March 11, 2011

Eco Mama Tips

Entertaining kids is always a challenge, especially during the long vacations. There are times when I'd like to run to the toy store and stock up on all sorts of quick-fix plastic fun and be done with it, but my conscience (and my wallet!) just won't allow it. Especially when I know the kids will be more interested in the packaging than the toy itself! So how can one keep kids busy, in a fun, educational and ecologically-conscious way? Here are a few ideas (fun party game ideas too!)

Level of messiness:
* not so messy
** somewhat messy
*** mega messy

Here Come the Balloons *
What you'll need:
A package of the cheapest balloons you can find
A windy day
A bit of string

It's a non-disputable fact: kids love balloons! And, it's tons of fun to personify inanimate objects! 
Blow up a couple balloons and tie a bit of string onto them (makes them easier to catch). Go outside and find a place in the yard with wind-tunnel characteristics.

Have the kids stand there and let their balloon go, then watch them 'come to life' and fly away! The most fun is running after them and catching them.

Tip: If you want to make a theme out of it, rent the classic movie 'The Red Balloon' from the library and have a showing afterwards.  

Scientific Milk **
What you'll need:
A tall cup (preferably plastic)
A long straw
Paper towels

The simplicity of this activity is what makes it so great. Yes, it will cost you milk. But if you've got little ones, you've probably got tons of milk in the fridge anyway! And I don't see it as a waste when I consider the benefits: fun, giggles and even a bit of educational value!

Fill the cup with a few inches of milk - you really don't need a lot. Have the kids blow in to their milk through their straws until it starts overflowing with milk bubbles! It's as simple as that! Watch them marvel at the big bubbles as they slide over the side of the cup. Great fun for all!

Makin' Soup ***
What you'll need:
A big plastic mixing bowl
Different mixing tools: spoons, ladles, whisks, etc.
Dry kind: all the spices you never use
Anything else you can spare, like macaroni, beans, coffee grains, etc.
Wet kind: all kinds of veggie skins, spices you never use, water.

When I was a kid, I often made 'Witchy Cross-Britches Stew' while my Mom was cooking dinner. I got to use the skins and rinds of the veggies she was preparing for dinner, and spices, like I was really cooking! If you're like me, you've probably got all sorts of spices you bought for a recipe ages ago, which are now gathering dust in the cupboard.

Arrange a variety of spices you're never going to use on the counter and watch the kids use them sparingly, just like you would. If you've got measuring cups, that's even more fun. Watch as they pour, sift, stir and share!

Tip: Cleaning up can be just as fun as making the mess! Give them a dustpan/sponge/paper towels/etc. and invite them to help clean.

Good for what Ails You: 
Toilet Paper Tube Fun **
What you'll need:
Toilet paper tubes - the more the merrier
Any kind of paper, i.e. construction paper, toilet paper, paper towels, kleenex, tissue paper, etc.
Pens, pencils, crayons
Tape (or glue - but it can get messier)
Any crafty stuff you have lying around - sequins, ribbons, bits of fabric, etc.

I save toilet paper tubes like they're going out of style. You can make just about anything with them!

Let your imagination run wild with paper and tape (to keep it from being too messy).
 Or go ahead and download my free PDF, 'Something to do on a Rainy Day - Toilet Paper Tube Critters'! (shown above)

Count the Critters ***
What you'll need:
A yard with dirt (or a spot in your garden designated for the kids only)
A couple shovels
A couple small jars with lids
optional: Magnifying glass

What is more fun than going outside and discovering the world around you? And the world is chock full of critters... worms, ladybugs, spiders, snails, potato bugs - you name it!
Go outside and start looking - under rocks, in bushes...

Give each kid a shovel and let them dig a hole till they find a worm and watch them as they shriek with excitement upon finding one! Look through the shrubs for ladybugs or in the crevices of the house for spiders. How many critters are there in your yard? You could even make a little chart by drawing (or having the kids draw) the kinds of critters they think they'll find outside, and tallying them once they start searching.
Teach them to create the right environment for their critter in the jar by using the same leaves/grass/bark/etc. they found them in. Allow them to 'keep' the critter for a little while, but that it has to go back to its home when they're done playing.

