Five Alternatives to Paint Brushes

Today I planned to mop the kitchen floor. I don’t know why that matters considering tomorrow it will once again see drops of paint, but I figured since I’m going to be scrubbing anyway we might as well make a mess.

As many of my friends know, I am the Napoleon Bonaparte of the revolution against bougie motherhood. If my kids are without mosquito bites, dirt under the fingernails, skinned knees, and splattered paint on their clothes…I start to wonder what I’m doing wrong. It’s unfair to expect kids to act like anything but kids, and I say we might as well facilitate some of the opportunities for them to enjoy childhood. Life is too short to be tidy. We survived our own germ ridden grubby childhood…our kids will survive theirs.

Sensory play is a driving force in the way kids explore the world, and inside every child is the creativity that makes an artist. At least that’s what I believe, anyway. Understanding these two aspects offers the opportunity for fun projects that, while messy, create interesting paintings you wouldn’t be able to recreate with a regular paintbrush.

Here are 5 alternative paint activities we’ve tried:

This one takes some overnight prep time, however, it’s super easy to put together.

All you need is an ice tray, food coloring, popsicle sticks, and aluminum foil or saran wrap.

It’s a pretty obvious process. Fill the ice trays with water, leaving enough room for food coloring, as well as space at the top so the different colors don’t slosh into one another.

Experiment with varying amounts of food coloring, as well as color mixtures for different shades. Use your popsicle sticks to stir the coloring.

Cover the ice tray with saran wrap. Or if you’re like me and completely incapable of working with saran wrap, aluminum foil works just as well. I simply marked out the lines of the tray beforehand so I knew where to find each slot once covered.

Poke a popsicle stick into the middle of each section of the ice tray, and carefully transfer the tray to the freezer. Let it sit overnight.

Once the ice is completely frozen, pop them out of the tray. Mine came out easily, however, you can also use a knife around the edge of each piece of ice if you’re met with a struggle.

 

As each piece of ice melts, run them over white paper to create watercolor paintings. At first not much will happen, but given a few minutes, the effects can be pretty interesting to play with!

This next activity didn’t require prep time, but of the painting activities we tried, it was the messiest.

All you need is paint, paper, and a fly swatter.

Yes…a fly swatter. Personally, we used brand new and unused swatters. But hey, do each their own.

The activity is simple. Drizzle paint on to white paper and then smack it with the fly swatter. Of course this splattered paint everywhere, but the kids had a ton of fun. Next time we will do this outside if I’m not already planning to scrub the floor. That will give us the oppertunity to be a bit more violant and crazy with our splashes.

 

 

The squeegee painting was a huge hit with the kids, and it also made an incredibly beautiful picture.

Once again set up was simple. We poured a line of paint across the top of a piece of paper, using two or three different colors.

Simply swipe the squeegee down the page, and the result is gorgeous.

 Bonus points for the fact that this was not especially messy compared to all the other activities we tried, with the exception of our marble painting:

The marble painting required only a container, paper, paint, and marbles. We placed the paper at the bottom of the container with drops of paint (once again using two or three colors). After dropping a handful of marbles on top of the paint we tilted and turned the container, causing the marbles to roll around and create fun designs.

This one tied with the squeegee painting for most beautiful. I can’t decide which one’s my favorite.

Our final activity was for the sake of pure fun and mess. This is where I set up and then stepped away, leaving the kids to simply play and see what comes of it.

Like the marble painting, I took some toys from the playroom in the name of art: Hot Wheels.

I set up the track from the edge of our art table, laying pieces of paper on the floor at the end. The paint was poured onto the track and the kids let their cars run over the paint, streaking the paper with their wheels.

This one was second in messiest, but also held the kid’s attention the longest.

 

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the new art we have for our fridge. Now it’s just a matter of waiting till the paint dries.

 

 

2 Ingredient Rainbow Slime

It has been a fun year filled with one adventure after another.

