Raid the Recycling Bin

Last time we talked about culinary creations using what you have on hand. Now let’s turn trash into treasure with projects and experiments!

Recycling is a great way to keep some items from the landfill, but an even better way is to give those items new life. From cardboard tubes to plastic jars and containers, your family can find lots of uses for items that are otherwise destined for the recycling bin.

STORAGE

Though not exactly “fun,” many of the items that get recycled can be used as storage. Jars make great homes for bouncy balls and other small items. Yogurt and fruit cups can be used to organize drawers. Cardboard tubes can be turned into pencil holders. Challenge your kids to find new and creative ways to keep their areas tidy using nothing but recyclable items.

PROJECT AIDS

Instead of running out to buy supplies, some recyclable items can also be used to assist in other projects. Plastic cups and dishes, for example, make great water cups when little artists paint. Paper plates make great palettes. Newspaper is great as a protective surface for any creative project that can get a little messy. What else can you reuse rather than purchase?

CRAFTS

Now onto the fun stuff. Many sites and posts from other blogs have been dedicated to craft projects using recyclable materials. I will share some below. But it can also be fun to simply dump out the recycling bin and let your kids have fun with it! What do you think they could create?

Compile some supplies, based on what you already have at home: scissors, tape, glue, paint and brushes, markers, crayons, yarn or string, paper clips, stapler, etc. These will become your child’s work tools. Then let them explore and experiment to create something beautiful and/or useful. You can print some pictures as inspiration if you’d like, or just let them use their imaginations.

If you or your child prefer clear instructions, here are some of those sites as promised:

HANDS-ON ACTIVITIES

If your child isn’t interested in crafts, rest assured there are plenty of activities they can still do with recyclable materials! Here are some of my favorites:

  • Make a marble raceway. Cardboard tubes, bottles, cups, and other items make great marble tracks. Masking tape helps them stick to walls for a vertical track that can inspire STEM-based learning. Cut tubes in half lengthwise, make holes, make funnels, and see where your marble will travel. Anything you have on hand is fair game when it comes to making a marble track.
  • Get musical. Fill glass jars and containers with water and tape on them to make music! Use different amounts of water, different size jars, and experiment with how different items sound. You can also make instruments with cardboard tubes, food containers, jar caps, and more. Check out these sites for inspiration:
  • Start a garden. If you’re getting ready to start a garden, recyclable materials can save you time and money. Turn plastic bottles into self-watering planters or mini greenhouses. Turn a milk jug into a watering can. Use egg cartons or cardboard tubes as seed starters. For info on these and other projects, head to Red Kite Days for details.
  • Take on some STEM. Try some science experiments using recycled materials. Build cars. Create your own building blocks. For these and more ideas, check out Little Bins for Little Hands. You can also explore simple machines with these projects from 123 Homeschool 4 Me.

Encourage your child to come up with new ideas. Pick up an item and ask “what could this become? What could we do with this?” Then see where those amazing brains lead them!

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Pantry Potluck

What do close-to-expiration food items, leftovers, and overlooked boxes and bottles have in common? They’re all ingredients for family fun!

If you’re anything like me, your cabinets and refrigerator have accumulated at least a few odds and ends you just haven’t gotten around to using. Get ready for spring cleaning by taking them all out and putting them to good use!

To start, first get rid of anything that is just too old to use, or anything whose safety could be questionable. We don’t want anyone getting sick. Then call a family meeting. Discuss how you can use up the items and have fun at the same time.

CHALLENGE

Challenge your family to think of new and creative ways to use the items you’ve been accumulating. You can do this in numerous ways:

  • Give them a time limit
  • Give points for creativity, number of ingredients used, etc.
  • Have them go head to head and determine which dish(es) you like best
  • Add a “secret ingredient” (like Iron Chef does) that HAS to be used. This can be the item you have the most of, the item that will expire soonest, or whatever you’re in the mood for!

