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  1. NPN Lauren

    Gardening with kids

    Water, sunlight, soil. It’s what all plants need, and one of the first science facts that kids learn. So gardening is the perfect way to harness an interest in the environment and to cultivate future scientists. These steps offer suggestions that can be scaled to fit any size patch, from large outdoor garden to tiny indoor pot. Planning The winter seems rather endless in Chicago, so thinking of warmer times ahead is a wonderfully positive pastime. Once we get past new year we start to dream of a flower-filled garden. Last year we created mood boards (both as a collage on paper and digitally using Canva), to share our individual visions. Researching Looking up native plants, preferred growing conditions, and the necessary maintenance, makes great reading and research practice, while sparking a conversation about sustainable gardening and climate. We love going to the library either in person or digitally (using sites such as Epic which has a free basic plan). [Related: Family-friendly summer bike rides in Chicago] Selecting We’ve all read that children who spend time around nature are happier, better focused, and more empathetic to others and the planet. A trip to the garden center makes a lovely family activity. Assign tasks to keep things harmonious: who is responsible for the cart, the shopping list, keeping track of the time? Alternatively, purchase from any of the one-off plant sales that occur across Chicagoland (bookmark for next year). Some of these have the option to pre-order and then for drive-up collection, which can be convenient if you don’t fancy keeping a toddler in line. Planting You know how much children love to get their hands in soil. Seeking out smaller tools can facilitate the planting. Little ones will love the colorful options available, while older children will take greater ownership if they’ve chosen items that appeal to their emerging aesthetic. Readers can check that plants are finding their preferred piece of your patch, while new writers can practice their handwriting by labelling popsicle sticks – drawings encouraged. Watering Every small child loves to wield a hose or watering can. Use this as an opportunity to watch the weather forecast and talk about the seasons. Then formulate a coding-like plan for watering: if there is no rain, the temperature is between X and X, then water once in the morning, and so on. Create a chart (an opportunity to practice computer and/or graphic design skills) and assign responsibility. [Related: 7 things to have on hand for fun at-home activities with your kids] Harvesting If you can include something you can harvest in your plantings, this will hold everyone’s interest. Tomato plants with little green fruit will provide a quick reward, which is imperative with very little kids. Peppers and herbs are other vegetation that kids get excited about and can lead to some fun cooking activities, including the crowd-pleasing pizza. Assessing Of course, plants do not follow strict instructions and with even the most loving and zealous care do not always yield the desired results. Making a review of your "land" part of your weekly family time and having conversations around this can help children understand that as well as planning, problem-solving and flexibility are important skills to learn. Then encourage them to suggest solutions for you to try. With children’s affinity for the natural world, gardening is a perfect activity to involve the whole family. Whether you have a vast, outdoor space, or need to set up your greenery indoors, there is the opportunity to engage and converse. We hope that this shared interest will continue to bond us as a family as we navigate the years ahead together.
  2. NPN Jana

    Free Virtual Music Class

    Join Miss Erin online from the comfort of your home for a LIVE, interactive music class, lead by one of our super talented and energetic teachers! This class features non-stop singing and dancing activities designed for children ages 0-6 to enjoy with their parents or caregivers. Gather up your instruments and get ready to move and groove! RSVP required. Pease go here to register. This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: erin@themusicplayhouseofchicago.com
  3. “A season of shivers” is the prediction from the Old Farmer’s Almanac. In Chicago we’ve been bracing ourselves. These are some of the winter traditions that our family looks forward to, as we countdown to warmer times. 10. Bundle Up And Get Outside – What else can you do? Build a custom snowman and challenge each other to a (gentle) snowball fight Project a (short!) holiday movie outside Go sledding on the nearest hill 9. Enjoy Decorations Galore – A little magic is essential Pick out a tree to decorate together Visit the Lincoln Park Zoo's festive ZooLights Take a pajama car tour of the decorations downtown 8. Reach Out to Friends – Remember who’s important Send paper cards with handwritten messages Plan holiday socials (recently held outdoors or virtually) Facetime or Zoom with family far away [Related: How to survive a Chicago winter with kids] 7. Undertake A Giving Project – Truly embrace the meaning of the season Deliver food in person Make bedazzled cards with heartfelt messages Fulfill holiday wishes 6. Make And Eat Special Foods – Enjoy the delicious Bake family cookie and shortbread recipes Create a (truly unique!) gingerbread house Indulge in a home hot chocolate bar (with current favorite: unicorn poop marshmallows!) 