It was midafternoon and time to grab a quick, brisk walk with granddog Cali around our city lake. Approaching the concession stand by the boat dock, I was about to make an abrupt move to avoid the area knowing Cali would go bananas and pull me by her leash in a tug of war in her pursuit of popcorn that people had dropped on the ground from overfilled bags.
Just as I was making a move to veer from the crowd, a young boy came up to us and said in a kind voice, “Would your dog like a treat?”
“Perfect timing — she would love a treat!” I said.
He introduced himself as Anders, then continued, “They are made with peanut butter, and so far, the dogs around here have loved them!” He explained that his sister, Hanna, and their friends Lucy, Charlotte, Rosie and Holiday baked and brought them to the lakeside park to share.
“Hey, Cali, forget the popcorn and hot dog bun crumbs!” I said as Anders gently offered her the homemade biscuit. “You’re in for something special!”
Curious, I talked to Holiday’s mom, 45-year-old Anne-Marie Fischer, an early-childhood family educator, who was on the sidelines as the kids offered their treats. “Providing school-age kids opportunities to share and help others in a selfie-obsessed world is worth the time and effort as a parent and teacher,” she said.
“They also made homemade dog toys for the Humane Society using recycled T-shirts,” she added. “We gathered the simple supplies, had fun crafting the toys and delivering them together. It was such a meaningful group activity. There were benefits for the kids in the creating and socializing, as well as the giving.”
Are you inspired to make playful toys for your own dog, or for the Humane Society in your community? Get started on a fall weekend day with your kids and friends. It’s easy, fun and rewarding for both people and pets.
MAKE A ROPE TOY
1. Cut nine lengths of 1-inch-by-25-inch-long strips from an old large T-shirt. Tie the ends together at one end, leaving about 1 1/2 inches free.
2. Separate lengths into three sections (3 strips per section) and braid the sections tightly together. Tie at the end in a secure knot, leaving about 1 1/2 inches free.
Fall outdoor rituals are many during these lush months of color and cooler temps. Maybe your family already has established an annual tradition of taking a mini day vacation, like heading to a favorite orchard for a Saturday of apple picking and cider tasting, touring pumpkin farms, walking through a corn maze or hiking in the woods to get exercise, explore and observe wildlife and brilliant foliage.
You can celebrate the season well and create new traditions right at your closest park or in your neighborhood, too. If the fall air beckons your family to get outside for a bike ride or a weekend walk, go for it. Observe the changing images around you, including the colorful leaves drifting and swirling in the breeze. Like the neighborhood boy I overheard saying to his dad as they collected different specimens on their walking route home from the library: “It’s a leaf-y time of year!”
I agree. I can’t resist collecting, preserving, pressing, decorating and crafting with leaves from day trips away from home and walks in my neighborhood. There are so many possibilities — including one of the simplest of crafts for any age: making crayon leaf rubbings on paper.
Once you collect leaves, grab your supplies, get to rubbing and uncover “X-ray” type designs you’ve never noticed before, both graceful and playful.
Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
— fresh leaves collected from the ground
— sturdy paper
— a variety of crayons in different colors
— colored pencils (optional)
Here’s the fun:
1. Lay a leaf on a smooth, clean work surface. Place paper over it and hold it down firmly so that it won’t move.
2. Take a crayon and rub it over the paper until the shape of the entire leaf is revealed. Discover the outline and skeleton of the leaf as the veins of the leaf protrude.
3. If you use a colored pencil, hold it at a slight angle, being careful not to press too hard so that it doesn’t go through the paper.
4. Make several different rubbings on one sheet. Vary with contrasting colors, if you wish. You might want to identify leaves by writing the name of their tree by each one.
5. Frame the rubbings, or use for book covers, gift wrap, gift tags and notecards.
Extra idea: Rub leaves from your flower and vegetable garden, too. When the design of a small begonia leaf is revealed, your young child might say in amazement: “It looks like a seashell!” Parsley can look dainty and romantic, but what about arugula and kale?
Running a household requires the skills of a juggler. First come the kids and their schedules, then toss in cooking, cleaning, car repair and pets. As most parents will attest, just when you think you’ve got it, the unexpected comes along to throw everything off balance! Start and stop … the juggling act never ends.
My kids called themselves jugglers too, but for them it was juggling oranges out of the fruit bowl, potatoes from the pantry or just about anything that crossed their paths. Then, with some creative thinking, we came up with some alternatives, like a set of juggling balls.
Much to their delight, we made these handy, sturdy balls in minutes using basic supplies we had in the kitchen.
Scoop 1/2 cup of uncooked instant rice into a plastic sandwich bag. For heavier balls, you may substitute the rice with dried beans or clean sand. Pinch the bag tightly around the rice, squeeze out any air, make it into a ball shape and secure the ball shape with a rubber band. Cut off the excess plastic bag near the rubber-band knot.
