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!

Use Your Local (and Not-so-Local) Libraries

Libraries are treasure troves of materials, resources, and entertainment. And they’re free!

It’s probably no surprise that I’m a big fan of libraries. I do work in two of them, after all! But it can be easy to forget all they have to offer, especially if you don’t visit them often (or at all). So consider this a reminder! If your local library is small or has limited resources, however, don’t despair. You can take advantage of libraries all over Connecticut and can even check out materials once you have a library card from your own town’s library. I encourage you to explore as many libraries as you can and see what you can discover!

Don’t want to spend time seeing what each library has available? The simplest, most time-efficient method I’ve found is to follow them on Facebook. Libraries will often highlight when they have something new or interesting to offer, and you can scope out their features without hours perusing websites!

BOOKS, MAGAZINES, CDS, DVDS…

Perhaps what libraries are best known for are their many shelves full of books. And, yes, books can be great entertainment for all ages. Board books for babies and toddlers, picture books for just about everyone, leveled readers for those learning to read, fiction and non-fiction for anyone looking to learn, escape, and explore. Some libraries will offer a “1000 books before Kindergarten” program that encourages parents to read to their children from a young age. Access to reading materials at home can help children not only learn to read, but succeed in many areas of life. (For some reading statistics that may surprise you, check out this article from Literacy Project.)

In addition to books, however, libraries also offer other media that is usually available to check out and enjoy: magazines, CDs, and DVDs. (And if you’re really old school, I know at least one library – the South Windsor Public Library – that still has some VHS and cassette resources!) With these resources you can add more entertainment options to your repertoire: check out Highlights for Children or Ranger Rick magazines for fun and educational stories and games to share, pick up a couple of CDs and have an impromptu dance party or sing-along, and snag some DVDs for a family movie night or binge session.

Some libraries will also offer video games that you can borrow. If you have a game console but are looking for a little variety, see what games libraries in your area have available by doing a quick search in their catalog. A few libraries will even let you borrow a game console! For younger children, some libraries will offer Launchpads, which are tablets pre-loaded with educational games on them. These are usually geared toward the preschool or early elementary crowd.

Don’t forget digital resources, too! Ebooks, audiobooks, and sometimes even movies and music, are available digitally through services your library subscribes to. Keep in mind, however, that for these services you can only utilize your own town’s library, as they are only available to that library’s cardholders. See what services your library offers by heading to their website. Some popular options are Hoopla, Overdrive/Libby, Freading, and more. Libraries may also link to other free resources that are available to everyone online.

TOYS, GAMES, AND PUZZLES

Though limited due to the pandemic, many libraries usually offer toys and puzzles in the library for little patrons to play with and use. More libraries, however, are starting to expand to items that families can use outside the library. From puzzle and board game swaps to backpacks filled with books and activities, many libraries are letting people bring even more fun home. Some, such as the Cora J. Belden Library in Rocky Hill and the Portland Library, even have oversized yard games like Jenga that you can borrow!

MUSEUM PASSES

If you’re looking for free or reduced admission to local museums, check out your local library first. Many will offer museum passes for assorted venues around the state, and some even offer print on demand passes, so you don’t need to go to the library to pick up a pass! If your library doesn’t have a pass for a museum you’re interested in, look around at other libraries in the area. Many will let you take advantage of their passes even if you’re not a resident.

PROGRAMS

From story times to STEM to crafts and beyond, libraries are known for offering fun, educational, and unique programs. And you don’t usually need to be a resident to participate! Check out all the libraries in your area to see what they offer. Some popular offerings many libraries will feature: story times (often for babies through preschoolers), take and make kits (for projects your child can complete on his own), magic shows, cook-along programs, arts and crafts, science or STEM-based projects, Skype-a-Scientist, book clubs, author talks, music and movement, and more! Check out libraries’ events calendars or follow them on Facebook to stay up-to-date on everything they have to offer. With the pandemic, many libraries are offering a mix of virtual and in-person programs, so you can find something that best suits your family.

COMPUTERS

If you don’t have your own computer, most libraries offer several for the public to use. Some will also have special computers designed for young children to use, loaded with educational games and activities. Libraries will also have printers available if you need to print something but don’t have a printer, though there’s usually a cost per page to print. Have your own computer but lacking internet? Some libraries will let you borrow a hot spot to get internet wherever you are! And that just opens a world of possibilities…

UNIQUE OFFERINGS

In addition to the more standard fare noted above, some libraries have expended their offerings to include more unusual options. These can include everything from power tools to telescopes. In the spring you may be interested in checking seed libraries. These mini libraries-within-libraries give you the ability to “check out” a variety of seeds (no need to return!), so you can plant a garden without that added expense.

Another feature that some libraries offer, though this, too, is limited to your own town’s library, is special online subscriptions. Some popular offerings are Ancestry, CreativeBug, language learning software, and historical resources. Head to your town library’s website to see what they offer.

Get Moving

Physical activity is important for children – and adults! And whether it’s following a long day of schoolwork or keeping kids entertained on the weekend, getting bodies moving can be good for both physical and mental health.

START SMALL

Physical activity doesn’t have to be complicated. Taking a walk around the block is a simple way to get in some exercise. Start with a short distance, then encourage your children to walk a little farther each time (just remember that you’ll have to walk back, too, unless you’re going in a circle!). If basic walks are too tame for your kids, try hiking local trails or biking if you have bicycles handy. If you have a backyard or a park field nearby, just letting them loose to run around can help them burn off some pent-up energy.