Note: If you're concerned about any stinging/poisonous critters where you live, make clear the kids can spot but not touch!

Never Fails: Dress & Make Up *
What you'll need:
Dress-up: bathing suits, leggings, leotard, clothes, scarves, tea towels, etc.
Make-up: eyeliner (the liquid kind if you've got it), lipstick

Boys and girls alike love pretending and dressing up! Instead of expensive ready-made store-bought costumes, I prefer letting the kids come up with their own costumes based on their own wild imaginations. Start with a 'base', a pair of leggings and a bathing suit or leotard, for example. Start tying scarves or putting skirts over each other, try layers and most importantly: follow the kids' directions! Let them direct!

As far as make-up goes, sometimes less is more. You can do wonders with a black or brown (liquid) eyeliner - mega long eyelashes, whiskers, an eye-patch... 

Lipstick makes perfect round rosy red cheeks. If you've got some old eye-shadow lying around, let the kids apply it themselves with q-tips or cotton balls. Let boys and girls try out whatever they want - don't limit them to gender definition! Heck, if you were a boy and saw all that frou-frou business with princessy-type dresses, and all you got was a pair of pants, well, I bet you'd want to try it out too!

Another fun variation is: Be a Color! Get out all the kids' clothes and make piles according to color.
Have the kids choose a color and put everything on - starting with undies and ending with socks!

March 09, 2011

Spring Break Blues

It's only Wednesday.

Vacation started last Friday and I am running out of ideas to entertain these kids of mine. I thought I really prepared for this one, but my seemingly endless supply of toilet paper tubes (good for making just about anything from crazy critters to flower vases to working rocket ships) don't seem to impress the kids anymore. Today we've already played dress-up, did our make-up, created objects d' art with play-dough, we've colored, painted and sang songs, we watched a movie and jumped on the bed - and it's not even noon.

No play-dates on the horizon until Friday, no birthday parties until Sunday, no plans whatsoever. We've been lucky the past few days with tons of sunshine and gorgeous Spring-like weather, so we've spent most of the time outside. Time flies when the sun is out! But today is grey and promising rain any second. Bummer.

I'm not making things any easier by sharing my attention with the computer, a constant thorn in the eye of my children. I think they consider PowerBook to be a member of the family, something like a new baby, that demands more attention than they think is fair. They're probably right. Considering it's my only window to the world and an important tool for my own self-expression, they'll just have to accept it. Believe you me, PowerBook can get jealous too.

Right now, Bram is making it clear he is done with the current activity by hanging on my neck and chattering loudly in my ear. He is of the opinion that grown-ups are actually made for climbing on and attacking stealth-style. He's now decided that taking away something Mia is playing with would be far more fun than sharing, and indeed, he provokes an interesting and rather loud reaction from her. I have made a deal with myself to intervene as little as possible these days, in the hopes that they will learn to settle their differences together by cooperation. Sometimes, this works. Other times, we all need a band-aid and a kiss to make it better.

Sharing is tough. But inventing new and fun things to do all day is considerably more challenging. My kids don't get that yet. I certainly didn't get that as a kid - I only got it when I had kids of my own. (I think I can hear my Mom laughing to herself as she reads this...)

Now they're giggling. That sound is what makes it all worthwhile. They are experts at cracking themselves and each other up! Bram has discovered he has a talent for making Mia laugh simply by making sounds with his tongue or pretending to be a dog. Those are the moments I cherish, because it means I can finally have some alone time with PowerBook...

I am quickly learning, the less I interfere with my kids' day, the better it is. A cardboard box, a tub of play-dough and the underside of the table is all they really need to create an enormous mess have a great time. My instincts tell me it won't last long though. My biological Mom-timer is set for 3 minutes and forty-five seconds, and counting, before someone bonks his head or feels unfairness in some way.

Two minutes.

One minute and thirty-three seconds. (I better come up with something quick.)

Twenty-six seconds and... bingo.

Mia's foot got stepped on. One pink butterfly band-aid coming up.

Here I come with the toilet paper tubes again. It's all I've got, take it or leave it.

Lord, it's only Wednesday.