Tag Archives: activities

Celebrating Valentine’s Day

This Valentine’s Day will be a little different for us. We usually celebrate it by making or preparing Valentines during the day, then surprising each other with them at suppertime. Our grandma comes over for a special meal, and we end the day with a lot of chocolate.

This year, however, my husband will be working late, so the kids and I have been wondering what to do. The consensus is that we’ll have a special Valentine’s Day snack instead of a supper during the few minutes in the afternoon he can come home so he won’t miss it. And we’ll still end the day with chocolate. 🙂

There are lots of ways to enjoy Valentine’s Day. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Find picture books at the library about St. Valentine, or look up information about him online. Share his story with your children.
  • Spend some time baking together!  Make Valentine’s Day treats from scratch with your kids. You can find all sorts of recipes to try at KidsCookingActivities.com and Kaboose.com.
  • Decorate a room in your house – Cut out paper hearts and tape them around the room. Our favorite room is our kitchen, and the paper hearts are going up all over the windows. Have the kids write messages on the hearts or the names of the people they love.
  • Create homemade cards for grandparents or neighbors.
  • Make valentines to share with the residents of the local nursing home or for children in the hospital.
  • Write a letter to a friend you don’t see very often.
Happy Valentine’s Day!

New Year’s Around the World

No matter if we’re home together or visiting other family members, we usually celebrate on New Year’s Eve with games, snacks, movies, fireworks, and of course, staying up until midnight. This year, as we get ready for the festivities, we thought it would be interesting to find out how the rest of the world welcomes the new year. Here’s what we discovered:

In England, New Year’s Eve customs are quite similar to our own here in America. Many people celebrate with parties either in their homes, restaurants, or pubs with friends and family. They also watch fireworks displays, and at midnight sing “Auld Lang Syne”. They count down with the clock and toast the new year. Sound familiar? It did to my kids!

But here are some other things we learned:

In Scotland, New Year’s Eve is known as Hogmanay, and it’s an evening full of traditions. One of the customs is called first footing, or being the first person to cross the threshold of a home after midnight. This “first footer” will bring all the luck of the coming year with him, but there are some criteria he must meet. Ideally, he will be tall and handsome with dark hair, but he cannot be a doctor, a minister, or a grave digger. It’s also traditional for the first footer to carry a lump of coal to signify life, comfort, and warmth, along with a cake to represent prosperity.

Omisoko, New Year’s Eve in Japan, is one of the country’s most important holidays, coming second only New Year’s Day. Buckwheat noodles, called toshikoshi soba, are eaten to ensure longevity and prosperity. Families gather to watch the Red and White Song Festival, a television program that features singers whose songs were popular during the year. As the clock approaches midnight, many people visit the shrines and temples. Getting up to watch the sunrise on New Year’s Day is another important tradition, as viewing the first sunrise is considered a good and proper start to the new year. Popular foods for New Year’s Day include fish, fish eggs attached to seaweed, black beans, and kelp. New Year’s postcards sent to friends and family are delivered on New Year’s Day, and children receive monetary gifts in special envelopes.

In Mexico, Año Nuevo (New Year’s Eve) is celebrated by decorating homes in red ( improved lifestyle and love), yellow (blessings and good employment), white (improved health), and green (improved financial situations). Families often celebrate with a late-night dinner of turkey and mole. If Mexican sweet bread is served, it was usually baked with a coin or charm inside the dough. It’s tradition that whoever receives the piece with the coin  will have good luck in the coming year. When the clock strikes midnight, 12 grapes are eaten — one at a time with each chime of the bell – and a wish is made with each one.

People ring in the New Year in so many different ways! What interesting New Year’s traditions do you have in your family?

 

Photo by Matthew Hull

Art Contests for Kids

 

There are a lot of art contests for kids online, and homeschoolers are encouraged to enter them as well.  Our school days at home are fairly relaxed, so contests provide some healthy structure to our work. By participating in a contest, children have a definite goal a deadline to meet. They also recognize the need to present their very best work, even if it means re-doing something that’s already completed. If they win, they experience the thrill of victory, and if they don’t, they learn how to take defeat in stride to try again another day. They learn, as Henry Ford stated, that “failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”  (Love those “failure/success” quotes!)

