2012 in review

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Winter Educational Ideas for Preschoolers

Copyright (c) Deborah Taylor-Hough. Used with permission. All rights reserved. http://thesimplemom.wordpress.com

It’s always fun to use things in our children’s everyday lives to spark discussion and easy educational activities. Since many of us are currently in the midst of winter, this season can be a great topic of “study” for our littlest ones.

Study time with preschoolers at home mainly consists of talking and laughing with them, helping them notice the details of the world around them. No pressure. Just a fun time spent in the company of a loving adult.

To introduce the topic of “Winter,” ask your child what she knows about the seasons. Is she aware of spring, summer, autumn and winter? Does she know what the differences are between the seasons in your local area?

Don’t lecture. Just make conversation and find out what she knows already. Have her look out the window and tell you what she notices about the trees, bushes, flowers and gardens. Are there leaves visible? Buds? Flowers? Greenery? Bare branches? Brown stems?

Find a photo, painting, or picture in a book of an obvious winter scene. Ask your child if she knows what season it is in the picture. What things tell her what time of year it is? If she doesn’t know, point things out to her that will give clues: bare branches, snow on the ground, no flowers, people in warm clothes, etc. Hide the picture from view and have the child describe to you in her own words what she saw in the picture. Encourage as much detail as possible, but remember to keep it low-key and fun. This process of orally telling back what she’s seen, helps cement the image in her memory.

To suplement your discussion, enjoy together a winter-time picture book such as Ezra Jack Keat’s ‘The Snowy Day’ or the Alaskan tale ‘Momma, Do You Love Me?’ by Barbara M. Joosse. You can browse

these books online at:

Ask your child how people stay warm in the winter (warm clothes, mittens, fireplaces, warm houses, etc.). Let her brainstorm for awhile. Then ask how she thinks animals stay warm in winter (thick fur, migrate to warmer climates, hibernate in caves, etc.).

Sometimes a preschool child might say things like, “Baby squirrels snuggle up in a tree with a soft blanket to stay warm.” Ask her gently if she’s ever seen a real squirrel with a blanket. Does she think that’s how they’ll really stay warm in those cold, winter months? The line between fantasy and reality in preschoolers is sometimes thin … don’t harshly bring your child into reality, just gently coax her into thinking about how things really happen in nature.

But just so you don’t think it all needs to be a serious dose of reality, have some fun and brainstorm about “pretend” ways animals might stay warm. For fun, read one of these wonderfully fun and beautifully illustrated winter-time books by Jan Brett (one of my favorite children’s illustrators):

You can also visit Jan Brett’s website to print out coloring sheets and other fun projects based on Brett’s lavishly illustrated children’s books:

For a fun activity, throw a collection of clothing and accessories into a bag or suitcase. Without looking, have your child reach into the bag, pull out a single clothing item and then tell you if the item they grabbed is appropriate to wear in the winter. Have the child explain to you why each item is — or isn’t — seasonally appropriate. Include a variety of things in the bag such as: a warm hat, a pair of gloves or mittens, an open-toed sandal, a swimsuit, summer shorts, a warm sweater, a snow boot, a woolen scarf, a sleeveless top, etc.

Have your child finish the sentence, “Winter is …” For example: Winter is … “cold”; winter is … “snowmen”; winter is … “mittens”; winter is … “cocoa and marshmallows.” Consider writing down your child’s responses (she’ll feel so official seeing her words written down on paper). If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can even print out little “Winter is …” booklets using clip-art found on your computer that coincides with your child’s winter responses. Or have your child illustrate their own home-made “Winter is … ” book. Or let her cut out winter photos from magazines and newspapers, pasting them onto a large sheet of paper as a “Winter is …” collage.

Have a wonderful time as you explore the glories of winter with your preschooler!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough (freelance writer and mother of three) is the editor of the Bright-Kids and Simple Times e-newsletters. She’s also the author of A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity, Frugal Living For Dummies(R) and Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month. Visit Debi online at: http://thesimple.wordpress.com

140+ Winter/Indoor Boredom Busters for Kids

Since we try not to use the phrase “I’m bored!” in our home, I usually don’t hear my kids complaining about being bored during those long days at home during the winter vacations. But I have to admit that we’re still an incredibly normal family. Even without the “b-word” in their vocabulary, there have still been those times when my three children just seemed to be at a total loss for something constructive to do.

A number of years ago I brainstormed with my kids and some of our assorted friends and we came up with a list of 200+ ideas for summertime activities. I decided to narrow the list down to just those things that can be done indoors and aren’t weather-dependent for those cold snowy days home from school or during winter vacation times.