5. Meld Our Cultures – …while exploring others Invite our American Elf on the Shelf to come out on December 1st Pull English crackers to reveal paper hats and silly jokes Recognize and learn about other cultural holidays through crafts and stories 4. Respect Family Traditions – Take the best of the past Play together as a family, raiding the games closet Lay an extra place setting on feast days, to welcome unexpected guests Walk off over-eating on Boxing Day (December 26th) and be at one with nature 3. Connect With Santa — Socially distant, of course Send a letter to Santa (one that generates a return!) Wave to the CTA Holiday Train Enjoy a meet-and-greet with Mr. Claus (most recently virtually, with fabulous video recording) [Related: Holiday activities in Chicago for special-needs kids] 2. Cozy Up Inside — Embrace hygge season Watch any version of The Grinch during movie nights with homemade popcorn (on repeat!) Gorge ourselves on s’mores around the fireplace Visit the Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry's holiday exhibit, or a family-friendly installation — all warm and indoors! 1. Welcome The New Year — Celebrate a fresh start Make our own party poppers (with toilet rolls, balloons and confetti) Take in the London fireworks live (conveniently at 6 p.m. CST) Create New Year Intentions collages to pin up and refer to during the year ahead Despite the bitter temperatures, there are plenty of activities to do during a Chicago winter. By the time of the first snow fall, our family is ready for our annual winter activities. Over the years we’ve come to realize that you just need to embrace the change of season, not resist it!
  4. until
    Join Miss Jaime, Mr. Cole, Miss Kat, and Miss Erin ONLINE for a super fun, interactive, festive Holiday Sing-a-Long! Enjoy non-stop singing and dancing activities for the whole family, for a good cause! All proceeds will be donated to the Children's Service Board of Lurie Children's Hospital. Ticket Cost $5. Please consider making a voluntary contribution on top of your ticket donation to help their growing needs in this troubling time. Advanced registration required. Please go here to register. This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: erin@themusicplayhouseofchicago.com
  5. Not all kids like to cook at younger ages and that’s to be expected. It’s easy to get intimidated around hot pots and sharp knives. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some fun and safe ways to get your mini chefs involved in making dinner for the whole family! Meatless Monday We know it’s a cliché, but what better day to make a veggie-based pasta? Use a food processor to whip up an easy spinach “pesto” using fresh baby spinach, basil, nuts of your choice, and good parmesan or other aged cheese (optional). Have your kid(s) pour in the olive oil as the motor runs until the pesto is smooth. Cook pasta in a small pot according to package directions, drain (reserving about a tablespoon of the cooking water), and add pesto to the pot. Have your mini(s) stir to coat with a wooden spoon. They can also garnish the prepared bowls by sprinkling in some extra grated parmesan cheese and/or tear up more basil leaves to place on top. [Related: 5 tips for cooking with little kids] Taco Tuesday OK, OK, it’s another cliché, but do tacos on Tuesday ever fail? Switch things up a notch by making crispy taco bowls or cups with toppings of your choice. While you cook some ground beef (or chicken or turkey) seasoned with salt, cumin and chili powder, have your mini(s) push small flour or corn tortillas into the cups of a muffin tin lightly sprayed with olive or avocado oil. You can spoon in the cooked meat, and they can top with shredded Chihuahua, Mexican blend, or other cheese of your choice. Bake off the taco shells in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until crisp. Once cooled, serve the muffin cups with a variety of toppings: chopped tomatoes or mild salsa, diced avocado, shredded lettuce, chopped fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of lime — if they’re up for it. Meatball Wednesday Time to maka da meatballs! Add ground beef/pork or chicken/turkey in a large bowl. Have your kid(s) sprinkle in some seasoning (onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, oregano), and then have them squeeze in some ketchup for sweetness. Either you or they can crack an egg and add some panko, or have them tear up day-old bread for fresh breadcrumbs to add to the mix. Using clean hands, mix up the batch and everyone can take turns rolling the meat into golf ball-size balls. Pour a jar of marinara in a large, deep