Need to stay inside? That’s OK! Put on some music and have a dance party. Try yoga, or experiment with different ways to walk, hop, and crawl.

CHALLENGES

Whether it’s a competition or just a way to push themselves, adding in some challenges can making simple activities a bit more fun. How far can they jump? How fast can they run? Can they walk like a crab or hop like a frog? If you put some pieces of tape on the floor or mark off the driveway with chalk, can they jump from mark to mark? Can they hop sideways between the marks? Try hopscotch or other shapes to encourage different options.

Set up goals or targets and have your children try to reach them, whether it’s by kicking or throwing a ball, or tossing a bean bag or small rock.

To keep things interesting, try adding activity dice to the mix and see if your child can act like different animals or superheroes. Check out this list from the City of San Rafael for ideas and printables: https://www.cityofsanrafael.org/roll-the-dice-games/. If you don’t have access to a printer, you can just write out some challenges on pieces of paper and lay them on the floor or ground to instruct kids. Give them a space to move, then set up your challenges along a path. Some challenges can be “jump like a frog to the next paper,” “run backwards,” “hop on one leg,” “slither like a snake.” Use your imagination or the link above for more ideas!

ADD SUPPLIES AND EQUIPMENT

Printables aren’t the only thing you can add. Adding other supplies or equipment can also add to the fun, and it can be as simple as heading to the playground! Swings, slides, climbing equipment, and more can keep bodies moving in fun and interesting ways. Check out several playgrounds in your area and see which ones your child likes best. While many will offer similar options, some will have unique features that add an exciting twist.

Do you have any balls, cones, hula hoops, jump ropes, or other supplies at home? If so, bring them out! Play a game of catch. Twirl those hoops or hop from one to the other. Skip rope or try double dutch.

Don’t have traditional sports supplies? That’s OK! Set up an obstacle course using whatever you have available. Placing chairs, pillows, even rocks or sticks, around your play space can create a fun challenge. Invite your children to run between the items, jump over them, walk backward through them, walk like a crab through them. Time the challenges so children can aim to beat their time or complete the course before the timer runs out.

SPORTS AND GAMES

Formal sports and games, with rules and regulations, can offer more structured playtime. If you have sports equipment on hand, bring it out and see what you can do with it. Even a simple ball to kick around can become a game of soccer by setting up goals at opposite ends of a field. Some parks will offer goals already set up, or you can simply place large rocks a few feet apart to act as goal posts.

Non-sports games are a great, fun option, too. Musical chairs, for example, can keep bodies moving while also encouraging lots of giggles! How about a game of tag? Have you tried the floor is lava? What other games can you and your children come up with?

MEDIA THAT ENCOURAGE MOVEMENT

Looking for more ways to get your kids moving? Check out these other resources!

Book Lists:

YouTube Channel Lists:

And of course, the internet abounds with more ideas and suggestions to explore. Happy moving!

Celebrate Every Day

Yesterday may have been a holiday, but did you know there are actually holidays every day? Some are quirky and some are just fun – and you can embrace them all!

There are holidays we all know, or that hold particular meaning for us, such as religious holidays. But sometimes the more obscure holidays can be even more fun to celebrate! You can turn every day into a holiday by finding ways to celebrate the quirky and obscure. Not ready to commit to every day? You can also celebrate every week or every month and still have fun!

I have found two sites that are great resources for determining the significance of every day. I apologize in advance for the ads:

There are other sites out there, as well, but I found these to be the most complete. They have a lot of overlap, but sometimes one will have a holiday or two that the other doesn’t have, and vice versa. So if I can’t find a holiday I like for a particular day on one site, I’ll check the other!

My kids and I have done this, and we’ve found lots of different ways to celebrate. It all depends on the day and what it offers. On Chocolate Cake Day, for example, we had to eat chocolate cake! And on Splash in Puddles Day? I think you can guess how we would celebrate.

In addition to the obvious, however, there are other ways you can enjoy the day. The sites also offer the nice feature that if you click on the holiday’s name, they will give you background information on the holiday, if available. This can help pinpoint what the day is really about. My kids and I would then check out books from the library that pertain to the topic and ready them together. I tried to find picture books that would be more fun, but if you have a child who loves to learn, you can also find nonfiction books that would relate to the topic, too!

I have also found arts and crafts projects for just about everything, so you can break out the craft supplies and do a quick google search to find something that works for you.

Among the holidays today, for example, is “National Neither Snow Nor Rain Day,” and it actually pertains to the post office and the popular supposed motto postal workers embraced. How can you celebrate? Here are some ideas:

  • Set up a pretend post office in your home. Deliver “letters” and “packages” to different areas of the house (this may also be a great opportunity to put toys away to their proper places!)
  • See if your local library has any of the following books:
    • The Post Office Book by Gail Gibbons
    • To the Post Office with Mama by Sue Farrell
    • Seven Little Postmen by Margaret Wise Brown
    • What to Mail Carriers Do? by Nick Christopher
    • A Trip to the Post Office by Josie Keogh
  • Try some of these mail-related crafts from Handmade Charlotte
  • Leave a thank you card or treat for your mail carrier.
  • Write a letter to a friend or family member
  • Find a pen pal for your child(ren). Scary Mommy has a post on how to do that safely.

Kids can really get into this idea, and they will help you find ways to celebrate. Let them help pick which holiday to explore each day, and help choose the books, projects, etc. It can be a fun tradition that will make every day fun!