Category Archives: family fun

Winter Educational Ideas for Preschoolers

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

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:

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:

Nature Study for City Dwellers

Copyright Catherine Levison. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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:

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

A Charlotte Mason Education

More Charlotte Mason Education

Fun Indoor Games & Activities: Help for the Housebound Parent in Winter

Copyright Jennifer Hull. Used with permission from All rights reserved.

p6_2.jpgSo, the storm has hit and you’re stuck indoors with small children. They’re bouncing off the walls. You’re going bananas. You’d play Candyland but the pieces are missing. Anyway, the kids say they’d rather paint the mirror with your new lipstick.What to do? Here are some indoor kids games and activities to keep children entertained without plugging them into the TV.

1) Build a fort.

Face four chairs back to back forming a large, open square. Drape a sheet over them. Put toys and kitchenware for the kids to play with underneath. They can make a walkway to the structure with blocks.

2) Box them up.

Children love cartons. Add a rope to the box so they can pull each other around. Encourage the kids to decorate their “boat” with markers. Beats having them scribble on the walls every time.

3) Throw a party.

Announce it’s bear’s birthday and invite his stuffed friends. The kids can create invitations and decorate white paper plates by coloring them. Make slice and bake cookies or popcorn. Stretch out the preparation. The party will only last 10 minutes

4) Turn the bathroom into a science lab.

Fill plastic bottles with whatever is on the shelf to make potions. Toothpaste, ketchup, food coloring – the yuckier the better. Add baking soda and vinegar and watch your concoction fizz.

5) Make collages.

Keep everyone busy and clean out the magazine rack by having your children clip pictures and paste them on paper. Suggest a theme, such as animals. Toss any magazine older than your toddler.

6) Work them out.

The problem with bad weather is that children don’t get enough exercise. Play “freeze dance,” stopping in position when the music goes off. Pile up pillows and encourage the kids to gallop over them on hobbyhorses. Get out the tutus and do a dance show. Anything to tire them out!

7) Use a timer.

Finish each activity with a cleanup game, setting the timer and seeing how much everybody can pick up before it rings!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Jennifer Bingham Hull’s award-winning book, Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life, looks at life after the second child. Visit her online at where you can contact Jennifer to receive her “Life Beyond One” column regularly and sign up for her free newsletter.

Article Source:

Eat a Rainbow: The Autumn Harvest

I found this lesson plan for classrooms online just now and thought it might be something that parents could adapt to use at home with their children while the various autumn harvest vegetables are still in the local grocery stores.

Eat a Rainbow: The Autumn Harvest

From their website: 

This lesson gives kids a delicious, hands-on way to remember a simple phrase that will help boost their fruit and vegetable intake.

Objective: To introduce the importance of eating a rainbow of colors of fruits and vegetables while emphasizing and celebrating a seasonal harvest.

Nature Notebooks

Deborah Taylor-Hough is the author of A Simple Choice: a practical guide for saving your time, money and sanity and editor of the Bright-Kids email newsletter.

autnature1_web-small.jpgNature Notebooks are artist sketchbooks where the children can draw whatever natural items strike their fancy.

The Nature Notebooks should be voluntary, by the way — not an assignment or a plea from the parent (”Now, draw the pretty bird for Mommy, honey. . . .”).

The more options you offer the child, the more likely they’ll find one or more ideas that spark their interest.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Information from first-hand observation the child has done themselves (not things they’ve learned from “teaching” or in the classroom).
  2. Drawings of leaves, flowers, birds, insects or anything else discovered by the child in it’s natural setting.
  3. Labels for their drawings — both English and Latin names if applicable.
  4. Notations on where the object was found.
  5. Notations about the temperature or weather conditions, dates, etc.
  6. Life cycles of plants. Draw the bare tree in Winter; the Spring buds; the Summer blooms; the Fall colors and seed pods. Or in a backyard garden you could draw a seed; draw the sprouting seedling; draw the full grown plant; draw the stem, leaves, flower, etc.; draw the fruit, vegetable or flower; draw the new seeds for starting the cycle again.
  7. Draw and describe an ant hill or a bee’s nest.
  8. Take out a hand-held high-power magnifying glass and draw the intricate details of a bee’s wing, or whatever else might be fascinating viewed through a magnifying lens.
  9. Science experiments the child has actually performed. Set-up, observations, results, etc.
  10. Pressing and mounting leaves or dried flowers.
  11. Samples of different types of leaves: divided, heart-shaped, fluted, needles, etc.
  12. Samples or drawings of different types of seeds: nuts; seed pods; seeds that fall to the ground; seeds that float through the air; etc.
  13. Parts of the flower: petal, sepal, stamen, etc.
  14. Sketches of animal tracks.
  15. Sketches of the lifecycles of animals. Caterpillar to cocoon (or chrysalis) to moth (or butterfly); or egg to tadpole to frog (or salamander).
  16. Nature-related poems or quotes. The poems can be ones found during the child’s reading time, or poems composed by the child.