Last week we wrapped up a year of preschool that took us beyond where I expected to go. We discovered the world through geography lessons using a literature-based curriculum, and simple letter and number recognition activities eventually turned into reading and multiplying. Now that I see what happens when I let my son explore the world at his own speed, I am excited for Kindergarten next year.

Though is it really Kindergarten when he’s a few weeks too young, and ahead of schedule academically? Who cares. That’s the beauty of homeschooling.

Of course, being gifted in math does not mean we have to spend all day every day working on “school work”.  After all, my son is still 4 years old and spends the majority of his time creating shenanigans with his sister.

With the free time that comes with the beginning of summer, I got in on some of the fun by introducing the kids to a new slime recipe! The great thing about it is the fact that it comes down to only two ingredients, which made set up incredibly easy even if this activity got messy.

All this recipe needs is equal parts liquid starch and white Elmers glue. That’s it! Wanting to make a large batch of it, we used four cups of each.

It started out as a pretty messy business while the glue and starch reacted to one another. It may take a few minutes before you begin feeling confident in the texture, but if you do go at it for a while and don’t feel an improvement, you may need to add a little bit of either glue or starch. If it’s too runny add a little more glue. If it’s too sticky, drop in tiny bits of starch.

To make this activity extra fun we added food coloring to give a rainbow effect!

The easiest method of accomplishing this is to divide the slime into individual plastic bags and drop in food coloring. This allows you to knead the color into the slime without dying your hands (and mixing the colors together to create an ugly brown effect before you have a chance to enjoy the beauty of multi-colored slime).

Once all of our slime had some color…it was time to play!

   

Two Ingredient Snow Dough

Winter in our state is incredibly short-lived. For example, it is currently the middle of January and the thermostat in my car claimed the temperature had reached 67 degrees the other day. This is a far cry from the cold, dreary, and very icy Januaries I grew up with in the Chicago area. Here snowfall happens once, maybe twice, a year and lasts about a day. Usually, we can’t even classify the phenomenon as snow. More often than not it’s a sort of sleet that coats our roads with ice, causing everything to shut down.

As I planned our Five in a Row curriculum schedule back in May, I figured I would place the book Katy and the Big Snow at a random week in January. If I were still living in the Midwest, I could easily assume that any point in the winter would be an appropriate time for a snow-themed week, considering that there is almost always a white powder on the ground. Down here in the south, however, I had to take my chances. The best bet would be sometime in January.

Similar to last year when we read The Snowy Day, it just so happened that on the week we were scheduled to read a snow themed book, we received our 24-hour snowfall. I was overjoyed about the timing.

I love snow days, especially now that I’m living in an area where snow isn’t common. The way it softens the loud hustle and bustle of everyday life is dreamy, and I’ll admit that I love an excuse to spoil my kids. When snow happens here, it shakes up schedules and brings a different atmosphere to the house. It’s a special occasion of sorts, therefore rules can bend and we concentrate on making our day cozy and memorable.

To be completely honest I fed my son way too much sugar that day. We began the morning with honey since I normally allow him an activity that involves drizzling the shape of letters onto a plate whenever he is ready to progress in Hebrew. The idea is that we want to instill our children with how sweet G-d’s word is, so we offer them a taste of honey while we learn a Biblical language.

After doing school work, we went outside to play in the snow, where we built Hudi’s first real snowman (usually we don’t get snowman worthy snow, so this was pretty exciting). Naturally, hot chocolate followed after, topped with whipped cream and sprinkles, of course. As a continuation of our  Tale of Peter Rabbit week, we dabbled in English cuisine and baked delicious raspberry lemon scones. To finish out the night we had one last treat that is a snow day tradition in our home: snow cream.

It was a wonderful snow day and perfect for our snow week lessons. When planning a schedule for our curriculum, I can only guess when snow-themed books will work for us, and for two years in a row now I was excited to discover that I guessed right. I was, however, prepared to move forward with or without snow. If there wasn’t snow outside, we were going to make our own snow inside.