skillet and heat until a slow simmer forms. Gently place the mini meatballs in the mix, cover and cook until cooked through but still tender. Serve with pasta, in hoagie rolls, or by themselves with a veggie of choice. [Related: Ways to make learning playful and fun for kids] Stir-Fry Thursday Remember Mongolian BBQ? Bring back the '90s fave with make-your-own stir-fry bowls. Set up a station with bowls of raw, pre-chopped veggies (broccoli, mushrooms, diced red and yellow peppers, matchstick carrots, peas or edamame, etc.). Have them hand you their bowl while you add the protein (diced chicken or turkey breast or shrimp) and some pre-made stir-fry sauce (store-bought or a combo of soy sauce, hoisin or honey, and grated garlic and ginger). Heat up a little neutral or avocado oil in a wok or large skillet and cook until meat is cooked through and veggies are tender. They can finish off their bowls with any garnish of their choice (sliced scallions, toasted sesame seeds, chopped peanuts or almonds), or skip this part. You can even have then pick out the veggies you’ll be using at the grocery store to help them get more excited about the meal. Pizza Friday Make an easy Detroit-style pizza using a pan! This one’s easier to handle than stretching out and dealing with fresh dough. Line a buttered, 9"’ x 11" pan with prepared pizza dough and lightly brush it with olive oil. Have your kid(s) place alternating pepperoni slices and diced cheese across the dough (Detroit-style uses buttery brick cheese, or go for combination of brick and mozzarella), making sure to place enough cheese in the corners to create those signature, caramelized edges. Bake in a 500-degree oven on the lowest rack until bubbly, and edges are dark brown, almost black — about 30-40 minutes. Be sure to let the pizza rest 10 minutes before cutting into squares and serving. Photo: Annie Spratt on Unsplash
  6. Hygge: feeling warm, comfortable and safe. This Danish concept advocates enjoying the simple pleasures and treating yourself with care. During Chicago winters, we could all do with a little dose of hygge: the perfect antidote to Zoom overload. Here’s how. Clear out clutter To ensure the simplicity required for this concept, some decluttering is required. Make this an opportunity to donate items, then clear everything out of sight into some large, natural hampers. Bring in cozy Wool blankets, faux sheepskins, baskets of slippers. There is nothing better than snuggling with your family and embracing the best of togetherness. [Related: From slow to go! Balancing life post-pandemic] Add texture To complement the soft textiles, add some earthenware bowls for soup or glass jars filled with pinecones for a pleasing aesthetic. Bringing nature in promotes the tranquil vibe. Display those memories While we can’t see extended family members as much as we would like, displaying photos brings them closer. Or, dig out old mementos and arrange treasured items on shelves where they bring back happy memories. Read and listen Reading and listening to music are soothing pastimes for many of us. Select some poetry or a beautiful photo book, create a playlist, and chill out in a nook made from a bean bag chair or throw pillows. Embrace changing seasons Embracing the seasons is a part of hygge that we all have to accept in Chicago. Bundle up on sunny days, invest in a sled for the snowy ones, and makeover your bedroom hotel-style for the really ugly ones. Set a fire Whether you have a fireplace indoors, a fire pit outside, or just a visual on YouTube, fires are immensely relaxing. Rearrange the furniture around this focal point, replacing the TV with conversation. Enjoy a cuppa Make 2021 the year to up the ante on winter drinks. A hot chocolate bar is a fun, low-key activity for all the family. Alternately, cover a box with beautiful fabric and fill it with a range of teas for a home tasting. Bake a treat Though cookie exchanges are a no-no, take the opportunity to explore comfort foods from across the globe. Baking bread is another wonderful way to bring in the hygge, filling your home with an enticing aroma. [Related: Family-friendly slow-cooker meals for cold snaps] Bathe in light If candles are problematic with children and pets, there are plenty of realistic battery versions. And of course, strings of tiny fairy lights add a magical effect strung up a little haphazardly. Put away tech Central to the theme of hygge is simplification, and that applies to technology, too. Identify a place to put away these items at the end of the day, such as a sanitizing station or a charging drawer. Embrace neutral decor To fully embrace the required Danish décor, repaint a room in neutral colors of grays, greens and creams. For a low-commitment fix, try adding new pillows or replacing the bold with calming artwork. As we continue our winter living with COVID, it is so important that our homes become our sanctuaries — and not our cells. While traveling and experiencing a refreshing change of scene remains problematic, setting up our dwellings to provide respite is hugely beneficial to our wellbeing.
