Understanding Children Through Imitation

follow your child's example, what it feels like to be a child, child's experience,

Mirror a child’s movements. (morguefile)

So much of a child’s experience, from infancy on, is constantly being shaped by adults. Their behavior, posture, movement, and sound are restricted by structured activities, confining seats, and grown-up expectations . If we allow ourselves, we can drop into a child’s world for few moments by replicating his or her movements. It’s a form of listening at the bodily level that can be instructive as well as enlightening.

I’ve admitted to trying this the very first time as a new mother, imitating my newborn’s movements in an experience so profound it felt like a ceremony.

I didn’t try it again until I was the mother of three kids under six. I’d dashed over to a friend’s house to drop something off, feeling rushed to get back to my nursing baby. My friend’s children weren’t home. I stood in her quiet kitchen telling her how much I wanted to sit down and chat, but couldn’t spare the time. She answered my complaint with mock outrage, “Don’t you dare relax! What were you thinking?”

In my best imitation toddler voice I said, “WANT TO!”

She wagged her finger. “That’s enough out of you. Do what you’re told right this minute.”

Then I dropped to the floor in a full-on act of defiance; lying on my back, kicking my legs, and squalling, “You can’t maaaaaake me!”

By this time our hilarity was well out of proportion to this brief moment of improv. When I got up I felt different—wonderfully de-stressed and energized.

I insisted my friend give it a try. She resisted, until I admonished her with the same phrases I’d heard her use on her kids. I even flung out her full name accompanied by finger wagging. That did it. She twirled around whining “Noooooo. No no no!” till she was out of breath, with hair in her mouth and a smile on her face.

We both agreed we felt incredible.

I don’t for a minute suggest you do this, ever, in front of any child. Self-expression should never be ridiculed. But if they’re not home, give it a try. What this did, for me as well as my friend, was let us fully express strong emotions through our bodies as our children do, as we used to do when we were children. We may have been well-educated, reasonably sophisticated women but the need to indulge in some primal venting hadn’t left us. A little method acting gave us both new insight into what our children experience.

After that, I looked for ways to learn from my children through imitation. We adults do this all the time when we play with our kids. We chase and let them chase us. When they pretend to be an animal or make-believe character we join in. We’re the big bad wolf blowing down a child’s fort made of cushions. We’re the sotto-voiced doll talking to another doll or the train engine struggling up an imaginary hill. Playing is a window into a child’s experience, and remarkably restorative for us as well.

But what truly let me honor my children’s world was letting them choreograph my movements. Sometimes we’d play what we called “mirror”— standard actor training done face to face. The child is the leader, the parent the “mirror.” As the child makes gestures, facial expressions, and hand movements the parent tries to duplicate the movements exactly. Then we ‘d switch so the child got a turn being the mirror. I always ended up laughing first.

Sometimes we played a variant of this, making each other into emotion mirrors. One would call out a feeling like “surprised” or “angry” or “wild” and the other would try to convey the word through facial expression. (This is also a great way to advance emotional intelligence.)

My favorite imitation was through dance. We’d turn on some lively music and I’d try to copy my child’s dance moves. This is much more difficult than it sounds. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with a child’s energy level for long!

My kids are past the stage where they want me to imitate their dance moves. But I haven’t forgotten how much letting my kids choreograph my movements taught me. Even now, they’ll catch my eye across a crowded room for a brief moment of mirroring. It’s funny, warm, and lets us both feel understood.

Don’t miss this wonderfully expressive choreography by Zaya, imitated by real dancers.

Response to Kids’ Misbehavior: “Good Old Days” vs. Now

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Learning from earlier generations. (CC by 2.0 SimpleInsomnia)

Unable to find a job in my field after college, I ended up working as a nursing home activity director. It was the best job in the place. Unlike overworked staff in other departments, I had time to form real relationships with the residents. This was 25-some years ago (yes, I’m that old). Our 100 bed unit was brimming with people too frail to care for themselves but most were otherwise mentally acute. (Not one patient with today’s unnecessary plague, Alzheimer’s disease.)

These elders were in their 80’s and 90’s, born around the 1900’s or slightly before, and always happily reminisced with someone willing to listen. They were extraordinary teachers and gave me perspectives I could have encountered nowhere else. One angle new to me was how differently childhood was viewed by adults back when they were growing up.

Kids worked hard then. They were expected to do heavy chores at home as well as work on the family farm or family business. Some even held jobs in factories. But when their obligations were over they were entirely free. They roamed the streets or woods with their peers, improvised games, put on their own skits and plays, made playthings like twig whistles and soapbox cars, built forts, swung from vines into swimming holes, and indulged in make-believe well into their early teens. They skirted around the adult world in a realm of their own, as children have done throughout human history.

criminalizing children, school-to-prison pipeline,

Costumed kids, skit to come. (image: Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries)

I’m not implying that childhood was remotely easy back then. Aside from hard work there seemed to be very little recognition of a child’s emotional needs. Worse, it was a time of blatant racial, gender, ethnic, and class discrimination. But I’d like to point out that when these elders were kids back in 1910’s and 1920’s many of them caused real trouble. Here are a few of the more extreme stories they told me.

Halloween was a holiday with no real adult involvement or interest. That night kids of all ages went out trick-or-treating, knowing they weren’t likely to get a treat (cookie or apple) from most neighbors. Preteens or teens often played tricks to retaliate. Soaping windows was the mildest trick they described. Most were much worse. Wooden steps were pulled away from doors, gravestones left in yards, pigs let out of pens, fires set in dry cornfields ready for harvest, water pumped into basements. One man told me he and his friends put an elderly widow’s buggy on top of her back porch roof. It wasn’t till a few days later that her plight was noticed and someone strong enough to help could get it down. A common Halloween prank was lifting an outhouse a foot or so to the side. In the dark, an unsuspecting person heading out to use it was likely to fall into the hole.

A 14-year-old stole whiskey from a bootlegger and got shot at as he ran off. Another bootlegger was blamed and never seen again.

A 15-year-old took her older sister’s papers booking passage on a ship to the U.S., saying her sister could better look after their family back home. Once she arrived, she worked as a cook for a family that paid for the ticket, answered to her sisters name, married under that name, and gained citizenship under that name. Her sister used the same name back in Ireland all that time.

There were plenty of other stories. Public drunkenness, fist fights that turned into brawls, runaways who rode the rails and runaways who got married against their parents’ wishes, shoplifting, breaking into school offices to change grades and steal tests, and one story of a school riot over a change in dismissal time.