Even with the experience of having real snow on the ground, my kids were getting stir crazy once they got tired of playing outside. Having the materials needed for fake snow was a life saver, as it kept both my four year old and one year old occupied for quite a while. Having the real stuff was great, but making pretend snow in your kitchen is pretty intriguing as well.

The directions are simple. In a large bowl or container, mix 1/2 cup of conditioner with 3 cups of baking soda. Include toys such as trucks, cookie cutters, plastic forks, and anything you would normally give your kids to use with play-dough.

This was a fun and relaxed winter themed sensory activity that captured the attention of both my 4 and 1-year-old. They even played together, which I love to see! Clean up was a bit more of a challenge, but nothing a vacuum couldn’t handle.

Definitely worth it for the time it occupied their interests.

 

Back To School and Bannock Recipe

Last year, when my son was two (almost three) years old, I decided to start our adventure into homeschooling. Beginning at this young of an age has given me the practice of routine, scheduling, and also getting to know my son’s learning style all before we enter into the school aged years that will eventually require more depth, focus, and discipline.  We learned how to read an write our alphabet, counting and writing numbers, basic shape and color recognition, and we explored more abstract concepts through various books we read. It was an incredibly enjoyable experience to see my son absorb knowledge, and I was excited when he started to express interest in reading and math toward the end of the year.

After a summer break (which included an amazing vacation), I have been so excited to get into our homeschooling routine again. This year, however, I decided to include a lot more material to meet his interests and abilities. I receive a ton of questions regarding how I’m homeschooling him. Do I use a curriculum? What is my routine? How do I plan? It’s always a little awkward trying to answer those, because truth be told I’m just trying to go with the flow. I’m still sorting through what works best for my son and me, and it takes a lot of trial and error before getting it right.  So far I think we are starting this year off with a good rhythm, and as we get better at the routine of having a designated “school time”, I’m feeling significantly more confident in my abilities for the future.

With regards to curriculum, there are a variety of resources we are using this year:

Five In A Row – Five In A Row is a literature based curriculum that covers a little bit of everything. Each week we have a book that we read together, and various themes and lessons are pulled from the story. The curriculum provides weekly ideas on math, science, literature, geography, and art to create a well rounded curriculum that is very much appropriate for young children. The expectation of Five In A Row is simply to read and converse with your children. It’s nothing fancy and tedious, and it’s effective (at least it has been with my son). There are ideas for extra activities to go along with each book, however, most of the learning is intended to take place via reading and discussion. We use Five In A Row for geography (each book takes place in a different place), science, art, and any other abstract subject presented in the curriculum. For other subjects, particularly reading and math, my son needed/wanted something a little more concrete.

Math U See – As someone who had significant struggles in math, I have come to adore Math U See. It’s manipulative based in that the curriculum uses block pieces (think legos) to physically demonstrate the concepts being taught. I also love how the lessons build on one another. The sequence of learning follows a logical path – introduce, review, practice, master – and the order in which students progress helps solidify their understanding of concepts. At the moment we are using the primer, which has been amazing. We’ve gotten through basic number identification and counting, identifying shapes, and at the moment we are introducing place value. We picked up Math U See toward the end of last year, and this year we are continuing his lessons at the pace he naturally sets for himself. The good thing about the primer is that, unlike the rest of Math U See, it is not meant to provide mastery. It’s simply an easy way to introduce math in preparation for future lessons, so it’s great for younger ages. It’s a significant relief for me to see that my son is forming a love for math, because that was a major stumbling block all through my personal school experience.

Spelling-You-See – Since Math U See has worked so well, I decided to pick up Spelling-You-See to help with reading and writing. It’s a very simple workbook that teaches basic phonics. So far the progress I’ve seen has been absolutely wonderful, and my son learned very quickly how to sound out small words.

Time To Read Hebrew: A very simple workbook series that teaches Hebrew. You are given a few letters at a time, and immediately you begin seeing them used in words (for example, the first letters you learn are shin, bet, and tav…which spell “Shabbat”).  We use the workbook as a guide for progress, but mostly we are working with various games we play with flashcards.