  7. As a kindergarten teacher, I always believed my top priority was to help children fall in love with learning. The joy was getting them to enjoy school, to cherish the memories they make there and embrace the challenges. I felt that if each child could come to school excited for learning, that I would be setting them up for a lifetime of success. With school buildings closed and parents juggling their own work while also managing online learning and homework, I am afraid this priority of mine is in serious jeopardy. How can we, as exhausted and stretched-thin parents, keep learning fun for our frustrated and burnt-out children? How can teachers and the education system maintain rigorous learning while keeping the joys of learning intact? Now, it is more essential than ever to keep learning enjoyable by engaging the whole family in learning, and prioritizing organic learning through play. What exactly does this look like? Read on for some of my favorite ways to play and learn as a family. Play a family game Think of the amount of learning, thinking, and growing that happens when your family sits down to play a game. If they’re old enough, have your children read aloud the rules and repeat them in their own words. Then, as you play, count and describe your play out loud. Take turns saying “Your turn!” and sharing materials. Not only are your young ones benefiting from intentional family time, but they will be learning social skills, strategy, reading, and comprehension skills, too. [Related: Reintroducing playdates in a post-pandemic world] Take to the kitchen Some of the best learning can happen with a hands-on approach in the kitchen. Have your child help you write out the grocery list: encourage them to spell words out on their own or copy the letters from current packaging. Involve your child in the recipes you create by having them read the recipe card to you. All kinds of math takes place in cooking: fractions, conversions, and counting. And don’t forget science! Have your child help you discover the purpose of baking soda, or what happens to yeast in water. Spread some joy We all know someone who could use a smile. Have your child write letters to loved ones, make a book for a neighbor, or read to a younger sibling. Addressing and mailing the letters are half the fun! [Related: You can make eating out with your kids actually enjoyable] Follow their interests Does your child love building? Have them invent a new way to hang the towels in the bathroom or store items in the closet. Have an artistic one? Have them paint a picture, then write a note describing the image they created. Does your child love “search and finds”? Have them find and highlight sight words in a newspaper or magazine. Above all, encourage your children to find their own ways to follow their curiosities. Have them ask questions about things that matter to them, and work to find the answer together. We owe it to our youngest learners to keep this journey exciting for them. Their (and our) future depends on it!
  8. As vaccines roll out by the thousands, the days are getting longer, and hope feels more tangible than ever. But how do we balance it with the pace of the past year? For a lot of families and couples, the pandemic's slow down period has been a blessing in disguise. This is not to say that it hasn’t been difficult in a million weird and unexpected ways. It has. However, not having to go to playdates, attend birthday parties, and uber children to multiple afterschool activities has allowed for more time together. For my family, we now have a standing Friday night pizza and movie date which we all really look forward to. So how will we remember to just relax and play when the world quickly plays catch-up? Don’t think of this as making up for lost time Time was not lost; it was slowed down. There is no need to go full speed. List the activities that each member of your family would like to do and only commit to one to two at a time. Same goes for summer camp: Keep in mind that kiddos are used to having down time, so we don’t want to overwhelm them by booking every week. Just because we can, doesn’t mean that it's the best option for our family. Keep at least two days/nights free of activities Preferably one weekend morning so that you can sleep in (if all the stars align). It is also nice to wake up and not have to run off to something. I find that on Saturday morning, my children are excited for the weekend and looking forward to playing and using their imagination for the things that they wish they could have done while in school. This also leaves room for spontaneity. Take turns Historically, my husband and I felt that we had to both attend birthday parties because it was a social event for us, but in the end we would be exhausted. One idea we’ve had since is to take turns with parties and activities. We also take turns working out, cooking, and cleaning. [Related: Self-care during COVID: Creating your own pandemic slowdown] Make time for yourself Pick something that brings you joy, and do it! For me, it was to take a pilates teacher training course so that I can learn and do something new. Another thing my partner and I do is that if I have plans to work out on a Saturday, then we make a plan for him to work out on Sunday. If you make time for yourself, you are more likely to help others make time for themselves as well. Be aware of the new social anxiety I am finding with myself and a lot of my clients that there is a sense of feeling awkward in social situations. Questioning the conversations when you get home and thinking that you talked too much are normal. We haven’t been socializing the way that we were used to. It might take time to find our groove and make new friends as adults, and this is a good reminder that our kiddos might struggle with this also. Ease back into life with one activity at a time and don’t forget that "No" is still an acceptable answer.