You can put each item on this list onto individual pieces of paper, place the papers into a container, and when the children need inspiration for an activity, they can draw out two or three papers and then decide which idea they want to do, either as a group or individually. This method is usually more helpful than giving the kids a huge list of possibilities. By narrowing the choices down to just two or three, it’s easier for the kids to pick out the one that sounds the best to them.


  • make paper snowflakes
  • clean out the toy box
  • send virtual greeting cards
  • choose photos for a family calendar
  • have an indoor picnic
  • bake and decorate cut-out cookies
  • go camping in the livingroom
  • clear out your email inbox
  • make a mobile out of found objects (acorns, rocks, branches)
  • write up some New Year’s Resolutions
  • create a simple Family Tree
  • make sandwiches and cut them out with large cookie cutters
  • play basketball with a wadded up piece of paper and a wastebasket
  • play board games
  • make a tent out of blankets
  • read books
  • make homemade play dough
  • play with play dough
  • write a letter to a relative, friend or pen pal
  • clean bedroom
  • vacuum living room
  • clean bathroom
  • make a craft
  • draw
  • color
  • paint
  • watch a movie
  • write stories
  • use magnifying glass
  • write a play
  • act out a play
  • invent indoor circus acts
  • perform an indoor circus
  • play card games
  • dust the house
  • brush the pet
  • write letters
  • read a magazine
  • play dress-up
  • play Cowboys
  • build a fort in your rooms
  • do a jigsaw puzzle
  • play on the Geosafari
  • play on the computer
  • listen to a story or book on tape
  • do extra schoolwork to get ahead
  • do brain teasers (ie: crosswords, word searches, hidden pictures, mazes, etc.)
  • cook
  • prepare lunch
  • surprise a neighbor with a good deed
  • play store
  • prepare a “restaurant” lunch with menus
  • hold a tea party
  • have a Teddy bear picnic on the floor in the livingroom
  • play with toy cars
  • play dolls
  • play house
  • learn magic tricks
  • put on a magic show
  • make sock puppets
  • put on a puppet show
  • crochet or knit
  • make doll clothes
  • sew buttons in designs on old shirts
  • make bookmarks
  • take a quiet rest time
  • take a shower or bath
  • organize a dresser drawer
  • clean under the bed
  • empty dishwasher
  • vacuum under the couch cushions and keep any change found
  • write these ideas on pieces of paper and pick out one or two to do
  • practice musical instruments
  • perform a family concert
  • teach yourself to play musical instrument (recorder, harmonica, guitar)
  • fold laundry
  • sweep kitchen or bathroom floors
  • vacuum or dust window blinds
  • clean bathroom mirrors
  • clean sliding glass doors
  • copy your favorite book illustration
  • design your own game
  • build with blocks or Legos
  • create a design box (copper wire, string, odds-and-ends of things destined for the
  • garbage, pom-poms, thread, yarn, etc.)
  • have a marble tournament on the livingroom carpet
  • make dessert
  • make dinner
  • give your pet a party
  • have a read-a-thon with a friend or sibling
  • check out a science book and try some experiments
  • make up a story
  • arrange photo albums
  • play hide-and-seek
  • create a symphony with bottles and pans and rubber bands
  • read a story to a younger child
  • string dry noodles or O-shaped cereals into a necklace
  • glue noodles into a design on paper
  • play jacks
  • make up a song
  • make an indoor teepee out of blankets
  • write in your journal
  • play charades
  • make up a story by drawing pictures
  • draw a cartoon strip
  • make a map of your bedroom, house or neighborhood
  • call a friend
  • cut pictures from old magazines and write a story
  • make a collage using pictures cut from old magazines
  • do a secret service for a neighbor
  • plan a treasure hunt
  • make a treasure map
  • make up a “Bored List” of things to do
  • plan a special activity for your family
  • search your house for items made in other countries and then learn about those
  • countries from the encyclopedia or online
  • plan an imaginary trip to the moon
  • plan an imaginary trip around the world, where would you want to go
  • write a science-fiction story
  • find a new pen pal
  • make up a play using old clothes as costumes
  • make up a game for practicing math facts
  • have a Spelling Bee
  • make up a game for practicing spelling
  • write newspaper articles for a pretend newspaper
  • put together a family newsletter
  • write reviews of movies or plays or TV shows or concerts you see during the break from school
  • bake a cake
  • bake a batch of cookies
  • decorate a shoe box
  • make a hideout or clubhouse
  • make paper airplanes
  • have paper airplane races
  • learn origami
  • make friendship bracelets for your friends
  • make a wind chime out of things headed for the garbage
  • paint your face
  • braid hair
  • play tag
  • make food sculptures (from pretzels, gumdrops, string licorice, raisins, cream cheese, peanuts, peanut butter, etc.) and then eat it
  • produce a talent show
  • memorize a poem
  • recite a memorized poem for your family

Have fun!