These people suffered no appreciable consequences from authorities.

Not. One. Of. Them.

Their parents were certainly angry if they found out. The usual punishment? More chores. If police were informed they gave the kids a talking to, in the most extreme cases put them in the back of a squad car for a more serious talking to at the police station. No charges. No jail time. No record of their misdeeds beyond a local cop’s memory. Back then, it was assumed that kids would grow out of it.

All of these people grew up to work stable jobs and own homes. Most were married until death parted them from their spouses. One was a judge, one a career military officer, several were in the skilled trades, several others were business owners, many were homemakers and tireless volunteers, nearly all were proud parents of highly accomplished children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Yet today’s kids are being criminalized.

I’m not for a moment defending any young person’s impulse to wreak mayhem at home or in the community. I am saying that today’s response to (far less drastic) behaviors common during any child’s growing up years is appalling.

These days armed officers roam schools in thousands of districts. Studies show their presence doesn’t actually improve safety. Instead, children are often treated like criminals for common disciplinary issues such as yelling, swearing, or pushing. Here are a few of the more extreme examples.

A seventeen-year-old girl spent 24 hours in jail for truancy. This honors student works two jobs to help support her family and can’t always get to school.

A six-year old boy and avid Cub Scout was suspended for five days after bringing to school his Cub Scout eating utensil containing a fork, spoon, and knife. Due to public pressure, the school board voted to spare him the other punishment he’d received: 45 days in reform school.

A thirteen-year-old boy was handcuffed, arrested, and transported from school to a Juvenile Detention Center although his parents weren’t notified. His crime? He “burped audibly” in gym class.

A twelve-year-old girl was arrested for doodling on a desk with a green marker.

A seventeen-year-old boy who broke up a fight between two girls was shot with a taser by a deputy on duty at the school. The young man suffered a brain hemorrhage, spent 67 days in intensive care, and remains brain injured. The officer wasn’t charged due to lack of evidence.

The Guardian interviewed Deborah Fowler, who authored a 200-page study of the consequences of policing in Texas schools. They report,

…most schools do not face any serious threat of violence and police officers patrolling the corridors and canteens are largely confronted with little more than boisterous or disrespectful childhood behavior.

What we see often is a real overreaction to behavior that others would generally think of as just childish misbehavior rather than law breaking,” said Fowler. Tickets are most frequently issued by school police for “disruption of class,” which can mean causing problems during lessons but is also defined as disruptive behavior within 500 ft of school property such as shouting, which is classified as “making an unreasonable noise.”

Minority students are much more likely to be disciplined, fined, or arrested than white students in what’s being called the school-to-prison pipeline. Huge corporations like Corrections Corporation of America and smaller companies like AIM Truancy Solutions lobby for get-tough policies that bring them big profits in tax-payer money.

In some states tickets are issued, even in primary grades. These citations may compel the student to appear in court to face sentences including fines, court costs, and mandatory participation in remedial programs. This means the child is now entered into the judicial system, with police or court records that may or may not be sealed. If students don’t appear or their families can’t afford the fines, an arrest warrant may automatically be issued when they turn 17. This means childish misbehavior can follow young people into their adult lives. There’s a common question on applications for college, the military, and employment “Have you ever been charged with a crime?”  The answer, for these kids, is “yes.”

Heavy-handed tactics used against children may get worse very soon. School districts in 22 states including Texas, California, Florida, Kansas, and Utah are participating in a federal program which provides military surplus to local law enforcement organizations. We’re talking gear like assault rifles, extended magazines, military vehicles, and other weapons intended for combat.

What happened to free range childhood? Why do we act as if every choice a child makes must be the correct one? That risks are always too risky? That freedom of any kind equals danger?

The goal of creating high-achieving young people through unremitting scrutiny, at times backed up by force, is wrong. But today’s treatment of young people isn’t even based on evidence. Ask any high-achieving adult about their youthful high jinks. Better yet, ask the oldest people still left to us. A long look back may be the cure we need.

“We live in a decaying age. Young people no longer respect their parents. They are rude and impatient. They frequently inhabit taverns and have no self-control.”  inscription in an Ancient Egyptian tomb

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless… When I was young we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly unwise and impatient.”   -Hesiod, 8th century BC 

“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest, and unladylike in speech, behavior, and dress.”   -Peter the Hermit, sermon preached 1274 AD

what your great-grandparents did, oral history,

What our elders can tell us. (CC by 2.0 SimpleInsomnia)

Why Learning Must Be Hands-On

 

hands-on learning, hands-on education, hand and brain connection, direct learning,

images: morguefile

Children are drawn to explore the world through their senses. (We all are, at any age.) When they are fully involved, what they learn is entwined with the experience itself. A child’s whole being strains against the limitations of curricula meant only for eyes and ears, or that assigns closed-ended tasks.

A typical school or school-at-home lesson intended to teach a child about worms may have diagrams of a worm’s body to label and a few paragraphs about the importance of worms, followed by comprehension questions. If the child musters up enthusiasm to learn more about worms despite this lackluster approach, there’s no time to do so because directly after the science lesson the child must go on to the next subject. When education is approached in this disconnected manner, the brain doesn’t process the information in long-term storage very effectively. It has no context in the child’s experience and no connection to the child’s senses.

On the other hand, a child encountering a worm while helping in the garden gains body memories to associate with the experience. The heft of a shovel, sun on her face, fragrant soil on her knees, and the feel of a worm in her hands provide her with sensory detail. She also encodes the experience with emotion. Her father likes to read books about soil health and sometimes she looks at the pictures. When she asks about worms he answers the few questions she has. And when she is satisfied he doesn’t go on to give her more information than she can handle. Next time they go to the library or get online they may decide to find out more about worms. She may be inspired on her own to draw worms, save worms from the sidewalk after the next rain, or otherwise expand on that moment in the garden. She is much more likely to retain and build on what she has learned.

The difference between these two approaches is worlds apart. Separating children from meaningful participation, as in the first example, doesn’t simply impair comprehension. It changes the way learning takes place. The child is made a passive recipient of education designed by others. Then the excitement of learning is transformed into a duty.

Education that treats the brain apart from the body will ultimately fail. Our senses cannot be denied. They inform the mind and encode memory. We must see, hear, smell, touch and, yes, taste to form the kinds of complex associations that make up true understanding. We humans are direct hands-on learners.