Be sure to set any guidelines ahead of time, then let them loose to create! Keep in mind that they will likely make a mess, but that can be half the fun. Remind your family that this is just for fun, and there is no pressure to create a five star meal. Laughing is encouraged!

CALM AND COOPERATIVE

If your family isn’t competitive, or you want a bit of a calmer experience, you can simply use the opportunity to cook and create together. Take out the ingredients you want to use and brainstorm new ways to put them together. If you’re stuck for ideas, check out the following websites that will let you search for recipes by ingredient:

This can be a great opportunity to teach your kids about cooking, creativity, and experimentation. If your children are younger, they can be your helpers as you experiment and share the experience with them.

ENJOY TOGETHER

After the cooking has been completed, take the time to enjoy the results together. If your family competed against each other, hold the judging and put on a mini game show. If your family worked together, put out all the results and have everyone be the judge. Depending on how skilled your family is at cooking, you may want to have a backup dinner plan! Either way, it should be a fun and memorable experience. And maybe you’ll discover a new favorite dish!

Share Some Love

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. Celebrate with activities that embrace the holiday.

It’s the season of love, and what better way to share some love than with cards, decorations, and handmade gifts?

VALENTINES

Valentine cards are a holiday staple, and they can be given to anyone from your significant other to classmates. You could run to the store and purchase some, but it can be just as easy to prepare them from home. Grab some paper and craft supplies and make personalized cards, or choose some of these free printable ones:

Another option for handing out to classmates is to print out some activity sheets, roll them up, and tie them with a ribbon. Here are some sources for printable activity sheets:

CRAFTS AND ACTIVITIES

Whether your child would like to make crafts to distribute to friends or just create for himself, here are some sources for Valentine- and love-themed craft projects:

From simple printables to more involved activities, keep the fun going with some Valentine’s games!

ADDING FESTIVE FLAIR

To really get in the spirit of the holiday, add related elements to your day with decorations, festive food, and anything else you can think of! Cut a few hearts out of construction paper and hang them around your home. Put them in windows to share the fun with neighbors and passers-by and make fun shadows when the sun hits. If you have streamers or balloons, hang up those, too. If you tried any of the crafts above, put those around to add pops of fun.

Cut some hearts out of paper and write messages on them. The messages can be simple “Happy Valentine’s Day” or “I love you,” or more meaningful notes indicating what you love about your kids, motivational phrases, or words of encouragement. Place these heart messages on your child’s bedroom door, taped to the bathroom mirror, or on the floor to make a path through your home.

To make some edible fun, try these simple ideas:

  • Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to make lovey cookies, pancakes, or anything else cuttable.
  • Have a square cake pan and a round cake pan? Bake a cake placing half the batter in each. Once cooled, remove both from their pans, cut the circle in half, and place the halves on two sides of the square to make a heart.
  • Add a little red food coloring to pancake batter to make it pink. Throw in a few sprinkles if you have them.
  • Put some white frosting (or pink if you add a little food coloring!) into a zipper seal plastic bag. Snip the tip of one bottom corner and squeeze the frosting out of the hole. Use it to write a festive message on a pan of brownies.

What other ideas can you think of to celebrate the holiday?

Pick a Theme, Any Theme

From gifts to parties, everything is more fun with a theme! Why should family activities be any different?

There’s just something about a theme. From decorations to activities to food, tying it all together with a common element just makes things a little more interesting. Try planning a themed day with your family!

PICKING A THEME

There’s no right or wrong way to pick a theme. You can just go with an idea you like, you can select something seasonal or related to the current weather, or you can take one of the “daily holidays” and run with it. (I’ve shared them before, but here are the links again to two sites I use for daily holidays: National Day Calendar, Holiday Insights.) You will be able to find material for whatever theme you pick, though some will definitely be easier than others. You may want to try something common to start (since it’s February, for example, you would have no problem finding things for a Valentine’s Day or general hearts theme). Really the only criteria is to select something your family would enjoy and appreciate.