Deborah Taylor-Hough is the mother of three, a full-time college student, a displaced homemaker trying to make ends meet on a limited budget, and the author of several older (but still in print) books including the popular Frozen Assets cookbook series. You can visit Debi online at: http://www.SimpleMom.com

Teacher Appreciation Ideas

Copyright Deborah Taylor-Hough.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved.

As the years go by, it seems to become more and common for parents to be expected to give gifts to their children’s teachers at school. There’s a fine line between showing appreciation and going broke. Finding just the right gift — at just the right price — can be challenging at best. And besides, how many apple-decorated key chains or coffee mugs can one teacher use?
Gina Dalquest (mother of four) says, “Every teacher appreciates school supplies. Often teachers spend a lot of their own money stocking their classrooms. Pencils, paper, whatever I can get inexpensively or in volume. I bought a big cube of construction paper and sent half to my son’s class. Last year, we made decorated glass ball ornaments by pouring several colors of acrylic paint into them and swirling the balls around to look marbled. It cost less than $2 per gift.”
During the winter holiday season, teachers can be so busy with school-related holiday preparations that they don’t have time or energy for all the necessary preparations at home. Homebaked cookies, etc., can be very helpful in this regard.
The following are suggestions for helpful and often inexpensive teacher appreciation gifts for the holidays or the end of the school year:
  • Shoe-box sized plastic storage box full of school and classroom supplies that you can stock up on throughout the year at sales, clearance stores, etc.
  • Bag of popcorn and a flavored salt sampler.
  • Gift certificate for a video rental.
  • Homemade fudge in take-out meal containers (or Biscotti or gingerbread men).
  • Pencils printed with their names on them.
  • Painted glass ball ornaments.
  • Flavored coffee or tea mixes.
  • Coffee and cup decorated by your child.
  • A candle and candleholder.
  • Anything for the classroom: games, writing equipment, books, rulers, things to decorate or theme objects.
  • Handmade items from the students (potholder, pencil holder, etc).
  • Movie theater passes.
  • Small basket of lotions or soaps.
  • Letter or card from the student (and/or parent) telling what they enjoyed about the year or the teacher’s input into the child’s life.
  • Small plant potted in a thrift store coffee mug or tea cup.
  • Child-made apple-shaped something or other (although over the years many teachers end up with more apple decorations than they have room for in their house).
  • Baked goods (bread, cookies, candies, quick breads, etc.) but be sure to check on your school district’s policy about teachers accepting home-baked gift items.
  • Chocolate dipped pretzels.
  • Chocolate anything.
  • Seasonal ornament.
One woman online writes, “There are too many people who get left out and probably feel bad about it, such as the P.E. teacher, the principal, the secretary, the kitchen lady who knows your child by name, the teacher’s aide who listens to them say their numbers or helps with reading, etc. And then there’s the Awana leader, the Girl/Boy Scout leader, the Sunday School teacher, and the private teachers like piano and dance. A parent can’t possibly buy/make gifts for all these people.”
Her unique suggestion to deal with this large number of potential gift recipients? Donate a book to the school or the public library “in the names of all the people who have been part of your child’s life this year. Then give a card to each individual telling them why they were so important to your child and how this gift will help other children as much as he/she helped your child.”
It’s been my experience that people in volunteer helping positions (such as Sunday School teachers or nursery workers at church) are often completely overlooked when it comes time to give out thanks. Each year when our kids were young, my husband and I try to invite our children’s Sunday School teachers and their families to dinner at our house to thank them for all their hard work and dedication throughout the year. It’s never ceased to amaze me that I always hear comments like, “No one has ever done anything like this for me before and I’ve been teaching Sunday School for twelve years.” Even just a simple Thank You card given at the holidays or the end of the school term could be enough to bowl them over in shock.
Remember, this isn’t a competition to see which child or parent gives the teacher the best or most expensive gift. Showing appreciation to assorted teachers should be an expression of heart-felt thanks to the dedicated people who have touched our lives and given of themselves to our children.
Deborah Taylor-Hough (free-lance writer and mother of three) is the author of several popular books including Frugal Living For Dummies and Frozen Assets: Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month. To subscribe to Debi’s free email newsletter, Simple Times, send an email to: subscribe-simple-times@hub.thedollarstretcher.com

Summertime Development Goals for Teens

by Patti Chadwick (This article appeared in the July 23rd, 2001 issue of Bright-Kids ezine.) Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Life with teenagers is hectic. The school year is especially busy with studies, sports, and extra-curricular activities. During the school year it is hard for your teen to find time to work on personal growth or to pursue special interests.With the summer coming and the school year coming to a close, now is the time for your teenager to work on personal development — and you can help them!