Brain development and hand use are inextricably intertwined. When neurologist Frank R. Wilson interviewed high achievers to understand this connection, he found that people credit their success to attributes learned through hands-on activities.  In The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture Wilson writes:

I was completely unprepared for the frequency with which I heard the people whom I interviewed either dismiss or actively denounce the time they had spent in school. Most of my interview subjects, although I never asked them directly, said quite forcefully that they had clarified their own thinking and their lives as a result of what they were doing with their hands. Not only were most of them essentially self-taught, but a few had engineered their personally unique repertoire of skills and expertise in open retreat from painful experiences in a school system that had dictated the form and content of their education in order to prepare them for a life modeled on conventional norms of success.

Hands-on experience makes learning come alive. For example, principles of geometry and physics become apparent while children work together figuring out how to stack firewood. They develop multiple layers of competence as they solve tangible problems. Their bodies are flooded with sensation, locking learning into memory. Such experiences develop a stronger foundation for working with abstract postulates, theorems, and formulas later on. (Household responsibilities are actually a vital way to incorporate more hands-on experience, with amazing long-term benefits.)

When we’re engaged hands-on something greater can come into being. We gain a sense of effortlessness, of becoming one with the movement. Then it seems we’re longer working with things, but with material partners in a process of co-creation. Work and play are one, we are whole within it.

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image: morguefile

Portions of this article excerpted from Free Range Learning.

 

43 Strangely Interesting Ways to End Dull Date Nights

 end dull date night, best evening out plans, fun dates, unexpectedly romantic dates,

 

When we were dating, my husband and I usually took the easy way out: dinner and a movie. Sure, sometimes we attended live performances, went canoeing, or hiked, but we mostly stayed in the dinner and movie rut. Now that the kids are older, we’re looking for ways to make our time together more memorable than ever before.  So far I’ve come up with 43 ideas for livening up date night. (They’re just as fun with friends or kids.)

1. Challenge each other to a triathlon of your own devising. You might compete in air hockey, tongue twisters, and onion ring eating. Next time, come up with three different triathlon events.

2. Create scavenger hunts for each other. You can do this by hiding clues, old style. Or use apps like Munzee and Klikaklu.

3. Play in a Zorb or any similar giant human-sized bubble.

4. Learn glassblowing at a local art academy.

5. Climb as many things as possible: a wall, a fence, some corralled grocery carts. Take photo evidence of how you get high.

6. Or just climb trees. You probably haven’t done that since you were a kid. You might find a tree you can both climb to sit happily like a pair of love birds.

7. Get together with friends to watch a movie none of you have seen. The catch is watching it muted, inventing dialogue to accompany the screen action.

8. Go on an alternative identity date, either the two of you or with a group of friends. On the way everyone makes up his or her own identity. Make an effort to play along with that identity: call each other by the chosen faux names, enjoy elaborating on your character’s backstory, and interact with strangers through that identity. At the end of the experiment it’s fun to talk about how it felt to try on an alternative self. And if you’ve taken photos, check to see if anyone held their faces or bodies differently. The sense of observing yourself from the lens of another persona can be illuminating.

9. Go Barbie Jeep racing. (This is one of my life goals.) It’ll take some advance planning, some friends, and plenty of thrift store ride-on toys.

10. Go to an attraction in your area that’s embarrassingly tourist-oriented.

11. Visit friends. Throughout the evening, move as many things three inches to the left as possible without them noticing.

12.  Toss Holi Colors at each other. Best followed up with a water fight…  

13. Buy all sorts of flowers, then hand them out at a senior center.

14. Sit together in a cafe to write a short horror story or sci-fi thriller. Or romance if that sounds fun. Only rule: when you need dialogue, incorporate conversation you pick up via eavesdropping.

15. Ask the oldest people you know to tell you about games they played growing up. Then play them, if possible, with those elders.

16.  Try a winter picnic. Choose a bright snowy day, hike off to a perfect spot, then open some thermal containers of hot soup to enjoy with warm-you-from-the-inside drinks.

17. Visit a haunted house. Or volunteer for one.

18. Go cloud collecting. Bird watchers keep a life list of their sightings, cloud watchers can do the same with The Cloud Collector’s Handbook by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. You might want to keep a handbook at the ready to help with identifications. Two of the best are The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds also by Gavin Pretor-Pinney and The Book of Clouds by John A. Day, who was known through his long career as Cloudman. Check out resources on Cloudman’s site including instructions for making a cloud discovery notebook, tips for photographing clouds, and cloud history.

19. Eat outside. Pick up something tasty to eat at the park, or the waterside. This is far more alluring when it’s dark outside.

20. Grab a roll or two of quarters and play at a place that still has arcade games.

21. Take selfies trying every option on your phone or every filter offered by Instagram.

22. Tour a brewery or distillery. Take taste notes, each one referencing a video or book. For example, “This beer is Game of Thrones, epic yet vengefully dark.”

23. After nightfall use sidewalk chalk to leave behind some temporary graffiti in an unexpected spot.

24. Relax on a silent date. Read together in a beautiful place or get a massage together.

25. Find a good people-watching spot and make up stories about the people you see: their names, where they’re going, what they’re thinking about, and so on.

26.  Attach a hat to a wire. Take it and a pair of shoes around town, documenting how an invisible person spends the day via photos.

27. Go where the food trucks are. There’s often live music and if not, at least a lively atmosphere.

28. Cook together. Try a science-y cookbooks like The Hungry Scientist Handbook: Electric Birthday Cakes, Edible Origami, and Other DIY Projects for Techies, Tinkerers, and Foodies by Patrick Buckley and Lily BinnsThe Engineer’s Cookbook by Kari Ojala, and Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter. Or lighten up with silly cookbooks like Funny Food: 365 Fun, Healthy, Silly, Creative Breakfasts by Bill and Claire Wurtzel.

29. Try stand up paddle boarding.

30. Take a tour in your area. Unless someone visits from out of town, chances are you don’t check out what your area has to offer. If you’re from the Cleveland area (as I am) you can tour on foot, by bike, trolley, boat, or bus to discover all sorts of obscure places. Tours, as you may remember from field trips as a kid, tend to leave you marveling at the tour guide’s bad jokes as much as the amazing range of information they share.

31. Set free books you’ve already read by registering them with Book Crossing. Leave them in random places around town like a dentist’s office, a park bench, a coffee shop, a hospital waiting room. But do it with a twist. Before releasing them, tuck a note in each book addressed to the next reader.

32. Take a toy figure with you to random areas and photo document it enjoying the evening.

33. Sit around a fire. If you can’t build a campfire, use a fire bowl or fire pit. There’s something timeless about watching flames. Silence feels comfortable, thoughts drift, and you both relax.