Cut the tip off the neck end of two sturdy, medium-size balloons in contrasting colors. Stretch one of the balloons over the filled bag, making sure the rubber-band side is completely covered. The balloon should fit very tightly. Snip three or four quarter-inch holes randomly on the second balloon. Stretch it over the ball, covering the opening of the first balloon. The cutouts will reveal the color of the first balloon.
Make several balls with a variety of cutout shapes and colors, and let the performance begin! For extra-sturdy balls, add a third balloon. Store your set of juggling balls in an empty and clean Pringle’s-style chip can. Cover with decorative adhesive-backed paper.
Tip: If you are a beginning juggler, practice the moves using three lightweight chiffon scarves. When you toss them in the air one by one, they come back down slowly to help you get the hang of it!
Fun times are ahead for preschoolers and kindergartners when you create a collection of hands-on alphabet letters that reinforce sounds and the words they are learning to pronounce, read and spell. Craft the 26 letters, save and use them over and over to practice language learning skills.
Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–26 sheets of poster board or cardboard, 9 inches by 12 inches
–pencil and markers
–assorted small glue-on objects, stickers, magazine cut-outs of items whose names start with the sound of specific letters (see suggestions below)
Here’s the fun:
1. Draw large block letters for each alphabet letter on poster board/cardboard. Cut out. (Instead of making all at once, consider designing a letter per week. Or start with a few, such as those that spell your child’s name.)
2. Choose a letter together and come up with things that begin with the sound of that letter. For example, the sound “p” in pasta for the letter “P.” Look on your shelf for dry pasta and glue a few pieces on the big “P.”
Here are more simple items with crafty ideas to get you started:
A. Cut a small apple in half, dip dried cut side into paint, and stamp on the A. Or, glue plastic ants crawling over.
B. Buttons, beads and balls on a blue letter B.
C. Candy and candy wrappers on C.
D. Use a cotton swab to glue paper punch dots on D.
E. Crushed eggshells all over the E.
F. Floral fabric scraps and silk flowers on F.
G. Green glitter glued on a green letter G.
H. Print your child’s hand with poster paint on H.
I. Cut a cone and rounds of ice cream from paper to glue on I.
J. Glue a jam label or some jacks to J.
K. Apply lipstick to your lips and smother K with kisses.
L. Glue pressed leaves to L.
M. Draw a picture of your mailbox and glue mail on M.
N. Glue real nickels on N.
O. Glue raw oatmeal and cereal “O’s” to an orange O.
P. Glue popped popcorn to a purple P.
Q. Cover Q with craft feathers. Add a paper beak, eye and feet to resemble a quail.
R. Glue silk or pressed roses on a red R.
S. Glue used postage stamps on S.
T. Cover T with twisted and tangled masking and Scotch tape on T.
U. Draw a ukulele on U.
V. Make a Valentine on a violet V.
W. Glue wood chips to a white W.
X. Glue on pictures of xylophones on X.
Y: Shape and glue pieces of yellow yarn in “Y” shapes on Y.
Z. With zippers closed, glue the fabric portion of recycled zippers to Z. When dry, they can be opened and closed.
Make a wonderfully versatile toy for the entire family to enjoy. These scoops for tossing and catching lightweight balls are perfect for play in the backyard, at a park or especially when you’re at the beach. So when the family wants to play a game of catch, you’ve got that one covered. And when you need a sand shovel, you’ve got that one, too.
Start by fishing around under your sink or in the recycling bin for two plastic laundry detergent bottles.
Here’s what you’ll need:
–Two 2-quart or larger plastic laundry detergent bottles with side handles
–Child’s sock (optional)
Here’s the fun:
Wash the 2 bottles and remove any paper labels. With a pair of sharp scissors, an adult should cut off the entire base of each bottle and toss the pieces back in the recycling bin. It’s easier to cut off than it might look. Dig the tip of the scissors into a point along the line of the base and then just start cutting.
On the handle side of the container, draw a big “U” shape with a marker so that the bottom of the “U” meets the handle. The shape should be wider than the size of a plastic Wiffle-style ball and extend to the cut-off base. Again, an adult should cut this shape out. Soften the edges by trimming off and rounding the sharp corners.
Let the kids decorate the two scoops with stickers.
Now you have your ball catchers and great sand shovels. But uh-oh. In the middle of a great game of scooper catch, the ball disappears into an unexpected wave. Is the game over? No!
Remove the lid and cup a sock around the spout of one of the scoops. Pour some sand into the scoop so that it works as a funnel, filling the bottom of the sock. When your “ball” is the size you would like for tossing, remove from the scoop and tie a secure tight knot in the sock. Replace the lid on the scoop.