If you’d like to encourage your child to enter an art contest, here are a few to check out:

  • Constitution Day Poster Contest – This contest for ages 3 -12 celebrates the U.S. Consitution. Children are to create an 8 ½” x 11” poster showing how they have benefited from the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. A fun and creative contest, but you have to hurry – the deadline for submitting entries is October 1.
  • Teachers Against Prejudice is sponsoring an art contest for students in grades 1-4. The theme for the artwork this year is “Sharing Cultures.” Entries must be submitted by October 15.
  • This is My Math Art Contest sponsored by McGraw-Hill is for students in grades K-5. Young artists are to illustrate “What math means to me” and enter their work by October 29.
  • NRA Youth Wildlife Art Contest – Have a wildlife artist in your family? If she’s 18 or under, she can enter this contest with her best drawing or painting of an animal. The deadline is November 1.
  • Smilemakers Pearcasso Art Contest – If your child likes to play with his food at mealtime, this may be the perfect contest for him! Artists ages 5-18 are to create their artwork with pears! Entries must be sent by November 15.
  • Decide to Drive Poster Contest – For students in grades 5-8, this contest focuses on the importance of driving without distractions. Entries must be sent by November 15.
  • Frogs are Green Art Contest – Kids ages 3 – 12 are invited to enter this contest focusing on green living. The deadline for submissions is November 30.

Lacking Confidence?

This past week, my 15-year-old went to the DMV to take the written test for a beginner’s driving permit. His birthday was at the beginning of August, so he had been asking me for a couple of weeks when we could go, so as soon as we had all the paperwork together, we went. But the night before we planned to go, his attitude suddenly changed.

“We don’t have to go tomorrow,” he said.

“Why not?” I asked. “You’ve been asking and asking to go.”

“I’m not ready. I’m going to fail.”

“Sure, you’re ready. You’ve been studying the driver’s manual, haven’t you? And, even if you fail the test, so what? You can always try again.”

“I’m just not ready,” he replied.

“You can’t get your permit if you don’t try,” I said. I was starting to get a little frustrated. During the past few weeks, I’ve been juggling a lot of the kids’ activities, trying to get everyone where they needed to be when they needed to be there. We had set aside this particular time for him to get the permit. I didn’t want to re-figure the whole schedule.

Though he wasn’t convinced, off we went, my son very nervous and myself just glad we were going. He took the test and came out of the DMV a proud owner of a driving permit.

I’d like to say that the lack of confidence has only been on his part, but lately, I can really relate. As we start another school year, I’ve been reassessing how we’ve been doing and what needs to change. But sometimes, I’m just not sure. There are so many opportunities available; which ones should we make time for? What activities are the best ones to be involved in? Are we getting too involved in extra programs? Should we stay home more? Are we spending enough time with the books? Are we spending enough time as a family?

There’s no single answer to the questions, as every child is different, their needs are different, and family dynamics are different. And for us right now, I don’t even have an answer. We’re trying a sports program for my daughter that’s requiring a lot of time and a lot of travel, but she loves it. Yet as our co-op gets ready to begin, so do the big assignments, and I know we’ll have to start working on those for the majority of each day. So as we begin a new year, I’m thinking, like my son, “I’m not ready. I’m going to fail.”

But like my son, even if I fail, so what? I can always try again. And I can keep trying until I find what works. After all,  that’s one of the reasons why we started homeschooling in the first place.

And as for my confidence as a homeschooling parent? I’m thinking that might come after they’ve all graduated…or made it through college…or have families of their own…or maybe just through a lot of prayer! 🙂

 

Photo by karlzbobarlz

 

Last Week of Summer Break

This week is our last week of summer break. On the 15th, when the schools in our area begin their first day, we’ll start off on our first “official” day too. While I had great intentions on finishing up my lesson plans early in the season, we are now just a week away, and I still have to make those plans. I have almost all of the books we’re going to use — just not the plans to go with them.

But, I reassured myself, that’s okay — I still have this week to pull everything together.But, like many plans, mine is in need of some revisions, as it’s  turning out to be a week busy with activities.

Monday: A few necessary errands in the morning.  In the afternoon, my daughter Cassie will join a homeschool middle school volleyball team for practice, her first team sport since she was  eight years old. After I drop her off, I’ll then take my oldest son John to his first piano lesson — as the teacher! He’ll be working with two young students who haven’t played much before. Maybe I can do some planning in the evening.

Tuesday: Planning in the morning; violin lessons for the girls around noon; community service for John in the afternoon.

Wednesday: Monthly visit to the nursing home in the morning; piano lessons for John and Luke in the afternoon; Lesson planning?

Thursday: Meeting with friends in the morning – afternoon at a state park to swim and picnic; Lesson planning…?

Friday: Last opportunity to use our tickets from the library reading program for a local water park. The park is about an hour away, so we want to make a day of it. Hmmm….lesson planning…

I have to admit, I am not a homeschooling mom who has it all together. As I look at this schedule, I’m really glad to have at least some time on Monday and Tuesday to put our first few weeks of school in writing.