34. Try hooping. Find out how advanced hooping has become and learn how to make a hoop that will fit your, ahem, grown-up hips.

35. Rent or borrow some kind of conveyance new to you: scooter, wave runner, snowmobile, snowshoes, kayak, vintage car, or (my preference) an adult-sized Big Wheel

36. Dream up unexpectedly silly items to mail, unwrapped, to friends and family members. Maybe a playground ball (“have a ball!) to a friend who has recently become a stay-at-home dad, a St. Joseph statue to a family member trying to sell her house, or a small handheld fan (“we’re fans!”) to someone who landed a lead role in an upcoming play. Just slap an address and message right on the object.  All you need is a legible address and the correct postage. You both might feel a little silly standing in line at the post office with an address-adorned plush honey badger (perhaps to celebrate someone’s undaunted approach to a problem) but it’ll be worth the look on your recipient’s face when opening the mailbox. There  are plenty of other ways to amuse oneself, postally too.

37. Go to a slam poetry event.

38. Make each other something at a pottery or woodworking class.

39. Seek out the marvels of outsider art in your area, savor, buy if possible. (We bought an amazing piece made by an elderly man out of wood scraps and cotton balls. It’s pictured in the center of the photo collage above.)

40. Grab a copy of your local entertainment paper. Open to listings of music, stand-up comedy, and other entertainment. Close your eyes and pick something to do.

41. Participate in a mud run which is, you guessed it, muddy. You’ll probably have time to practice before a mud run scheduled in your area.

42. Get a pile of friends together to play J’AccuseHumans vs. Zombies, or any of the other amazing games compiled by Bernie DeKoven.

43. Go eyebombing. Very simply, it’s the act of putting sticky googly eyes on inanimate objects. As described on eyebombing.com, “Ultimately the goal is to humanize the streets, and bring sunshine to people passing by.” Buy a package or two of googly eyes and start looking for where they belong. For inspiration, check out the eyebombing flickr group.  Then enjoy your quest.  Anthropomorphizing a mustard bottle never seemed so right.

 

 

A Free Guide to Being Human

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This volume should really be titled A Guide to Being Human. I recommend you read only a page or two at a time. Let it sink in. Apply it. Revel in it.

It’s authored by game designer and deep fun theorist Bernie DeKoven. I got the chance to interview Bernie last year and immediately found myself wishing he were my next door neighbor. (I still do.) For 40-something years Bernie has been promoting playfulness. He was instrumental in the New Games movement and a pioneer in computer game design. He’s developed games for the likes of Lego, Ideal Toy Company, Mattel Toys, and Children’s Television Workshop. He’s collected little-known games, created new ones, researched the value of fun, and organized all sorts of play events.

The book is actually titled A Playful Path and it’s jam-packed with awesomeness. It’s made up of tools and ideas to inspire the possibility-building, wide-open glory of playfulness. DeKoven writes,

Fun is at the heart of things—of things like family, marriage, happiness, peace, community, health; things like science and art, math and literature; like thinking and imagining, inventing and pretending.

Sure, the playful path can enhance relationships, advance careers, and  promote health. It can also help us deepen into who we truly are, beyond the limits of rules and score-keeping. As DeKoven calls it, becoming “embiggened.”

For adults, following a playful path is a practice, something you put into practice, and then practice some more. When you were a kid, it wasn’t a practice. It was what you did, always. You had to be reminded not to be playful. And you were. O, yes, you were. But now that you have become what you, as a kid, called “an adult,” you find that play is something you have to remind yourself to do, playful is something you have to allow yourself to be.

And once you again take up that playful path you knew so well, you discover that it’s different, you’re different. You can play much more deeply than you could before. You are stronger, you understand more, you have more power, better toys. You discover that you, as a playful being, can choose a different way of being. A way of being as large as life. A way of being you, infinitely.

Written in short one to two page segments, A Playful Path is perfect to read on an as-needed basis, sort of an antidote to all the not-fun that drags us down.  A Playful Path is an entertaining book. It’s also wise, true, and entirely useful. Just like play. Get your copy in paperback or as a free e-book.

For more Bernie in your life you can keep up with him on G+ and Facebook, stay current with his blog. and read MIT Press’ re-release of his groundbreaking book, The Well-Played Game: A Player’s Philosophy. Oh, and be sure to bookmark his collection of games!

Bernie DeKoven, A Playful Path,

Play is how we have learned to learn. Instructions? We don’t need no stinkin’ instructions.  Bernie DeKoven

Odd Second Saturday Suppers

Odd Second Saturday Suppers, potluck inspiration, easiest party ever,

Image: 8o-clock.deviantart.com

The happiness glass fills when we spend time with people we love.  It’s startling and appalling to me how many friends I adore, but almost never see. When we do get together we can pick up right where we left off, laughing as well as diving into the deepest topics, yet we don’t make time to see each other very often. That’s just wrong. (I’ll keep myself from using the newest curse word although it applies here.)

Years ago we spontaneously invited friends over for dinner all the time. We hosted wildly silly kid events like BYOB parties (bring your own box) and pig pen parties. But lassitude set in after years of constant financial strain and the sadness of dealing with our parents’ last years. Lately I’ve been fighting back.

At the start of 2013 I decided to commit to a series of events at our house. I named them Odd Second Saturday Suppers. Last January I sent emails to a few friends who live nearby inviting them to potlucks here on the second Saturday of every odd month. That meant we committed in advance to hosting parties in January, March, May, July, September, and November. Because they were planned well in advance, I bypassed the vague “Oh we really should get together” intentions that are unlikely to happen. Here’s the invite:

Odd* Second Saturday Suppers

We’re starting a new tradition.

We are inviting friends to a regular gathering at our home for food, conversation, and simple relaxation. These will take place the second Saturday on odd months.

 I’ll send out reminders at the beginning of those odd months. We’ll provide an entree or two. Bring something to share if you can: beverage, appetizer, side, or dessert. Not sure about the time, I was thinking around five-ish but let’s stay flexible. Different months may offer different possibilities. You are invited to all but of course, come to the ones that best fit your schedule.**

 We also welcome new friends, so feel free to bring along a guest or two.

 Here are the dates:

January 12th

March 9th

May 11th

July 13th

September 14th

November 9th

*Odd as in quaint, funny, unusual. Also odd as in unevenly numbered months.

