I am a woman determined to have it all! But it won't be easy. I have goals and plans and ideas galore, and to make it all happen I have to stay motivated and focused. That's where this blog comes in. I will discuss my many projects, and the progress I've made on my goals. In return I ask that you hold me accountable and make sure I don't slack off!
To learn more about my professional projects, please visit me at www.VanessaKelman.com.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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!
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?
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?
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!
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 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!
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:
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:
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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!
Do you have a little scientist or engineer on your hands? Want to encourage creativity, problem solving, and outside-the-box thinking? Set aside some tinker time!
Tinkering can take on many forms, and it can involve building, creating, and experimenting. The best part is: you can use whatever you have on hand to guide you! There is no need to go out and purchase supplies. Challenging yourself (and your children!) to use what is already available can actually add to the fun.
Just about anything can be used to build. This includes actual building blocks or LEGO, but can also include boxes, plastic containers, books, and random items you find around the house. Gift of Curiosity has a list of great building challenges and ideas that can get you and your child started. It includes making a construction set out of cardboard, building with toothpicks and gumdrops, and more. Life over C’s also has some great challenge ideas that use items you have on hand. Ideas include building a bridge and stacking challenges.
Dump out the recycling bin and challenge your kids to make something. It can be a craft, a toy, a building – whatever they’re interested in creating. You can add to the challenge by saying they can only use items from the bin, or by adding only selected items such as glue or scissors. See where their minds take them!
You can also encourage creative thinking by giving them options or ideas. These projects for “Dancing Boxes” and “Spinning Tops” can get them started while also being open-ended enough to encourage imagination.
Another option is to put together a box or bin filled with random craft supplies or odds and ends you find around your home. Hand them the box and encourage them to make something! It may take them a few minutes to get started, but once they do, the results can be amazing.
Experimenting is all about trial and error, seeing what happens when something else happens, and looking at the world in a new way. One great way to experiment with items you have on hand is by creating a Rube Goldberg machine. These devices are really just a bunch of random items interacting with each other to get something simple done in a very complicated way, and they’re all about chain reactions.
Science experiments are also a great way to tinker, especially if you encourage your children to go beyond the initial experiment. Add a second layer to the project or ask them what would happen if… Here are some sites to get you started:
There are seemingly infinite sources for challenges out there. Just do a quick search for “LEGO Challenges” on Google, and you’ll have more ideas than you know what to do with!
Searching online can yield a ton of results and ideas for further tinkering projects. One great source I’ve linked to above, as well, is The Tinkering Studio by the Exploratorium – a museum in San Francisco. Don’t underestimate the power of the imagination, however! Giving your kids a bunch of supplies and some free time can yield surprising results.
Summer is coming to an end, and a new school year is right around the corner. Make the transition fun for your family with these ideas!
START A TRADITION
What summer activities are special to your family? Take some time to have that fun one more time and make a toast to the end of summer. Take pictures of your family celebrating the end of summer or beginning of the school year. Make a scrapbook using pictures and trinkets from your summer excursions, or prepare a scrapbook to be filled with all of the fun memories from a new school year. Discuss what you’re looking forward to about starting school.
No matter what you decide to do, make it a tradition. Encourage your family to embrace the transition and learn to look forward to each changing season.
START NEW (FUN!) ROUTINES
Back to school often means back to typical routines of homework, chores, and drudgery. But while your family is shifting back into “normalcy,” add some fun routines to the mix.
Even if your family starts to grumble at the thought of less time glued to their screens, they will soon look forward to the time to connect. Encourage them to share things they would like to do together, or routines they would be interested in trying.
SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER
In the hustle and bustle that comes with the school year, try to squeeze in some time together as a family.
Turn homework into a family affair by having everyone work together in the same room. Even parents can get in on the action by doing their own work (paying bills? paperwork?). If you don’t have work of your own, take the time to catch up on your reading or a quiet project.
Try not to overschedule your family members. By limiting extracurricular activities, you’ll have more time to relax, connect, and have fun. Plan family fun days, when you can all partake in an outing or special activity together. Check out the events calendar, info tabs, or previous posts for ideas. Make these days important, and schedule them as you would a doctor’s appointment. Remind your family that spending time together matters. And have fun together!
What are your family’s favorite things to do for back to school?
Good books are meant to be shared. Connect with friends and family near and far by starting your own book club!
Children of all ages enjoy being read to. Whether it’s at bedtime or in the middle of the day, it’s a great way to bond and share stories. Take things one step further by discussing what you’re reading. Ask your child what they think is going to happen next, or if they agree with a character’s decision. Pretend you’re in the characters’ position – how would you act or react? how would your child? You’d be surprised what kids will come up with!
This option is even great with family members who live far away. A grandparent, for example, can read aloud to a grandchild over Skype or Zoom, then share conversation and laughs over a book discussion.
Older kids and teens may prefer this option. Pick up two copies of the same book (or more, if you have more children or family members participating). You and your child(ren) can read the book on your own time, then meet either at the end or periodically while reading to discuss what happened. Encourage them to discuss how the story made them feel. Teens may also enjoy discussing underlying themes or controversial topics that are present. Was the story engaging? Did they connect with the main character? Was the resolution satisfying?
This option is also great for family members – and friends – who don’t live in your household. Increase your book club members by reaching out to cousins or close friends who would enjoy reading and discussing the book, as well. Then meet on Zoom or Google Meets to share thoughts and conversation.
LET CHILDREN LEAD
While reading or discussing a book, encourage your child to start the conversation, ask questions, and really get involved. Having an adult guide the conversation too much can make them feel as if their opinions are “wrong” or “silly.” If your child is reluctant to engage, share how the book made you feel, especially if your feelings are surprising. Young children may prefer to draw pictures about the book, particularly if the book was a chapter book with few pictures. The act of drawing can help them connect with characters and situations. Have them discuss what’s happening in their drawings to get a peek into their thoughts and feelings.
You can also encourage your child to take the lead by having them pick the book you read. Even if they pick a very short picture book, respect their choice and take it seriously. As they feel more confident, their choices will reflect this. You can also try alternating books, during which you pick a book, and then rotate among your children who picks the next book. This helps ensure everyone’s opinions are considered.
The most important step is to have fun! Having a book club shouldn’t feel like homework. Keep the discussion lighthearted. Have snacks – themed to the book is even better! If the book warrants it, decorate the discussion space to match the topic or theme. Reading a book about animals? Bring all the stuffed animals you own into the room. Discussing magic? Give each participant a magic wand or fairy wings. Is there a particular item that plays a part in the plot? Set out an item that represents it. If you can’t find something similar, post a picture. Get immersed in the story, act like the characters, and enjoy the process. If the “meeting” ends in giggles, that’s perfectly alright. Sharing books together will bring you closer and help encourage a love of reading. Enjoy!