The Bible Story Series by Arthur S. Maxwell – Chances are you’ve seen these books while sitting in a doctor’s office. They are everywhere, and yet most people don’t pay too much attention to them. Yes, they are a little outdated in artistry (think 1950’s or 60’s), however, I am finding these books to be fantastic reads for my son. The main focus I have at the moment with regards to teaching my son the Bible is simply familiarizing the stories. What has worked the absolute best for us has been to follow the model Five In A Row intends – we simply read through the story and discuss. These books are associated with Seventh Day Adventists, though there are very few grand theological pushes within the stories. The thing I absolutely love about this series is the fact that it covers Biblical stories your typical storybook Bibles leave out (for example – we just the other day read a chapter specifically about Enoch, and later on they cover various prophets that are seldom mentioned in storybook bibles).  While I do have to switch up some of the language while I’m reading (again, a few decades outdated), I do find these books to be a great way to introduce my son to the Bible (on top of the children’s Bibles we’ve already been reading).

Our first couple of weeks started out smoothly! Week number one was a lot of short, sweet, and simple activities that got us back in the swing of having a “school” time in the morning. I introduced the theme of Geography, and we spent a lot of time studying the map we now have hanging on our wall. Together we read Flat Stanley, and he even created his own Flat Stanley for The Flat Stanley Project! (Now, I just have to send those out…)

Week number two was a little closer to what I’m aiming for a far as goals and routine. We started Five In A Row with the book The Very Last First Time by Jan Andrews, which introduced us to Canada! More specifically we focused on Inuit culture. We placed our story disk on Ungava Bay, learned about how the Inuit fish beneath large blocks of ice , we studied igloos, and we also listened to Inuit throat singing (it was hilarious watching my son give that a try). We also learned about aurora borealis (northern lights). This provided an awesome opportunity to introduce my son to water colors while we painted pictures of the northern lights!

I also have a goal of bringing the various cultures we learn about into our home through food. I’m hoping that with each location we “visit” in his schoolwork, we try at least one culinary dish from that culture.

Since we were learning about Inuit culture, our food this week was bannock!

Bannock is a type of bread that can be found in a variety of cultures, but is pretty popular among the Inuit. Essentially it is flour that’s been fried in lard or shortening, and can be eaten in a variety of ways. We made ours for breakfast, and included some jam to go along with it. To make it extra delicious, you can sprinkle some powdered sugar on top for a tasty treat (it’s similar to an elephant ear you would find at a fair).

My son loved the stuff, and gobbled down the entire batch before noon. It’s super easy to make, and I will definitely be making it again as a special treat!

Bannock 

Ingredients

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
water
2 cups shortening

Directions

In a frying pan on medium heat, heat the shortening.

While you are waiting for the shortening to completely melt, mix together in a separate bowl the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Gradually add water, mixing it well, until you have the consistency of batter.

Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the hot shortening. Once the bottom is golden brown, flip it over once to brown the other side.

There are a variety of ways to serve bannock. As I said, eating it with jam is a tasty breakfast and sprinkling them with powdered sugar makes them a delicious treat. However, you can also eat them with soups and stews!

Family Road Trip Hacks

When my daughter was born this past December my husband received four weeks of family leave. He could take it at any point within a year of her birth, and the policy states that he must take the full four weeks at once. Since she was born in December he had time off for the holidays anyway, therefor it didn’t make too much sense for him to use his leave immediately. Knowing we had to make a trip to Chicago for a wedding this past June, we considered the possibility of using his time off to extend that trip into an even larger vacation. We had never been west of Chicago (together), and both of our kids handle car rides very well. It was something that could easily be pulled off with a little planning. We started plotting ideas for where to visit, planning how long we intended to drive for each day, what attractions we could hit throughout the various areas of the United States, and how we intended to make this adventure affordable. In the end we ended up with an incredible road trip that lasted 30 days. It was absolutely amazing.