**If you abhor the idea or plan to be busy every one of those Saturdays let me know and I’ll spare you the reminders.

Sometimes as the date got closer we didn’t feel ready to have a houseful of guests. But when the day arrived we were eager to see everyone. Each event has been slightly different. We’ve sat out back to enjoy a bonfire, we’ve played Cards Against Humanity, I even cajoled people into playing absurd outdoor games, but mostly we’ve focused on eating and chatting. Because these are potlucks there’s minimal fuss. (Also, my husband and kids are great about hustling in advance of events to straighten the house, mow grass, and generally help prepare.)

By the last scheduled Odd Supper we weren’t sure if we’d continue. Difficulties cropped up as they do—a house needing repair, a job lost, a refrigerator that no one wanted to clean even if the Queen herself might be arriving.  But really, it’s not hard at all. It’s wonderful. (I was kidding about cleaning the refrigerator, we don’t invite people who care about my semi-awful refrigerator.)

So in 2014 year we’re throwing the invite list open a little wider and asking friends from a little farther away. And they won’t all be Odd Suppers. I’m plotting that several dates will be art parties or adventures far from our little farm.

How are you fighting back against the forces that keep you from enjoying friends near and far?

We Need Hidden Worlds

When I was very small I liked to climb what I called a tree. It was actually a sturdy shrub. I sat between branches less than a foot off the ground, sure I was hidden, feeling mysterious as creatures that speak without words. I also used to retreat to the coat closet with my younger brother. We sat companionably in the dark under heavy coat hems, talking or just enjoying the quiet together. And we made pillow forts, draped sheets over furniture, and played under the folded leaves of the dining room table.

My favorite hidden place was in the woods behind our house. There was a small rise no bigger around than two desk tops. Tall trees grew at either side and a creek bed, dry most of the year, ran along one side. The whole area was covered with leaves. I tried to walk there soundlessly, as I fancied Native Americans walked, not cracking a twig or rustling the underbrush. I tried to identify plants I could eat or use if I lived in the woods, as the boy did in My Side of the Mountain . I’d sit alone in completely silence, hoping if I did so long enough the woodland creatures might forgot about me, might even come near. I snuck food out of the house to make that place a haven, as I’d read about in Rabbit Hill but I always came back to find the iceberg lettuce and generic white bread I left were still untouched.

Once I became a preteen I found a hidden world right outside my bedroom window. I climbed on a chair and hoisted myself up on the gently sloping roof that faced the back yard. When I started college at a large urban university I’d just turned 17. My hermit soul craved time to be alone and still. The only place I found was in a bathroom on the upper floor of the oldest building on campus. I’d retreat behind a heavy wooden stall door, close the antique latch, and meditate on the wood grain of that door until I felt restored. A necessary refuge, although hardly ideal.

Most children seek out small places to make their own. They find secret realms in couch blanket forts, behind furniture, and in outdoor hideaways. There they do more than play. They command their own worlds of imagination away from adult view, often listening to silence by choice.

Perhaps retreating somewhere cozy harkens back to our earliest sense memories, first in the sheltering confines of the womb and then in the security of loving arms. Yet at the same time, hidden worlds are also a way of establishing our independence. Children have surely always slipped out of sight in the cool shadows of tall cornstalks, the flapping shapes of sheets hung on clotheslines, the small spaces under back steps, behind furniture, and inside closets.

There are all sorts of tiny retreats that can be purchased for kids. Plastic structures made to look like ships or cabins, tiny tents, pre-made playhouses. These things lose their allure. Children want to discover hidden places on their own or to create them out of materials they scavenge like fabric, cardboard, scrap wood, whatever is handy. (The benefits of this play is described in the “theory of loose parts.”) These places tend to be transitory, lasting for a short time or changing into something else. They’re special because they’re unique to the child. These places contain the real magic of secret places.

Hidden worlds are made with blankets, indoors

or outdoors.

They’re found in cardboard boxes

snow

driftwood

natural play place, loose parts play,

Image: natsukoryoto.deviantart.com

and under trees.

They’re made out of old logs

old plywood

or branches.

 

The hidden worlds I cherish these days have more to do with a quiet sense of peace found in moments of solitude. What’s paradoxical, these are also times when I most often feel the oneness that connects everything.

Maybe growing up with the freedom to retreat within hidden worlds, no matter what was going on, helped me to access this in myself. Hurray for blanket tents, for treehouses and spaces under tables, for all hidden worlds that let us gather up what is fragmented in ourselves and feel whole again.

How do you make time, and space, for hidden worlds in your child’s life and in your life?

Play Outside After Dark

The word "lunar" derives from lunaticus, meaning "of the moon" or "moonstruck".

The word “lunar” derives from lunaticus, meaning “of the moon” or “moonstruck”.

The wheel of the year is turning toward shorter days. Early darkness adds a whole new dimension to the evening. There’s something magical about being outside as the sun goes down and dusk turns to night.

Tonight, go outside.

It might bring on awed contemplation. It might inspire conversation. It might turn ordinary fun into something extraordinary.  

Try one of these eleven ideas. They aren’t just for kids. Why not invite friends over or create a “backyard merriment” meetup or use some of these ideas for an upcoming family reunion? (The game Sardines takes on a whole different vibe when you’re playing with adults.) Free fun shouldn’t stop once childhood does.

“Play is the exaltation of the possible.” Martin Buber

 

1. Start the tradition of taking a walk when the moon is full. You’ll find inspiration in the delightful children’s books Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and Walk When the Moon Is Full
by Frances Hamerstrom. Our full moon walks are simply walks around the neighborhood, sometimes just around the yard. Familiar landmarks look different and the walk takes on a sort of enchanted feeling that only happens after dark.

2. Go outside and sing. Yes, really. It’s somehow more freeing to lift up your voice in the dark. I used to get together with friends who loved to go caroling any time of year. I know it sounds strange but it made an ordinary evening entirely celebratory. We waited until after dusk, then strolled nearby streets singing. (Rounds are particularly nice for anytime caroling.) After caroling a few times near Lake Erie we decided that singing to nature felt particularly wonderful and, if we weren’t by the lake, dedicated our songs to the trees and grass and sky. 

3. Sit around a fire. If you can’t build a campfire, use a fire bowl or fire pit. There’s something timeless about watching flames. Silence feels comfortable and thoughts drift. Each generation of our ancestors, stretching back to earliest humanity, sat before flames too. Perhaps the reflective mood evoked by fire has been passed down by those ancestors.

4. Eat outside. Take your dinner to the park or the beach or far in the back yard. If at all possible, cook some of it outside over a flame. Anything you cook together, outside under night skies, somehow tastes better.   

