where your hair is? Or through your clothes? What does it taste like? How does the world around you smell? Feel? What can you hear? Does it sound the same as it does on a sunny day? What’s different?

HAVE FUN

As tempting as it can be to just sit inside and stay dry, Playing and exploring in the rain can be a memorable experience for you and your children. Give it a try and have fun! If you’d like more ideas on how to enjoy the rain, check out these sites:

And, finally, a disclaimer. Always make sure to stay safe! As fun as the rain may be, if you hear thunder or see lightning, stay inside. If the temperatures dip, be sure to stay bundled up and warm, and keep feet dry. And when you’re done playing outside, be sure to dry off and find some inside fun!

What Can You Do With a Piece of Paper?

The simplest of supplies, likely to be floating around your home or easily accessible, and yet so versatile. What can you do with a simple piece of paper?

PAPER AIRPLANES

Paper airplanes are perhaps the simplest paper creation, known to kids everywhere. But did you know there are tons of different styles and designs? And each one will fly a little differently. Head to Fold’NFly, pick out your favorite design, then challenge family members to a race! You can also set up targets to see how accurate your creations are. Land them on a particular spot or have them fly through something. Let the fun begin!

ORIGAMI

Paper airplanes are, actually, a kind of origami. Origami is the art of paper folding. But possibilities abound way beyond airplanes. Animals, boxes, even hats! can be made by folding up a piece of paper or two. Check out these sites for ideas and instructions:

What will you create?

ZENTANGLE

Moving past folding, there are infinite uses for a piece of paper. For a fun, relaxing art project, try Zentangle. This drawing method is simple enough that young children can do it, but with the ability to be complex enough for older, more dedicated artists. It can also be a great quiet time or calming activity, as it is designed to help your mind relax and unwind.

TELL A STORY

To create art with words rather than images, try writing a story. (Or stick with pictures and make a comic!) A story can be about anything you want, and it can be however long you want it to be. For ideas and inspiration to help you, check out a post I wrote earlier this year.

MAKE YOUR OWN…

There are tons of paper crafts out there, and a quick google search will bring you more options than you could ever possibly want. Add some scissors and glue or tape, and you can make just about anything, especially if you have different colors to work with. Here are some resources to get you started:

Now that you have lots of options, what will you choose to create? Grab a piece of paper and find out!