Our final itinerary ended up looking like this:

Cherokee, North Carolina
Mammoth Caves, Kentucky
Hodgenville, Kentucky (Lincoln’s birthplace and childhood home)
Nappanee, Indiana (Amish Acres)
Chicago, Illinois
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Badlands, South Dakota
Black Hills, South Dakota
Devil’s Tower, Wyoming
Little Big Horn Battlefield, Montana
Yellowstone, Wyoming
Salt Lake City, Utah
Las Vegas, Nevada
The Hoover Dam (which is in both Nevada and Arizona)
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
Santa Fe, New Mexico
San Antonio, Texas
Houston, Texas
New Orleans, Louisiana
Atlanta, Georgia
Charleston, South Carolina

It was every bit as wonderful as I imagined, and we now have lovely memories to look back on. I also have a number of tips and tricks for lengthy car rides we might take in the future (though after living a month as a nomad, I think “lengthy” is relative).

So, how did we pull off a month long road trip? Here are the things I found most helpful…

Packing

Packing is perhaps those most frantic portion of any vacation. I’m a procrastinator, I’m always aware of the fact that I’m most likely going to forget something , and I’m a dreadful over-packer. Packing is chaos.

This time around I started preparing to pack early without actually packing. The first step began about a month before we left (we didn’t even have our itinerary worked out at this point). My mind isn’t organized enough to make a list in one sitting, so instead I kept a running list using a note taking app on my phone. When I randomly thought of something we needed, I jotted it down on my list. By doing this I removed the stress of trying to recall important items, yet I was able to come up with a way to help keep me organized while I packed. Also, I constantly reminded myself that if we were to leave anything behind we can take comfort in the fact that Walmarts are everywhere. Remembering that bit of information can bring a little calm in the storm.

Besides the basic clothes and toiletries, there were a number of items I wanted to make sure we had on hand. When packing for a road trip, I would suggest keeping these items in mind for a safer and easier vacation:

  • Plastic bags. We took a huge bundle of them, and they proved to be useful for a number of purposes.
  • Paper plates, cups, and cutlery. We picnicked a lot, so these were pretty necessary. I skipped out on plastic bowls, since cups could be used as both cup and bowl.
  • Lunch boxes and picnic blankets (you can find really convenient picnic blankets that fold into a neat portable carrier)
  • Paper towels. Whether it’s a spill or car sickness, paper towels can come in handy.
  • Wipes. I carry wipes with me at all times now that we have a baby again, but keeping a spare bag in the glove box is generally a good idea, as they are useful when the car is getting a bit grubby. Also if you’re traveling in a particularly secluded area (which is a huge chunk of western United States), you may need to pull over in order to let your small child use the side of the road as a rest stop. Wipes could be a necessity in those cases.
  • Placing a plastic bin on the floor of the back seat really assisted in keeping our car tolerable. Throwing in a plastic bag made it a very convenient trash can that we emptied whenever we pulled over for gas. I am particularly glad I remembered this.
  • Thermometer
  • First aid kit (band aids, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, etc.). Getting a kit from the medical section of a grocery store would be the easiest way to insure you have the majority of what you might need. I keep one in the car at all times, and it just so happened that we needed to open it for the first time during our trip (a bandage for a skinned knee).
  • Basic medicines such as tylenal (both for adults and kids), allergy relief, and Dramamine. Thankfully we had no need for any of these medicines (didn’t even have to deal with car sickness!), but it’s good to have them on hand just in case.
  • Cash
  • Flashlights
  • Umbrella
  • Bug spray
  • Suntan lotion
  • 1 out of season outfit per member of the family
  • I personally found that maxi skirts and dresses were the easiest piece of clothing to pack for this vacation. While I normally prefer trips that require hiking boots and a t-shirt, we were traveling with small children and therefor couldn’t do anything too strenuous anyway. Maxi skirts provided casual and comfortable clothes to wear while out and about, and yet they could easily be made into a nicer outfit if you wanted to do something slightly more formal, such as going out to dinner. Just throw on a necklace and put your hair up. A maxi skirt/dress could easily work for two different settings.
  • A good rule of thumb for packing children’s clothes: Take the number of days you’ll be gone and multiply it by 1.5. That will give you a rough guess as to how many tops or onsies you should pack. For pajamas divide that number by two.
  • A laundry bag and laundry pods (your laundry bag could be a roll of garbage bags. Just something to separate your dirty clothes).  If you’re going on a particularly long trip, you might end up using a hotel’s laundry room. If that’s the case, pods are significantly easier to carry than a container of liquid detergent.