5. Shine a light onto the house or fence or a sheet hanging on the clothesline, setting the stage for some shadow puppets. Try hand shadow puppetry, called shadowgraphy or ombromanie, to cast moving images with your hands. Or put together some shadow puppets out of black posterboard and wire

6. Sleep outside on an open porch or in a hammock slung between trees or in a backyard tent. If your kids are small, sleep out there with them, maybe just one kid at a time for some special adult-child togetherness. When kids get older, let them do it on their own. One of my kids loved to do this when he was around eleven years old. He’d haul a tent and supplies as far out back as possible, taking along a camp lantern and books to read and plenty of food. He’d set up a tiny camp stove to make a late supper. Sometimes he did this alone, sometimes with friends. It’s a not-too-threatening way for kids to challenge themselves. For grown-ups, a night outdoors can be a much-needed respite from those distracting screens that take up so much of our time.

7. Go out on the steps or the swing or the grass to make music. When it’s too dark to see sheet music you’re more likely to improvise. Your neighbors probably won’t appreciate tuba practice at night but the soft chords of an acoustic guitar or sweet notes from a flute will flavor the air with mystery. 

8. Play with flashlights.  Darkness fun amps up when kids have flashlights. Everything looks a little different in that not-so-bright gleam. They’ll discover for themselves how creepy they look shining the light straight up from their chins or inside their mouths. For people of any age, flashlight games are fun. Here are two such games. 

Statues. One person is It and the other players strike a statue pose. The person who is It walks up to each player in turn, shines a light on them, and tries (without touching them) to make them laugh. First player to laugh is the next person to be It. Strange noises and silly faces will happen. 

Follow the firefly. One person is selected to be the firefly and hides outside in the dark, away from the other players. After counting to 20 everyone goes in search of the firefly, who is constantly moving around from hiding spot to hiding spot. Every 60 seconds, the firefly must quickly flick his or her flashlight on and off. When caught, a new firefly is appointed. This is best played with a small pocket flashlight so that the beam is not too easy to spot. For extra fun, and to reassure small children, let every player have a flashlight they can turn on and off but cover each light with different colored tissue or plastic. That way the yard will flicker with twinkling lights, but players concentrate on finding the color of that round’s firefly.  

9. Play after dark games. 

Sardines: This is like reverse hide-and-seek. One person is the hider and finds a place to hide while the rest of the players count to 50 with their eyes shut. Then everyone splits up to search for the hider. Once the hider is found, each person must squeeze into the same hiding spot along with the hider, being careful not to make any noise. The first person to find the hider is the next person to be the new hider. But that round isn’t over until there’s only one person left searching.

Ghost in the Graveyard: Designate the boundaries of the graveyard/playing field. Pick a home base where players can stand or all touch at the same time such as a large tree, front stoop, or back patio. Choose the ghost. Everyone but the ghost stays at home base while the ghost hides. Players chant, “One o’clock… two o’clock… three o’clock…” and so on, up to twelve o’clock, then shout, “Midnight! I hope I don’t see the ghost tonight!” Players leave the home base and search for the ghost. The ghost’s job is to jump out, surprise, and tag players. When anyone encounters the ghost they yell, “Ghost in the graveyard!” and try to run away. Home base is safe, where no one can be tagged. All the people who are caught also become ghosts and hide with (or close to) the original ghost. Continue the game until everyone is caught. The last person caught becomes the ghost for the next round.

10. Darkness lends itself to imagination, making it a perfect backdrop for telling tales. Try true stories, Darwin Awards, scary stories, funny stories, and tall tales. Don’t forget to share memories—of your kids as babies, of your own growing up years, of long-gone loved ones. And try round-robin storytelling. Someone starts off the story, then after adding a dramatic twist turns it over to the next person, and so on. The ritual of telling tales after it becomes too dark to work is nearly as old as language.

11. Look at the stars, not only to find constellations but to widen your perspective. The best way is to lie on your back, maybe in some nice soft grass. If you look long enough you’ll get the impression that you’re not facing up, but out, with the cosmos surrounding you. Possible bonus: shooting stars.

The Dart Collection

summer enrichment?, kids and collections, free range summer,

I’m thrilled to offer a guest post by Margaret Swift. She writes about a neighborhood of free ranging kids and the girl whose mysterious summer project surprised them all.  

When I was five years old, we moved to a neighborhood that contained a wealth of little girls around my age. After living on a farm with no one to play with but three rotten older brothers, this was heaven. During summer vacation, we girls scrambled around together playing jacks on cement porches, dressing Barbie dolls under picnic tables, holding roller derbies on cracked and heaved-up sidewalks, and catching tadpoles in local ponds. We’d generally eat lunch at the home of the mother unlucky enough to be closest when our stomachs started growling. We wandered from one activity to the next in gentle summer chaos.

But just as every rule has to have its exception, our neighborhood of scrape-kneed, ragamuffin girls also contained Mr. and Mrs. Dart and the five little Darts: Mary, Mindy, Mandy, Molly, and Mavis.

Most of us dressed each morning in the first clothes that came to hand, in a wild rush to get outside and fall off our bikes or crawl through the grass in search of lost Barbie shoes. The Dart girls were always immaculately turned out in pressed white cotton shirts, navy or red shorts, terribly white socks, and tennis shoes that were never anything but blazingly white. The rest of us had wild kinky hair (long before it was fashionable) or lumpy uneven braids or ponytails escaping from rubber bands. The Dart girls had short bobs with picture-perfect bangs always half an inch above their eyebrows. And while the rest of us roamed wild and free, Mrs. Dart felt her girls’ growing minds would best be developed by Summer Projects.

So every summer, on the first day of vacation, Mrs. Dart would meet with her girls to outline The Project. One summer it involved physical fitness, and a flurry of swimming, tennis, and horseback riding lessons ensued, all skillfully and cheerfully taught by the indomitable Mrs. Dart. Another summer occasioned the Household Arts Project, during which the girls learned baking, knitting, dressmaking, and how best to wield a dust rag.

Mrs. Dart always graciouisly invited us to join in, and often we eagerly began, but we never lasted long. One by one, we’d fall off the Projects wagon. Later we’d be found lying in the dust poking sticks at anthills or arguing over whose turn is was at the Monopoly game we’d started three weeks earlier. We lacked the diligence to stick to a Dart Project, but occasional bouts of boredom led us up on the Darts’ steps for progress reports, and during the Dart girls’ two free hours every afternoon, when they joined us in tag or jump rope or bike riding, they filled us in.