For an outstanding example of a fully developed Nature Diary, take a look at the beautiful book The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, 1906. This book is currently out of print, but you can have do an out-of-print book search for you.

I also highly recommend the book, Keeping a Nature Journal: Learning to Observe and Connect with the World Around You, by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. The book is written and illustrated by science educators who use Nature Journals as their primary way of teaching people to learn about nature firsthand. A beautiful book! It totally changed the way we approached Nature Journals — the first day we looked at the book, my 12-year-old daughter and I spent two hours at the local beaver pond sketching red-winged blackbirds, Canada geese, rough-skinned newts, turtles, and wildflowers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Deborah Taylor-Hough (mother of three) is the author of several popular books including Frugal Living For Dummies; Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month; and A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide for Saving Your Time, Money & Sanity. For more tips and ideas on cooking, parenting, saving money, educational ideas for families, and homemaking, visit Debi online and subscribe to one of her free email newsletters at:

Alternative Halloween Celebration Ideas

Reprinted with permission from
All rights reserved.

Community Pumpkin Patch

For Halloween, we have a community Pumpkin Patch. Our local social service agency has a volunteer-operated community garden. Garden plots for individual use are free, but all takers must help plant and harvest one crop in the community garden to provide fresh produce for the food pantry. These community gardens are located on city land used as a leaf dump, and we have found that pumpkins grow well in uncultivated leaf mounds.Just before Halloween our harvested pumpkins, supplemented by others we purchase, are placed in the Pumpkin Patch where customers trade cans of food for pumpkins — two food items for a small pumpkin, four for a medium pumpkin, etc. These canned goods are given to the local food pantry.

We make money for the food pantry by selling homemade pumpkin baked goods and apple cider. Two local residents set up their apple press and make fresh cider, stimulating sales by giving out free samples.

In addition, volunteer artists paint a cute or scary face on pumpkins for 25 cents. For entertainment the zoo brings animals to pet, and the recreation center provides clowns for face painting.

The Pumpkin Patch has become quite a tradition in our community. It raises several hundred dollars for our food pantry and contributes many canned goods. This project requires little work and lasts one Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

–Mary and Bill Merrill, Columbus, Ohio

 All Hallow’s Eve

We celebrate All Hallow’s Eve with a hot dog roast and bonfire. Everyone is encouraged to dress as a saint, but no Draculas are turned away. We play games such as “Pin the Crown on the Saint,” and sing I Sing a Song of the Saints of God (Episcopal hymnal). We end with the service for All Hallow’s Eve around the bonfire.

–Ed, Andrea, Nathanael and Rebekah Wills, Memphis, Tennessee

Fall Festival

We hosted a family party encouraging everyone (not just children!) to come dressed as Bible characters or saints. As folks gathered, we sang fun, campfire-type songs. Then we all told who we were and were given the prize of a bookmark.

Afterward, the adults played table games (and they must have really enjoyed it, staying as late as they did!) while the kids had their choice of face painting, guessing the number of pieces of candy in a jar, bobbing for apples, bean bag toss, ping-pong, ball toss, or drawing faces on balloons. We had trouble getting people to leave, so perhaps we’ll have another celebration next year!

–Susan Landis, Cheshire, Connecticut

Family Halloween Celebration

Dress the whole family in costume and visit a pediatric ward. Get permission for your visit in advance, making sure your planned gifts to the children there are appropriate. Balloons, coloring books, or comics may make better gifts than candy or gum. Or, if the hospital has no objections, bake cookies together and take them. Visit a few rooms briefly. The joy you bring to the patients and their parents
is a real gift.

–Joel E. Shirk, Cheshire, Connecticut

Ideas reprinted with permission from