Food

We did hit a number of great restaurants. Ri Ra Irish pub in Vegas, Gabriel’s in Santa Fe, and Medieval Times in Atlanta were places we splurged on (with no regrets). However, in order to make this road trip affordable we did try to avoid eating out. That meant I had to consider what meals we would bring with us in addition to the snacks we munched on during the drives. Bringing a cooler gave us more flexibility in what we could prepare. It became routine to empty the water and replace the ice every morning, which wasn’t too much trouble at all. Many hotels these days provide a microwave in some way. Most places we stayed had a microwave in the room, and when we didn’t there was usually one available in the lobby. That helped us significantly. Our ideas for food included:

Snacks:

  • Dried fruits and veggies
  • Mozzarella cheese sticks
  • Hummus (as well as carrots, pita chips, and anything else to dip)
  • Popcorn
  • Pouches of yogurt
  • Chocolate and/or cookies (something to settle the sweet tooth cravings)
  • Granola bars
  • Apples/grapes/clementines
  • Horizon milk boxes for the kiddos
  • Crackers
  • Pretzels
  • Animal crackers

Breakfast:

  • Baked goods. I simply grabbed some frosted rolls from the bakery section of the grocery store, and that was breakfast for the first few days.
  • Nature’s Path toaster pastries (especially good if you have a microwave in the hotel room, but also good enough unheated)
  • English muffins. Prepare them by adding turkey and cheese before popping them into a microwave.
  • Yogurt
  • Oatmeal: use the coffee maker in your room to heat up the water
  • Fruit
  • Bagels and cream cheese

Lunch:

  • Sandwiches are an obvious choice. Find different ways to change the flavors you’re eating throughout the trip so as not to burn out. Every time I went to replenish supplies, I choose a different type of lunch meat (turkey, shredded chicken, and then roast beef). Play with different ingredients to liven up the taste. Ideas for more interesting sandwich toppings and spreads include: sprouts, guacamole, hummus, salad dressings, horseradish (especially with roast beef), and herbs (such as fresh basil leafs).
  • Salads. To be completely honest, I simply grabbed pre-made (and pre-washed!) bags from the produce section.
  • Turkey rolls: Hawaiian bread with turkey, cheddar, and mayo (or mustard)
  • Quesadillas give you the option to make various sorts of wraps if you want to change things up from sandwiches. It can be as simple as turkey and cream cheese, or you can spice it up by making even more complex rolls (using the same ingredients as you would a sandwich). These are also easier for road trips since you wouldn’t need to worry about squishing bread.
  • Bagel pizza: Squeezable pizza sauce, shredded mozzarella, and turkey pepperoni.

Dinner:

With dinner we ate a lot of very cheap food to avoid going out. Most of the time I ended up using something from the lunch category, but I also had a number of foods to heat up in our hotel rooms.

  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Hot dogs
  • Soups that can be microwaved in their containers
  • There are any variety of microwave meals you can bring along if you’re willing to take a cooler with. Organic sections of grocery stores tend to have more interesting varieties (and more healthy options).
  • Frozen burritos
  • Frozen veggies

Also to keep in mind: Give your child his/her own lunch bag to keep in the back seat. It will keep them from bugging you about being hungry every ten minutes. You have control over portions, and they have the freedom of choice. When their inventory starts to run low, simply refill it.