In my tenth year, Mrs. Dart announced the Summer of the Collections. She expounded on the delight, education, and camaraderie to be gained from joining the legions who gathered this and that. She then sent the girls to the library to decide what they would collect.

Mary, two years old than I, decided on foreign recipes. She spent her summer carefully copying curries, crepes, pilafs, and stews into a loose-leaf folder. Once a week she cooked a recipe whose ingredients weren’t impossible to come by or too objectionable to a good Lutheran family. (This particular collection must have been hard on Mr. Dart, a staunch meat-and-potatoes man. He tried. He persevered. But he drew the line at chocolate-covered bees and bull testicles in aspic.)

Mindy and Mandy, the twins one year my senior, decided on tried-and-true collections: butterflies and matchbooks. Mindy was much too kindhearted to actually kill a butterfly, so instead she made a scrapbook of pictures cut from magazines and nature pamphlets. Under each picture she entered, in a neat hand, each specimen’s common and Latin names, locale, habits, and any other tidbits she could cull. We all found her book quite impressive.

Mandy was allowed to collect matchbooks on the condition she bring them to her mother or father to have the matches removed. In those days, every bank, restaurant, gas station, and hair salon had bowls of matching sitting out. Relatives traveling to New York or Hawaii sent back exotic samples. Mandy even made friends with a local printer who saved her a matchbook from every wedding he handled.

Seven-year-old Mavis, the baby, took a short cut. The girls’ grandparents had brought back a basket of seashells from a trip to Florida. She simply looked the shells up and then glued the shells to sheets of posterboard, printing their names in bold block letters underneath. Nini Fizzarelli commented that they didn’t look real because they didn’t look wet, and Patsy McMullen suggested clear nail polish. Mavis nearly asphyxiated herself, but at the end of two days every shell was covered and did indeed look perpetually wet.

That left nine-year-old Molly. She came up with an idea which she happily hugged to herself and would not share. She had always been the perfect little Dart, following through Projects without a qualm. But this summer she begged Mrs. Dart to let her work on her project privately and surprise them all at the end of the season. When the Dart girls joined us in the afternoons, Molly refused to talk. The more we questioned, the more tight-lipped she became. It was maddening. We pretended not to care.

August came and the day approached when the girls would exhibit their completed collections. The grandparents were invited, a backyard picnic was planned, and excitement mounted in the neighborhood. We knew we’d be invited over to see the collections and to share homemade peach-vanilla ice cream. Two more weeks…nine more days…

On day minus-five it happened. I overheard my dad whispering to my mom. The Dart girls had been out with their grandparents, and Mr. Dart came home to find Mrs. Dart in a swoon on Molly and Mavis’ bedroom floor. Evidently she had finished the laundry and was putting away Molly’s white socks when she saw in the back of the drawer the nine-by-twelve inch clear plastic box Molly had requested to house her collection.

Inside the box, Mrs. Dart saw rows of cotton balls, each with a label declaring a date and body part, such as “July 3, elbow.” There was something else on each cotton ball. Molly had acquired a collection of scabs.

We found out later that she had carefully lifted off the souvenir of every bump and scrape she’d gotten over the summer and had paid Billy Barnstrom on the block behind us for several of his scabs as well. (The well-mannered Molly just didn’t bang herself up enough.)

At the picnic, Molly made an official announcement, under her mother’s stern eye, that her collection had gotten misplaced somewhere, though it seemed clear from the buzz and a couple of odd jokes made by Grandfather Dart that everyone knew all about it.

Summer came to a close and school began again. The following summer, Mrs. Dart enforced a Full Disclosure Act on all Summer Projects.

By the way, I hear Molly now lives in Washington State and is a well-respected hematologist.

~

Margaret Swift is a free spirit with metanoic* tendencies. She’s a writer, fiber artist, calligrapher, energy healer, meditation teacher, spiritual counselor, and ardent gardener. She likes to sip enticing drinks (tea or wine depending on the time of day) and is an insatiable knitter. To find out more about her about her work, contact her at margaret.a.swift@gmail.com 

*met·a·noi·a  [met-uh-noi-uh]  noun:   a profound, usually spiritual, transformation

Summer Family Fun: 55 Ideas

outdoor activity ideas, fun for kids, family fun, smart fun, food fun, summer fun,

(Image: undone2009 flickr photostream)

1. Have a watermelon speed spitting contest. “Outside, I said outside!”

2. Set up a bike, trike, or scooter obstacle course. Mark the course with sidewalk chalk or masking tape. The course may lead them around cones, through a sprinkler, under crepe paper streamers hanging from a tree branch, and on to a finish line. Then encourage kids to set up their own obstacle courses.

3. Hang water-filled balloons from your backyard swing set or low tree branch as splashy pinatas.

4. Make popsicles with hidden veggies lurking within.

5.  Make story stones and let the storytelling begin.

6. Set up backyard bowling. Save 10 empty plastic bottles, set them up in a triangular pattern, then roll a ball toward them. This makes a satisfying clatter on the driveway. If you like, teach your kids how to keep score.

7. Go on a camera scavenger hunt. First choose a theme, like Ten Things That Move or A Dozen Signs of Summer. Then send kids out to grab some images. Encourage them to find creative, funny, and unusual ways to interpret the theme.

8. Pan fry dandelion flowers into tasty appetizers.

9. Take late-night walks. Kids enjoy this even more when they are in charge of the flashlights.

10. Build a bat house.

11. Make your own ice cream sandwiches. Just glob ice cream between homemade or purchased cookies, wrap in plastic wrap and chill. Try different cookie and ice cream variations. Mix-ins work too, like bananas mashed into strawberry ice cream and stuck between two oatmeal cookies. You’ll have to do some immediate taste testing, part of the burden of innovation.

12. Encourage grubby fun. Designate an area of the yard where kids can play right in the dirt. They might want to set up a mudpie kitchen with a few cast-offs from your real kitchen. They might want to use the area to build mountains and valleys for their toy dinosaurs, cars, or action figures. They might want to dig holes, perhaps looking for archaeological finds using Hands-On Archaeology: Real-Life Activities for Kids as a guide.

13. Since they’re going to get dirty, you might want to build a walk-through (or bike through) kid wash. This could be handy for muddy dogs as well.

14. Play classic outdoor games, the ones every kid used to know.

15. Let each child plant one “crop” in the garden that is his or hers to tend. Fast-growing plants like sugar snap peas, radishes, and green beans are ideal. Let the kid farmer in charge be the one to check regularly for weeds, watering needs, and harvest times. For more ideas check out Gardening Projects for Kids and for those of you without yards or community garden plots, try Kids’ Container Gardening.