  9. Most of us probably have a good idea what it takes to get our young children to love reading. Snuggling up with a favorite book at bedtime, for example, sends a clear message about the value of reading. But what about a love of math? For many parents, it’s not so obvious how to help young children appreciate math — especially if they don’t enjoy it themselves or feel their skills in the subject are lacking. Yet parents are a powerful influence on how children feel about math. Feelings? Yes, research is clear that children’s mindset — their beliefs about what math is and who can do math well — helps determine their math achievement. So, if you’re a parent and don’t consider yourself a math person, there are still ways you can help your child succeed. First, try putting aside any pressure you feel to be their math teacher, and instead, think of yourself as a math cheerleader! With that perspective, following are five strategies you can use to cheer your child on and encourage their love of math. Be curious The concept of being a “math person” — or not — is a myth. But even if you don’t identify as someone who likes or is good at math right now, you can still model curiosity about the subject. You don’t have to have all the answers, but you can ask good questions. Two great questions to ask your kids: “What do you notice?” and, “What do you see?” Look with a math lens We use lenses all the time to help us see things differently: to improve our vision, to shade our eyes from the sun, to magnify microscopic organisms and to watch a 3-D movie. In the same way, we can use a math lens to help our children see the world differently. For example, you and your child might look at how eggs in a carton are lined up in two rows of six. You might notice the patterns on a checkerboard, or the symmetry of a building, shapes in the tile floor, height of a tree, rhythm of a song, etc. By pointing these things out, it won’t take long for your child to recognize the ways math is present everywhere they look. Picture books, too, are a great invitation to look at the world with a math lens. Visit your public library and check out these award-winning Mathical Prize books. Talk about math You’ve got chores to do: grocery shopping, washing dishes, doing laundry, straightening up the house. These tasks all offer opportunities to help your child sort, count, make comparisons and reason spatially. The Early Math Collaborative at Erikson Institute offers many practical ideas for math at home. Remember that language and math skills develop together. Take advantage of small moments to talk about math ideas as you move through your day together — think of it as the curriculum of life! Play games Children learn best through play. Games provide children with enjoyable math practice skills while also developing their logical, strategic thinking. Simple card games such as Uno and Memory offer opportunities for matching and comparing. Path-based board games like Parcheesi or Chutes and Ladders, in which children use dice or spinners to advance spaces, develop a sense of number magnitude. Strategy games like Connect Four and Mancala require children to plan their problem-solving by thinking a step ahead. Puzzles are also great for spatial reasoning. The blog Games for Young Minds is full of game suggestions and reviews to help you plan your next family game night that encourages your child’s love of math. Embrace effort Making mistakes and trying to figure things out is part of doing math. How you respond when you or your child makes an error can send the message that math is a process and that success comes from effort. As children move through school, there’s bound to be some struggle learning math — and you may be in the position to help with homework. In these situations, pause for a moment before offering assistance. This sends the message that it’s okay for them to not understand right away. As parents, we have to develop a stronger stomach for some temporary frustration. This is how your child will learn problem solving and perseverance — both crucial skills for life that math teaches particularly well. Jeanine O'Nan Brownell is the mother of three children. She works at Erikson Institute’s Early Math Collaborative and partners with school districts, childcare centers, and agencies to design programs of professional learning for preK-3rd grade teachers.