DECORATIONS

Decorations can set the tone and really kick the day off with festive flair. If you’d like to make the theme of the day a surprise, consider decorating your home prior to the kids waking up. They will be bombarded by pictures, colors, decorations – anything that will get them in the mood for the activities of the day. If you want to get them involved in the decorating to get them excited, set out all the supplies you’ll need prior to beginning, then let them go to town.

Decorations can be as simple as some pictures printed out and hung up, or as elaborate as a room designed to look like a scene from a favorite show or movie. You can limit the theme to one central room, or you can scatter it around your entire home. If you have related plush or toys, you can put them out, too. Balloons, streamers, throw blankets, even clothing can be put out in colors that coordinate with your theme. Get creative!

If you’re at a loss as to how to decorate, you can try searching online for your theme name plus the words theme and party (i.e. “cats theme party”). Even just searching for images can offer inspiration. For example, using my sample “cats” search, I came across ideas to turn balloons into cat heads, print out cat faces to string together to make a banner, and some cute sayings that are cat-related puns.

Your family can even be part of the decorations! Raid your closets to look for ways to dress up in a way that’s related to theme. Can you put together costumes? Dress in related colors? Even accessories (like cat ears) can make things more fun.

There’s no right or wrong way to decorate. Remember, this is just for fun!

GAMES AND ACTIVITIES

As with decorations, games and activities your family participates in throughout the day can be linked to the theme, and what you do is entirely up to you. Anything from a themed scavenger hunt to related craft projects is fair game.

To set up a scavenger hunt, hide related items or pictures around your home. Make a list of what to look for, then let your kids go hunting. If you’d like to make it more elaborate, you can give your kids clues in the form of riddles to help them locate the hidden objects.

Another simple game, if your family has at least four people in it, is pictionary. Make a stack of cards that each have a word related to your theme written on it. Then divide your family into teams and take turns trying to draw a word at a time. If you’ve never played pictionary before, this site teaches you how to play.

If your theme involves an animal, you can put together a “pin the tail on the donkey” style game. Just draw or print a large image of the animal, without a tail. Then draw or print several images of just the tail. Tape the large animal picture to a wall. Blindfold the participants, spin them a couple of times, then challenge them to tape a tail to the animal. The person who gets closest to where it actually goes, wins. Depending on your theme, you may be able to get this game to work, even if it’s not an animal – for example, pin the wand on the wizard’s hand, etc.

Other possible activities will depend on your theme. With my sample cat theme, for example, I know that cats like yarn, so I could set up a yarn obstacle course in my hallway. As you’re searching for decorations, keep an eye out for possible activities, as well. Or just use your imagination! You can also ask the kids what they think the animal or characters would do. Depending on their ages, simple pretend play can keep them entertained for a while.

With the internet and the large number of people who regularly maintain craft blogs, you will likely be able to find craft projects for just about any theme you could think of. Do some searching to locate projects that utilize supplies you have on hand and are appropriate for your children’s ages. You can try something as simple as coloring pages, or as elaborate as intricate craft or art activities. Remember: the point of the theme is to have fun, so don’t go crazy trying to find a million activities to complete. Just look for something your children would enjoy. If you don’t have any luck, move on.

Don’t underestimate the appeal of watching a TV show or movie related to your theme. Make it a family movie night to wind down your themed day, or put it on whenever you are so inclined. If you don’t own a related movie or have access to streaming services, utilize your local library. They are sure to have a variety of DVDs that will fit the bill.

FOOD

Whenever possible, incorporate the theme into food your family enjoys during the day. Again, searching online can bring up lots of great ideas. Using my sample “cats” search, I came across ways to decorate cookies and cakes to look like cats, and an idea to arrange a fruit platter into a cat face.

Depending on your theme, you can also simply eat things that characters or animals would normally eat, or that somehow remind you of that theme.

The most important thing when planning your themed day is to have fun with it! It doesn’t have to be elaborate or fancy, but it can be if you want it to be. Enjoy the time together with your family, being silly and creative. Have fun!

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!