Stand up, put the sock in one scoop, give the other scoop to a friend, and toss the ball!
If you miss, keep at it. It does take practice, after all.
Tip: If your kids are a little older and are skilled ball players, you might want to consider making the opening of the scoop a bit smaller for more of a challenge. Or, simply start with a smaller detergent bottle.
I have a favorite, snazzy bracelet I wear often made with beads in bright primary colors. People are always asking where I got it, so I happily reply, “My kids made it! Out of old potatoes!”
Surely you have a potato or two in your house that never made it to the dinner table. Is it soft, wrinkled, and maybe it’s even sprouted a bit? Well, don’t throw it out! It’s a gem.
Get your kids going now to make the most unusual jewelry actually made from potatoes. The creations make terrific gifts for their friends and relatives.
Your child should peel one large potato which will be enough for one necklace. Cut it into 1-2-inch chunks and poke them onto a couple wooden skewers. You’ll want to help your younger kids so that they don’t poke themselves. Also, do make sure the chunks are well spaced so that there’s room to paint them eventually on all sides while still skewered. Poke skewers standing in a florist foam brick.
After about 24 hours, these little spud chunks are going to turn a funny gray-black color, which is fine. Twist them on the skewer once in a while as they dry and become beads with holes through the center. They’ll be rock-hard in about a week if you keep them in a cool, dry place.
During this time, check online or take a book out of the library on the subject of stones and gem. Suggest to your children that they pick a stone they’d most like to create. I like turquoise, so that’s what I’ll describe here.
Spread out newspaper. Hold the bottom of each skewer like a handle, dip a foam brush into turquoise acrylic paint and paint the beads. There are so many little nooks and crannies on the chunk that it actually will resemble a stone. Let dry.
Remove from the skewer and string the beads on ribbon or elastic. To fashion an interesting pattern, alternate with smaller silver beads from a craft store or even another old necklace. When you’re done, you’ll have a beautiful faux turquoise necklace that can fool anyone!
Creative Tip: Instead of making potato beads, slice potatoes in chips the size of a quarter. Let them dry and harden flat. It’s ok if they curve a bit as they dry. Paint them in your favorite colors with acrylic paints, dry and glue onto a frame for an eye-catching look.
If your school-age kids are moping around with nothing to do, show them how to make their own fun with this action-packed “Zip Toy.”
Not only does it make a great “zip” sound going down the line, but its name could just as likely refer to how quickly you and your kids can put it together.
Here’s what you’ll need:
–2 16-foot lengths of vinyl-coated clothesline wire
–2 clean 2-liter plastic soda bottles with labels
–4 6″ Cardboard disks
–Plastic electrical tape or strong packing tape
–Paint or stickers for decorating (optional).
CUT off the spout ends of each bottle 1 inch below the top of the label. For a cutting guide, you might wish to draw a line first. You will now have two funnel shapes for the toy. (You will not use the lower portions of bottles.)
MAKE six 1/2-inch slits equidistant around the cut edge of one of the funnel shapes. Slip the cut edge of the other funnel shape over the 1/2-inch slits. Hold the attached funnel shapes in front of you so that the spouts are exactly opposite each other. Wrap tape around the middle to hold the two pieces together securely.
SLIDE both lengths of clothesline through the toy. Make a handle for each of the four ends of clothesline as follows:
From one end, fold over 18 inches of clothesline and double-knot to create a large loop. To protect hands, thread a cardboard disk through its hole sliding it up against the double knot. Make another knot on the opposite side of the disk. You’ll now have a loop to put your hand through. Repeat with three additional ends.
TO PLAY: Two players stand opposite each other and slip their hands in the small loops, holding on to the single knot by the disk as if water-skiing. Make sure the two lengths of clothesline are together, straight and taut. Slide the plastic toy in front of one player. He quickly opens his arms wide to send the toy zipping to the other player. Immediately, he should bring the two clothesline wires back together to receive the toy again. Remember: Always keep your hands behind the cardboard disks.
“Bubbles.” It’s hard to say the word without a smile. Everything seems to be just a bit better and festive with bubbles — birthday parties, weddings and summer family reunions.
The other day, I had fun asking kids and adults of all ages the simple question: “What do you think of bubbles?” Without hesitation, they said:
“I love their perfect spheres.”
“I’m always happy when I see bubbles.”
“I feel like I’m at a party.”
“They’re like out of a fairy tale.”
“If the sun is right, you can see your reflection in them.”
“They’re fun to pop.”
“They are the best!”
So, there you have it. Bubbles bring sparkle and energy to life. Bring on the bubbles this summer with this simple, basic homemade bubble brew. Look around your home and find possible bubblers. Experiment and see what you like best. Then enjoy popping them or watching them as they loft above you with the breeze.