  10. My family isn't counting the days, weeks or even the months anymore, but we are counting the memories. What began as a couple of weeks holed up at home could have morphed into a lost year. Instead, we chose to begin each day with the question, What memories are we creating today? Capturing those memories—both joyous and challenging—has become central to our daily lives. Here are some easy ways you can help your kids record feelings and milestones surrounding a most unusual year. [Related: How to celebrate kids' birthdays while social distancing] Memory book Inspired by a school assignment, our children began filling out and coloring in printables related to the new normal. We decided to supplement these with our own pages—including handprints and comic strips—with the ultimate goal of printing a hardcover book. Artwork Allowing youngsters to express their view of a pandemic world through art is helpful in gauging their understanding and how they’re feeling. My youngest daughter, an aspiring doctor, made a detailed image of a Covid-19 patient and a truly creative series of virus watercolors. Memory box To preserve three-dimensional pieces, creating a memory box makes for another interactive project. Adding rocks painted with messages of hope or magazines exploring issues of the day, such as Time for Kids or National Geographic, will be interesting for years to come. Time capsule Or how about creating a time capsule for the next generation to find? Including a newspaper seems like a no-brainer, but ask your kids what else might convey our lives today. A face mask? A popular toy? A recent book? Let their imaginations get to work. Newspaper reporters Children can also be encouraged to create their own newspapers. Explaining that we’re living through history really brings home the momentousness of the current situation. Task them with becoming reporters or bloggers and charge them with noting what is happening right now. [Related: These thoughtful gifts prove showing you care doesn't cost a thing] Video diary Budding movie producers can capture these memories in video format. Immediate family members can be interviewed in person, while Zoom or FaceTime can be used to connect with folks in other parts of the country or world for a broader perspective. How do their experiences differ? How are we all the same? Movie poster If this year were a movie, what would it be called? Who would be the main characters and who would be the stars? Summarizing 2020 in poster format is another creative way to encourage reflection and put the year into a visual format. Poetry and song Of course, memories can also be captured lyrically. There are many different types of poetry youngsters can try their hand at, with free verse or narrative well suited to individual expression. Alternately, given a few musical instruments, kids will quickly develop their own songs. While there is so much of this year we may choose to forget, for our children these are the days they’re witnessing significant history, and as such are worth remembering. Capturing some of these memories in a way that works for your family acts as a counterbalance to the aimless drifting of 2020. It can even bring some hope during an uncertain year.
  11. “Halloween is an opportunity to be really creative” – Judy Gold Never has that been more true than now. So how do you embrace creativity and find a way to celebrate during these strange times? Lights tour When our children were babies we would stroll through the neighborhood on a night prior to Halloween, just enjoying the lights away from the crowds. This activity has now become a part of our annual tradition. We’re truly thankful that we can continue this part of our typical celebration during this distinctly abnormal year. Pumpkin-decorating contest To make a neighborhood tour more personal, you could challenge other families to a pumpkin-decorating contest. Give everyone a few days to check out the competition, then either vote using an online poll (for the truly competitive) or make everyone a winner. Spooky treasure hunt For another distanced activity, create your own neighborhood treasure hunt—with a twist. Take a family walk to spot all the spooky chalk drawings your friends have sketched. Check them all off for a cauldron of goodies at the final stop–your home! Party at home Hats off to anyone who creates their own Zoom party. We can’t quite muster up the will to get online after a week of virtual schooling. Instead, we’re going to party en famille with indoor trick-or-treating. We’re adding some inexpensive orange and black balloons (no helium required) for a homestyle ball pit. And if it’s nice outside, a pinata filled to the brim with candy would seem ideally suited to the occasion. Embrace being inside For once you won’t have to worry about sensible weather-appropriate clothing, so just let your little ones dress up however they please. Task the younger members of your household with writing a script for their random characters, then let them entertain you with a play. Let’s face it, these dress-up clothes are destined to get plenty of wear over the long, likely-stay-at-home months ahead. Costumes with masks And if you are venturing outside, finding costumes that include masks is not that hard. (Aren’t they always reminding us not to bring masks into school at this time of year?) We’ve been thinking about ways to bring virus-protection into costumes. The stores have some cute animal face masks which would be perfect paired with feline onesies. Similarly, dressing up as doctors or surgeons is easy-peasy. Non-traditional parade At this time of year you’re likely mourning