Activities for kids

One of the biggest struggles parents face when traveling is, of course, keeping the kids entertained. I’m not going to lie about our use of electronics. The tablet definitely kept our driving easy and peaceful. However, there were other things we did to try and keep our son entertained throughout the trip. In between the two car seats I provided a basket with various activities he could access, which he was involved in helping to put together. We also tried to find ways to relieve any boredom that might have built up. Rest stops provided space to run around. Walmarts and grocery stores can be an excuse to get out of the car and walk around during longer stretches of driving. Public parks can be a wonderful release of pent up energy, and most major cities have some sort of children’s museum (we visited the Salt Lake City children’s museum while passing through).

Our activity bin included:

  • A cookie sheet with magnetized puzzle pieces. The preparation was simple. I stuck magnet strips to the back of puzzle pieces and threw them in a baggie with a cut out of the completed picture for reference.
  • A lego baseplate (also with magnetic strips on the back) with a small container of legos.
  • Rubix cube
  • Sticker sheets along with a small notebook to decorate (though most stickers ended up in various spots around the car)
  • Mess-free coloring sheets (Crayola color wonder) with their markers (markers were stored in a pencil bag)
  • An activity binder I put together. I printed various worksheet activities and slipped them into page protectors inside a binder. I also included a pencil bag with dry erase markers, which could be wiped off of the page protectors for reuse. Ideas for pages included: Activities from letter and number writing workbooks, a map of the United States so my son could follow along and keep track of our journey, various puzzles and maze activities I found online, and coloring sheets.
  • Glow sticks – they were a hit when we drove into the night
  • Books. Of course we brought a ton of books
  • Calculator. I  grabbed a cheap one at the dollar store (a wonderful resource!) before we left, and it turned out to be incredibly entertaining for my 3 year old. Particularly when his imagination turned it into a phone.

 

While road trips take time and require some preparation to pull off,  they are amazing experiences. These little details helped get us across America smoothly, with only very minor hiccups we can laugh about as we look back.  We returned home safe and sound, and we now have amazing memories to remember. I can’t wait to see how our next adventure goes!

 

 

The Snowy Day

I struck homeschooling gold this week! While planning through the Before Five In A Row curriculum I’m currently using with Hudi, I had scheduled to read The Snowy Day this week. I wanted so badly to be able to have a hands on experience, but there was no way  I could coordinate his curriculum schedule with the weather way back in June (when I was doing the planning). To add on to the struggle, it doesn’t snow here. Not really. We get maybe one or two ice storms a year, and every few years we might get one decent snow (decent being about  1-2 inches of powder). So I took a chance and picked a random week in January, since that was the most likely month (other than February) we’d see snow.

It honestly feels like G-d has blessed our homeschool endeavors, because this was the week we had snow! Not just ice like we normally expect, but about an inch or two of fluffy powder to play in! I had hoped all year (well, since June) for the off chance of this happening, and to my extreme delight it did!

Around here, everything shuts down at just the mildest snow/ice “storm”. It’s not that southerner’s can’t handle the weather (as much as us yankees like to joke about that). It’s the fact that we see so little of winter weather, there’s no point in maintaining the supplies and equipment necessary to keep roads safe.

Growing up in Chicago we had an entire season to space out all of winter’s homey charm. Here we have to jam pack it into the one day a year we see snow. Being stuck at home means you don’t have anywhere to be, which frees you up to spend the day on all the comfy and fun things that make this season special.

Our snow day fun actually started yesterday while we were still keeping an eye on weather reports, and crossing our fingers for a good snowfall. As part of Hudi’s school we did “snow painting”, which was an incredibly easy activity using staple ingredients.

2878756When the snow finally did come the next day (today) we woke up to eat breakfast (french toast), and bundled ourselves up to go play outside. Hudi immediately made the connection between playing in the snow and his book. Just like Peter in The Snowy Day, he made tracks with a stick, attempted to build a snowman, and enjoyed snow ball fights (which was his favorite activity). I also got a little artsy and took his paints outside. There was nothing special about it…I just let him paint the snow! Why this isn’t a more common activity, I don’t know, but we had a whole yard of natural white canvas, so why not?