But while homeschooling works well for those who are organized, structured, and totally prepared, it also works well for those of us who aren’t.  Even if I don’t have the whole year planned, I can still mix my teaching style with my children’s learning styles and create an educational atmosphere where they continue to grow. And isn’t that one of the reasons we homeschool in the first place?

 

Photo by mensatic

Are You A Rule-Follower? – Part 1

Last month, we met with my sister and her family for a fun day at a nearby theme park. We had gone to the same park last year and had such a good time,  and this time my kids were excited about sharing the experience with their cousins. I felt confident about navigating through the park and handling the high food prices — that is, until we went through the main gate.

As with many theme parks, the drinks, snacks, and meal deals weren’t deals at all, but we knew that ahead of time. Last year, we took some snacks along with us to save some money, and no one working at the gates commented on them at all (we did buy our drinks there). Because the park had such a family-friendly policy of allowing snacks into the park, I assured my sister we could do it this year as well.

So, before we headed off to the park, we each packed a bag with snacks and a few extra waters. We were ready for a great day.

That is, until we lined up to go through the turnstile. This summer, as the workers  looked through the bags,  if you had any extra drinks or snacks, they told you to throw them away or take them back to your car, at least a thirty minute walk there and back.

“Really?” I said, incredulous. “Take them back?”

“Yes,” the worker repeated. “You can take your water through this time, but the snacks have to go back.”

My sister went through in a different line. The worker there told her she could keep her snacks just this once, but she had to throw her drinks away. We watched as others had to throw away some of their stuff, too.

Shocked and angry about the randomness of it all, we put a few of our snacks in my sister’s bag, and I headed out with the rest. I wanted to put all of my snacks in her bag, but she insisted that she was a rule-follower, and said that we shouldn’t do it. So we’d eat her snacks, drink my water, and make it through the day without having to spend too much on extra food.

Back in the parking lot, I unlocked the car and put the backpack in the van. I stood there a moment, thinking about all of the snacks in there. Included in the stack of snacks were two tuna packs in foil, the kind you would take if you were camping. I had bought them for my husband, as he’s a big guy and granola bars just don’t fill him up. I thought of him, thought of my sister, then put the packs in the pocket of my shorts. No one would even notice.

On the long walk back into the park, I had a lot of time to think about that tuna. Was it the right thing to do? Was it right to break this rule that just didn’t seem fair? What did it say about my character and integrity?  Could we afford $10.00+ hamburgers for everyone? Did my husband really need that tuna?

I decided he did. After all, it was a bad rule. It was not family-friendly, and I had a family to look after.

On the way out of the park, I had my arm stamped, so to return, I had to go through a special entrance. When I approached the gate, I saw one of the workers and a security guard. I held out my arm to show him the stamp. Then I had to pass through the metal detector.

A metal detector…

101 Things

While we were visiting with family over the Christmas holidays, a group of us went shopping together at a specialty shop. While there, my sister showed me a book she found entitled 101 Things You Should Do Before Your Kids Leave Home, written by David Bordon and Tom Winters. I thumbed through it and it looked really good, but I was just browsing that day, so I wrote a note to myself to look for it online later. But my sister purchased one, and to my happy surprise, she gave it to me!

The book is organized in a simple yet effective format. Each of the 101 things are listed and numbered in the table of contents for easy reference. (This also makes it convenient to read through the list and mark off the ones you’ve completed.) The text for each item fills up two facing pages; the left page features the number and the activity, while the right contains further details, such as how to do it, tips for making it memorable, and why you should do it. This book is a Christian book, so many of the “whys” include explanations on how you can use the activity to encourage your children to follow the Lord.

After looking through the list, I was glad to see that we have already completed nearly half of the items, especially since my oldest is 14 and will be going off to college in a few years. Some of the things we’ve done include: washing the car together, joining in a parade, inviting a pet (or in our case, a lot of pets) into our home, picking up trash in a public area, gathering for family reunions, camping, flying kites, and telling family stories. Some things are on-going, such as learning the value of hard work, manners and etiquette, and ways to manage conflict.

Of course, this book isn’t a mandatory list of things to do with your children, and if you don’t do them you’re not a good parent. But I think it is a great reference for ideas, and it’s a reminder of the things that we can do with our kids. Sometimes in the busyness of day-to-day living we forget to take the time to just enjoy being with them. And, as every parent knows, the time flies by so fast.

So what’s still on our to-do list? Thanking a soldier, standing together at the edge of the Grand Canyon, serving in a soup kitchen, pitching a tent indoors, and sharing family recipes.

What’s on your list?

Let’s Have a Parade!