your typical Halloween parade, but try remembering that it doesn’t have to follow the usual format. You can have your children walk past the local shops where they will definitely get the desired attention. We might just stand in line at the local donut haunt and have folks filter past us. What’s more fall-appropriate than eating apple cider sugary treats? Character visit There are services where you can hire a character to visit. However, if you have a bunch of parents that are good sports, how about having one of them dress up as a superhero or other fan favorite. (A dad who showed up to daycare as a unicorn is always remembered as a star.) By waving to the kids at a safe distance they will be like the Santa of Halloween. Look to other cultures Sometimes it’s better to embrace change rather than try to do what you always did and fall short. Other cultures can provide inspiration. El Dia de los Muertos is an obvious alternative to Halloween. Or offer up gifts of food to pacify hungry ghosts like they do during the Hong Kong festival of Yue Lan. We might celebrate British Guy Fawkes Day on November 5 with a fire pit in lieu of a bonfire. Now, more than ever, it’s important to teach our children to overcome hurdles, build resilience and employ creativity. What is more emblematic of that than a re-imagined Halloween?
  12. When Chicago's stay-at-home order began, like many parents I wondered how we would fill so much time at home with my 22-month-old. Even as a stay-at-home mom, this was a daunting task! I decided to get busy using my elementary-education teaching background to create basic plans for exploration and make the most of our time together. As we draw near the fall and probably another step toward increased distancing, I hope to empower parents with ideas for simple play at home. Creating memories at home together is the first step in your child’s education, and can be done with minimal materials. I believe in learning through play, exploring child-led curiosities and interests, and exposure to as much language and color as possible! Through the eyes of a child, everything within your home is a learning tool! Getting creative with some basic items will encourage hours of play and create lasting memories. Below are some of my favorite materials for our projects, arts and crafts, all of which are pictured and detailed on the Instagram account, @raisingminimoss. [Related: How to keep your kids active inside] Pom poms: These fuzzy balls are so visually exciting! Use these for color sorts, toss and catch, or spooning into muffin tins. Tape paper towel rolls to the wall and create a pom pom drop! Squish some into a kitchen whisk and have your little one use their pincer fingers to get them out. Contact paper: This one-sided sticky paper has filled hours of fun and crafting with my 22-month-old! Stick cotton balls to it and make a sheep or bunny. Use tissue paper scraps to make a suncatcher. Feathers can turn the contact paper into a beautiful bird! My little one loves going on a nature hunt and displaying her found leaves, sticks, and flowers on the paper. Dot stickers: These are the basic ones you can find at the office section of your favorite store, and they can be used in so many different ways! Fine motor skills are practiced when removing the stickers from their paper, hand-eye coordination is practiced when sticking them on a line. They can be great for color sorts and matching activities by putting uppercase/lowercase letters or numbers on them. Bubble wrap: Write letters or numbers on the big bubbles and have your child pop it as you call them out. Wrap a rolling pin with it and roll it through paint—the print is amazing! Paint it and use it as a stamp to make prints of honeycombs or sheep’s wool. My little one’s favorite is to simply put it on the ground and jump. Talk about gross motor skills! [Related: How to celebrate kids' birthdays while social distancing] Paint: My favorite is Crayola Washable Paint. I love it because it washes out of everything, but I still keep baby wipes on hand for quick messes. We love “random object stamping”: pine cones, dried flowers, or even sticks from outside. The bottom of a celery stalk stamps like a rose and apples and citrus fruits make beautiful prints. Forks make amazing prints too, like lion’s fur! Recycling: Take a look at what you are recycling, and upcycle it! Your toilet paper rolls can become binoculars, stamps, or slides for toy cars. Empty tissue boxes can become a bed for dolls, a sorting bin, or with a few rubber bands it can become a guitar. Sensory play: Sensory play encourages motor skills, scientific thinking and problem-solving, and is so much fun for exploration! Shaving cream, popcorn kernels, and even shredded paper can provide a great sensory experience to explore. Toss in a few small toys and have your child fish them out. There are lots of taste-safe options, too: yogurt, Jell-O, Cool Whip, food-coloring-dyed spaghetti noodles, ice cubes and even dried lentils. Beyond these projects, reading, singing and sharing nursery rhymes encourage language skills. Your young child’s brain is a sponge! Use books as a springboard for projects and talking about various topics. Include your child in at-home chores such as laundry sorting, stirring and mixing in the kitchen, and pulling out pots and pans to make instruments. Take advantage of this time together and make some special memories. By seeing the world through your child’s eyes, you, too, will develop a sense of wonder and creativity! Allow yourself to be empowered by your own ideas—you and your children will be glad you did! And when in doubt, just dance!