16. Make soda bottle rockets.

17. Mail yourselves postcards when you go somewhere for the day, even around town. Later in the week kids will think it’s a hoot to get a card from themselves. Check out 37 other ways to have fun with snail mail.

18. Make your own “lava lamp.”

19. Let yeast blow up a balloon. Have kids write their names on balloons with a permanent marker. Using a funnel, let them fill each balloon with 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon dry yeast. Add a little warm water to each balloon, tie shut, and shake to mix. Then put them outside on a hot sunny day. Check to see how big the balloons have gotten every ten minutes or so. Guess what might happen to balloons that get too big.

20. Designate your yard as a nature area.

21. Give the kids a budget and let them plan what the family will do next Saturday.

22. Throw a BYOB party. This is cheap, imagination-driven fun. You wield cutting implements and supply lots of tape. Guests are charged with one simple task: Bring. Your. Own. Box. Together kids can construct a fort or spaceship or whatever they please out of the boxes, then spend hours playing in it. There are plenty of other ways to amuse kids with cardboard boxes too.

23. Get out a big, somewhat complicated puzzle and work on it when it’s too hot to go outside.

24. Work with kids to create an outdoor water wall.

25. Make a worm tower or indoor worm farm For more information, check out Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System.

26. Slap the label “memory jar” on any large container and encourage your family to toss in slips of paper describing an ordinary day, funny family sayings, silly happenings, and other things that might slip your minds. This memory jar can become an important family tradition.

27. Throw a backyard batik party and enjoy messy art-making with a crowd.

28. See how far everyone can advance their hula hooping skills. You’ll want to provide a good example of enthusiasm. Here’s how to make a hoop that will fit your, ahem, grown-up hips.

29. Get retro and experience a drive-in movie with your kids. You can search this database to find one nearest you. If there’s no hope of finding one remotely close by, set up a backyard movie theater. You might want to invite the neighborhood for an ’80s family film fest. To give it that drive-in vibe, kids can make their own cars out of cardboard boxes. That way during the movie they can sit with their feet up on a cardboard dash and spill popcorn all over the cardboard interior without anyone bugging them about it.

30. Set up a backyard zip-line between two trees.

31. Investigate solar power. Make solar prints by arranging objects on photo-sensitive sheets in a SunPrint Paper Kit, then set outside to print like magic. Build a solar-powered cockroach using these Instructables directions. Assemble your own solar cooker and make lunch using only the sun’s rays for heat. You can find all sorts of plans here.

32. Make your own bubble solution.

33. Let little ones “paint” the house, car, driveway, and everything else. All that’s needed are wide paintbrushes and an empty paint can or small bucket of water. Water wiped on with a brush temporarily darkens many surfaces, giving toddlers the satisfying impression they are “painting.”  It dries quickly so they can paint again.

34. Perform good deeds. These are easy to do, even with toddlers, when you focus on Guerrilla Encouragement Acts. For more family volunteering ideas, check 40 Ways to Volunteer, Toddler to Teen.

35. Keep fruits like bananas, mangoes, pineapple, strawberries, and peaches in separate containers in the freezer. On different days let each child take a turn concocting a smoothie for the family by blending his or her choice of fruit with juice and/or yogurt in the blender. Serve in tiny cups for taste testing. Encourage the creator to come up with a name for the frozen delight, like Toby’s Tooth Freeze or Sadie’s Strawberry Slush.

36. Use an old clay pot to make a toad house in the yard.

37. Make temporary designs with fizzing sidewalk paint.

38. Hand out old sheets so kids can hang them from tree branches and swing sets to make hideouts. Or make them using hula hoops.

39. Make rainbow bubble snakes.

40. Attach a hat to a wire. Take it and a pair of shoes different places (house and yard, or on the town), documenting how an invisible person spends the day via photos.

41. Freeze fancy ice cubes. Tuck mint leaves, fresh berries, lemon wedges, or cut up fruit bits in ice cubes trays. You can also freeze lemonade or juice. Hydration suddenly seems more flavorful.

42. Use a bleach pen to decorate t-shirts, pillow cases, hats, tote bags.  A plain dark-colored background gives the best results.

43. Set up relay races. It’s a great way to get your loved ones to hop in sacks and crawl with laundry baskets. When summer is gone you’ll want those photos.

44. Cook something over a campfire or fire pit together. Standards are a hot dog or marshmallow on a stick, although you can find 100 other ideas in Campfire Cooking

45. Bat balloons around with pool noodles. Yes, the kids will sword fight with them. It’s inevitable.

46. For older kids, give in and make foam swords. For peace of mind you may also want to make foam-covered shields, foam body pads, and operate on a no-running-hits/no-face-hits rule. Any violation and parents get to use the swords. Or simply fence with cardboard tubes. The Cardboard Tube Fighting League rules are worthy indeed.

47. Make homemade playdough  using one of these six recipes. No mess to clean up indoors when they use it on a picnic table.

48. Try geocaching or become an orienteering family. Exercise, map skills, and outdoor fun!

49. On clear nights, go outside to look for constellations.

50. Encourage kids to throw corn cobs in the grass at your next picnic. Legend in my family says it distracts the bugs. When it’s clean up time, whoever picks up the most cobs wins a coveted window seat on the way home. Surely you can come up with a similar cob-related perk. Added plus, everyone wants to wash their gooey hands before leaving.

51. Turn a fence or part of a fence into a homemade chalkboard. Perfect for signs, tic tac toe, or graffiti-style inspiration.

52. Make homemade chalk.

53. Take a meal outdoors, sit on the grass, and eat directly from the plate without hands or utensils. We call this “trough feeding” and it’s been a summer tradition. Bet you can’t do it without laughing through the whole meal. Bet you’ll also find yourselves talking about how different animals eat.

54. Make sponge bombs out of cheap household sponges, then soak and use for tossing games. (For example, a target drawn in chalk on the driveway.) Unlike water balloons, these will last all summer. They also make a lovely smacking sound when dropped on an unsuspecting sibling from the top of a slide. I warned you…

55. Fill your passports. Well, homemade passports. Give each child a small blank book. Together with your kids make a list of parks, fairs, festivals, and other events you’d like to attend. Each time you do, bring back a souvenir. It might be a leaf, a ticket stub, or a photo. Paste it in the blank book with a sentence or two about the adventure. At the end of summer you’ll have a book of memories.

 

Some activities from Free Range Learning.