HOMEMADE BUBBLE BREW
To make the solution you’ll need:
1 large plastic bowl
2 cups warm water
1 cup dishwashing detergent (preferably Joy or Dawn)
2 tablespoons glycerin (sold from the pharmacy)
Here’s the fun:
Pour water in the bowl. Measure out and add the liquid detergent. (Please make sure it’s not detergent for dishwashers.) Stir.
Add the glycerin and stir a little more.
Pull out your junk box, kitchen utensil drawers and cupboards, and say to your kids, “Everyone find a thing or two that isn’t sharp, won’t get soggy in water and that has lots of holes in it!”
For example, spatulas, biscuit cutters, plastic strawberry cartons and plastic caps with small holes on spice jars (clip on a clothespin or chip clip for a wand handle). One of my favorites is a plastic flyswatter, which, when dipped in solution, makes dozens of itty-bitty bubbles when you wave it.
You may also make your own bubbler by twisting thin wire into a shape such as a square, heart or circle. Leave enough wire to twist together a handle. Thread colorful plastic or wooden beads on the handle to decorate the wand, if you wish.
Go outside, choose a bubble maker, dip it in the soapy liquid, and gently blow through it, or grandly wave it back and forth above your head while the bubbles
Make giant bubbles with a homemade recipe:
Giant Bubble Solution
Makes a little more than a gallon
1 cup Original Dawn liquid dishwashing liquid or ultra Dawn if not available
3/4 teaspoon J-Lube (optional) available online
1 gallon warm water
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 tablespoons glycerin available at pharmacies and some markets such as Whole Foods
1-Stir J-Lube in the cup of dishwashing liquid.
2-Pour warm water in large clean bucket or 2-gallon size container. Stir in baking powder and glycerin. Add the dishwashing liquid/J-Lube mixture and combine.
Make simple bubbler:
Here’s the stuff you need:
-two thin wooden dowels about a yard in length for larger bubbles, or two chop sticks for smaller “still big” bubbles
Here’s the fun:
Tie one piece of string approximately 4 ft in length on the end of both dowels. On the same ends of the dowel tie another string approximately 8 ft in length. Before tying the 8 ft string slip a washer on the string and slide it to the middle. After tying, when you hold the dowels apart approximately 3 ft, the strings should form a large V with the washer being the bottom tip of the V.
Hold sticks with both hands at the ends opposite the string. Bring sticks and hanging string together touching, then dip in the bubble mixture to completely cover the string. Keeping sticks together, slowly lift straight up out of the solution. Raise arms high and gently open sticks and move in a slow motion to create bubbles. Open and close the sticks slowly as bubbles emerge. If there isn’t a breeze, walk and gently wave the open sticks to create the bubbles.
There are so many ways that kids can be part of daily meal prep, from setting the table or popping ice cubes into a pitcher of water to hulling fresh strawberries for dessert.
Routine jobs are important to family life, and new responsibilities can be introduced as kids grow and become more confident in their kitchen skills. It’s especially gratifying for kids when they can be part of the action when company comes.
If there’s an end-of-summer informal barbecue on your calendar, there are always extra to-dos, many of which are suited for young helpers, like arranging fresh fruit, cheese slices and other tasty and healthy nibbles on a cheese board for a delightful, trendy appetizer.
Kids are artistic by nature, so first give them an opportunity to take a visual tour with you in the kitchen to find out what healthy appetizer-type food items are on hand on pantry shelves, in the refrigerator and in the fruit bowl on the counter. They’ll no doubt be inspired by the rainbow of colors on the spectrum, from red cherry tomatoes to green olives and violet grapes.
Now it’s time for them to get creative.
BASIC FAMILY-FRIENDLY CHEESE BOARD
For young school-age kids, begin with a few foods that can go directly to a cheese board or platter with minimal fuss. Good choices are pre-sliced cheeses, nuts, olives, dried fruit, cold cuts like salami and clusters of washed grapes. Kids can line up the cheese or place a chunk of cheese at an angle with a cheese knife to the side. Put small piles of nuts near cheeses, line up cold cuts in rows, then fill in spaces with dried fruit, grapes, sweet cherries and berries. Pile a variety of crackers here and there.
If you have space, spoon prepared hummus into tiny bowls for spreading on crackers. Peanut butter, jelly and honey will make the selection even more kid-friendly. Add style with a few edible blooms, such as nasturtiums, or use a pretty silk flower or two.
As kids become more comfortable in the kitchen, teach them how to mix their own sweet and savory dips, slice vegetables and wrap breadsticks, pretzels or asparagus with cheese or meat.
Extra family fun: When guests arrive, your young child might like to play the role of a “waiter” and take orders from adults of their choices from the cheese board. They can assemble the “order” on a small plate and deliver it to the guest.