  13. Inactivity during winter months can have a negative effect on a family’s physical and mental health. Research has shown when kids don’t get enough activity, it could result in difficulty sleeping, behavior problems, and inattention for academic tasks. That’s why it’s important to keep your kids active all year round, especially during those long winter months. And no one understands this more than Chicagoans! To stay active while not having to leave your house, we’ve put together some fun ideas to help your family stay sane and survive inside. Living room warrior course You can create gross motor obstacle courses in your home using everyday items. Use step stools to step up and down — or, even better, jump to stay off of the “hot lava” (which is the carpet, of course); walk along a tightrope (aka a taped line on the floor); practice balancing while stepping across floating islands in the ocean (better known as couch cushions). Other great ideas to add to your obstacle course: animal walks (such as bear walking or frog jumping from one point to another), skipping or hopping on one foot, or crawling through stacked up pillows or under blankets. Encourage your child to follow this path in order to retrieve pieces for a puzzle from one end of the room to another, or see how long it takes them to finish the obstacle course. Have them “beat their personal best” without stepping off of any obstacles along the way! Dance party! Turn up the music and move your bodies to your favorite tunes. Ask your child for their request and DJ their own personal dance party. Instead of sitting to watch a movie, play your children’s favorite soundtrack from the film and have a dance off or act out the movie. Another fun dance game is to try a “copy dance.” Each participant teaches their favorite move for the other family members to master. Some older children may even want to make up their own routine and put on a performance for the family. Announce them to the stage and encourage costume changes! You can also practice listening skills with a game of freeze dance. The rules are simple: dance when the music plays and freeze when it stops. First one to move is out! Lights, camera, action Kids can use their imagination to put on a play for family members. They can recreate their own version of their favorite book or movie, or write an original script. Encourage your child to design their own costume using their clothes or by making a costume with paper, fabric and the universal sewing machine — a stapler! To add even more fun, they can use items to create a “stage” such as hanging a sheet for a curtain or finding props for their performance. Find your chi Teach your little yogis some kid-friendly poses using premade yoga cards. YouTube has great yoga practices, as well, that are frequently “themed” and set to music. (Can you say Star Wars yoga poses, my young padawan?) Yoga practice can keep your kids moving while improving their balance and flexibility. It’s a great way for all ages to play together and help stretch away the winter blues. Hopscotch it down the hallway In order to play hopscotch inside, use construction paper, stickers or tape on tile or hardwood to make the hopscotch game pattern almost anywhere. Encourage kids to skip areas by throwing a stuffed animal at a square to skip over. Family game night Instead of sitting to play a board game, try choosing a family game like Twister or Charades to encourage more gross motor movement! This is a surefire way to stay active and add a lot of laughs to an evening. Bounce your sillies out A mini trampoline is great way to keep moving that does not take up a lot of space. Many fold up and can fit neatly under the bed until the next jumping emergency. Find your happy sensory place Make sensory bins for your child to experiment with. Fill up plastic contains with water beads, dried food goods (corn kernels, rice, beans, pasta etc.), kinetic sand, or cornstarch and water. Allow kids to put their hands (and maybe even feet?) in them. You can hide toys in the bins and go on a treasure hunt! Hopefully, we’ve got you started with some good ideas to get your creative juices flowing, your kids movin’ and groovin’, and everyone’s lives a little saner to survive the winter blues. Happy motoring!

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