While both you and your teenager will want some free time in the summer to just “be”, if you don’t plan for developing special interests or personal growth, you will spend most of the summer idle. Remember the old sayings “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” (A Mother’s Summer Survival Manual) and “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time!” Don’t fall into that trap. Here are some ideas to help both you and your teen “plan your work and work your plan.”

1) The Parent’s Goals

In order to plan for developmental and personal growth in your teens over the summer break, you will need to think about what areas of their lives need to be concentrated on. Think of where your teen is intellectually, physically, spiritually, socially, emotionally, and in terms of practical living skills. Ask yourself where would you like your teen to be in each of these areas by the summer’s end.

2) Ask Your Teens for Input

Since they are no longer little children, but young adults, it is very important to discuss these plans with your teenager. What goals do they have for the summer? What would they like to learn? What athletic abilities would they like to hone? What special interests would they like to pursue? What practically living skills

do they wish to attain?

3) Determine How Goals Will be Measured

How will you measure progress? Remember, each teen is an individual and will grow at his or her own pace. It is wise to be flexible as you work together toward these goals.

4) Write Down Goals

Writing down goals will provide the structure needed to keep you and your teen moving toward the goal and provide a framework for activities you will plan.

When deciding on the interests to pursue and what you both would like have accomplished over the summer, you need to keep two things in mind: your objective and your plan to reach those goals. To help you get started, I’ve included a sample “Summertime Personal Growth Goals Worksheet.”


Intellectual Goals

  • Objective: Increase Vocabulary
  • Plan: Read 4 books this summer, one being a classic.

Physical Goals

  • Objective: Improve Soccer Skills
  • Plan: Play in a summer soccer league.

Spiritual Goals

  • Objective: Learn more about the life of Jesus.
  • Plan: Read all four Gospel accounts.

Social-Emotional Goals

  • Objective: Give back to the community.
  • Plan: Volunteer two times per week at the YMCA.

Practical Living Skill Goals

  • Objective: Get Driver’s License
  • Plan: Drive with parents 2-3 times per week and learn how to do a 3-point turn, and parallel park.

*This is just a sample. Use this worksheet as a guide, but be sure to add to it or delete from it. Whatever works best for your family.

Now, armed with these examples, find the time to get alone with your teenager and make plans on how, as a team, you can make the most of summer vacation. While you are at it, why not make plans to work on your own personal growth this summer!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patricia Chadwick is a freelance writer and columnist in several online publications. Visit her website and sign up for her FREE weekly newsletter at http://www.parentsandteens.com

Nature Study for City Dwellers

Copyright Catherine Levison. Used with permission. All rights reserved. http://charlottemasoneducation.com

Even in the city, children should get their knowledge of nature first hand and get into the habit of being in touch with nature.Here are some simple nature and science ideas for city (and rural) families to share together:

1) Press and mount flowers on cardboard. Write the names of the flowers, and where and when you found them. I recently saw a photo-album used to store pressed flowers. Having a field guide to identify flowers and flowering trees is very helpful.

2) Keep a nature calendar. A calendar devoted to nature observation could be kept with simple entries on when the leaves first fell or the fruit tree in your yard first ripened for the year.

3) Leaf identification. Children should know the leaves of their neighborhood. For example they can begin to notice that some leaves are heart shaped, some are divided, and some fall off in the winter.

4) Give children a pocket compass, a magnifying glass and possibly a microscope. We like using the magnifying glass better. Buy the best magnifying glass or microscope you can afford and check it at the store — they seem to vary in how they focus.

5) Learn about the wind. A weather vane mounted on the housetop or porch railing is not only a decorative object but also a learning tool. Charlotte Mason said to teach children to notice winds. Tell the children that the wind is named by what direction it comes from; for example, if someone is a Mexican because they were born in Mexico, they don’t become a Canadian when they visit Canada.

6) Even children in the city can observe natural animal life. City dwellers can try to feed and observe city birds such as sparrows. Children can place a caterpillar in a box with a netting over it and watch it spin. Keeping an ant farm is fun and educational.

7) Swamps and ponds are an excellent resource for science learning. Have children go to the pond, gather some frogs’ eggs, and place them in a large glass jar. After the tadpoles begin to form legs, take them back and release them at the pond.

–Catherine Levison is a popular speaker to parenting and educational audiences throughout the U.S.A. and Canada. She’s also the mother of five children, a grandmother, and the author of the book, A Charlotte Mason Education: A How-To Manual, the sequel, More Charlotte Mason Education, and A Literary Education: An Annotated Book List. She resides with her family in the Seattle/Tacoma area. Visit Catherine online at: http://CharlotteMasonEducation.com

Catherine Levison’s books can be browsed and purchased from Amazon.com at the following links.

A Charlotte Mason Education

More Charlotte Mason Education

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