This week, we met up with family to spend a day together at a children’s museum. While we were there, we began talking about Christmas parades, and my grown niece commented that one of her dreams was to be in a parade.

“Really?” I replied. “That’s funny, because we’re going to be in a parade this Sunday. We’ve been in one every year for the last five years.”

“But I thought you had to represent a business or an organization,” she said.

But in our little country town, you don’t. Participation is open to anyone willing to pay the entry fee, which ranges from $10 – $20 depending on what you are entering. The categories always include commercial and non-commercial vehicles and floats, classic and antique vehicles, recreational vehicles, horses, pageant winners, and walkers/marchers.

Those may seem like difficult categories for a family to fit into, but they’re not. We enter every year as a non-commercial vehicle. We decorate my husband’s old pickup truck and dress up to fit the theme of the parade. My husband drives the truck, and the kids and I all ride in the back, waving and tossing out candy and wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas.”

Our parade offers plaques as prizes for the entries with the best decorations, and would you believe it, for the past five years we’ve placed either first or second in our category? When I first came across the entry form six years ago, I thought it’d be fun to enter it on a whim; now it’s become a family Christmas tradition. And the kids are always anxious to see if we’ll win again.

If your children would like to be in a parade next year, check into your town’s entry requirements. If you do need to enter as a group, you could enter as a club, a church organization, or a homeschool co-op. Then, with a little creativity and a lot of planning, you’ll be ready to join in the fun!

Photo by gracey

Time to Sleep

When my oldest son was very young, I discovered the picture book Time to Sleep by Denise Fleming at the library. It was such a fun book that we purchased our own copy and used it every year.

Time to Sleep follows a number of animals as they realize that winter is coming.  The leaves are falling and the days are shorter, so Bear decides he must tell Snail that it’s time to hibernate. Snail, then, must tell Skunk, who in turn must tell Turtle, and so on until Ladybug hears the news. The story comes full circle as Ladybug goes to Bear’s cave and wakes him up to tell him… it’s time to sleep.

We made the story even more fun by creating a craft to go along with it. Here’s what we did:

Using felt squares found at the craft store, I made each of the animals depicted in the story. I cut out two pieces of the basic shape of each animal and sewed the sides together (leaving a small opening). My son then stuffed them with fiberfill, and I sewed them shut. We added googly eyes and noses to the animals that needed them.

Next, we found a cardboard box about 12″ deep. I turned it upside down and cut a hole in the bottom of it.

Then, we read the story again. As each animal went to “sleep,” my son put them in the hole in the box. The last one to go in was the ladybug. Not only did we have a good time reading the book and making the craft, but my son learned about hibernation and had hands-on reinforcement each time we read the story. We actually used the same book, box, and animals with all of my children (I don’t know how they lasted so long), and it was fun to reminisce each time we got them out.

For us, Time to Sleep was really time for fun!

Gesture Drawing

This fall, I’m teaching several art classes — some in my home and one at our homeschool co-op. This week, we worked on drawing a still life, a project that included lessons in proportion and shading. To get the students warmed up and focused, however, we did a quick activity before working on the main pieces — a very quick activity. The students created some gesture drawings.

Gesture drawing is the name given to the quick sketches an artist creates of a particular subject — sketches to capture the mood, feeling, emotion, or movement of the subject. The sketches are created as a series of overlapping (often circular) lines without any erasing — no changes can be made once a line is on the paper. These drawings are done quickly; depending on the subject matter, one may spend as little as 10 seconds drawing a particular object, while more difficult compositions may take five minutes or so.

The purpose? This style of drawing helps to literally “loosen” up an artist; no erasers can be used to make corrections, and the artist is encouraged to draw quickly and freely. Gesture drawing is also aids in sharpening observation skills as the artist must focus all of his or her attention on the object.  Here’s how we did it:

I found a number of objects to use from my kitchen, some symmetrical, some not. The objects included mugs, syrup bottles, bananas, pears, cooking utensils, and toys (yes, we have toys in our kitchen too!).  I placed one object in front of each student, then provided them with a piece of scratch paper on which to draw. I gave them all a pencil but no eraser. They then had 30 sections to draw the object they were looking at.

We all found out that thirty seconds goes by very quickly when one is drawing. Next, I had everyone pass their objects two people to the left. We then spent another 30 seconds drawing the second object. We followed this procedure two or three more times. I even had them try drawing the object while looking only at the object and not at their paper at all.

The best part of all — you don’t  even need an art class to try this fun activity!  You can do it together with your children around the kitchen table, and everyone can create a gesture drawing (or two or three). You’ll find it’s good practice for everyone — and a lot of fun!