When we came inside we warmed ourselves up with an incredibly delicious cup of hot chocolate. Candy Land was played over a bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup (I keep that recipe to myself…sorry!). We then collected up the bowls we had set out earlier and made snow cream (3 different varieties!).

After spending some time inside, we eventually bundled ourselves up once more and headed back out. More snowballs were tossed at each other, and we took an evening stroll around the block. Our day began to settle down in front of the gas logs, where we had an indoor picnic dinner (once again…homemade chicken noodle soup).

It was exactly what you dream of when you envision a snow day. I’m hoping tomorrow (since this is a rare occasion when the snow isn’t melting within 24 hours apparently) we can make homemade pretzels.

So…the instructions for snow painting, the hot chocolate, and the snow cream we had today…

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Snow Painting
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
Dark construction paper
Paint brushes

Mix the flour, salt, and water together until it’s well combined and forms a sort of paste. This activity is as simple as painting the mixture onto paper. Dark construction paper works best! The final product looks like snow!

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Chocolate Hazelnut Hot Chocolate

Ingredients
8 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
8 TBS nutella
4 TBS unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups brown sugar

Directions
In a large saucepan, mix all of the ingredients until well combined. This can also be mixed in a crock pot and left to heat for as long as it takes to warm up enough to be enjoyed.

We definitely used the crock pot so that it could be ready when we came in from the snow!

Garnished with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and sprinkles!

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Snow Cream – Basic Recipe

Ingredients 
8 cups of snow
1 – 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1-3 tsp vanilla

Instructions
Place a bowl outside during a snowfall. To get even more snow, place multiple bowls outside. After a few hours, bring your bowls inside. If you had a few inches of snow, you can also collect the top layer of snow directly from the ground…assuming it’s clean. Have your ingredients ready to go before you bring in the snow, since you’re going to want to work rather quickly before it melts.

For a basic snow cream, add in one can of sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla. You can also add some sugar (white or brown!).

Be gentle with stirring (more like a churn), since you don’t want the snow to melt too quickly.

You can also get creative with your flavors. Simply use the basic recipe as a base, and add any variety of other ingredients. The two other flavors we tried today were…

Chocolate peanut butter: We mixed in a few tablespoons of chocolate syrup, and about three large spoonfuls of peanut butter.

We also created a “bourbon Italian sweet cream” flavor. I poured a little bit (maybe half a cup) of Italian sweet cream coffee cream into the mix, as well as torani bourbon caramel flavoring. I’d suggest maybe 1-2 tablespoons. This one was probably my favorite of the three!

My Free Range Childhood

Back in the 90’s and early 2000’s you could look around my hometown and see kids wondering the streets unsupervised on a regular basis. Among those kids you would almost always find a ten year old me riding my bike to the park or pool down the street, or walking the 1 1/2 miles to the public library or Tasty Freeze. If I wanted to go to the mall or a movie, my parents had no qualms with dropping me and my friends off for a couple hours. If I wanted to go to a friend’s house within town, I didn’t have to wait until I had a ride. My feet were perfectly capable of taking me.

If I wasn’t around town I was running through the woods in my backyard. I built forts, climbed trees, scrapped my legs on thorn bushes, brushed through poison ivy, played war games, had campfires, and generally lived as if I were Pocahontas herself from the time I woke up to well past dark. If my parents needed me they could step outside and yell my name, but I was otherwise left to do as I pleased without their hovering as a distraction.

I was to a tee a free range kid, but that wasn’t what it was called back then. Instead it was simply refereed to as being a kid. My parents always knew my whereabouts. They trusted that I exercise the caution they taught me, and simply let me be.

These days when I visit my hometown I take a glimpse around and realize that while there were once handfuls of kids roving the place, I have seen very few unsupervised children lately. The kids at tasty freeze or the library are almost always accompanied by an adult. Children on bikes seem to be confined to their driveways rather than allowed to zip through the neighborhood.  I don’t remember the last time I saw a kid under 16 in a movie theater or mall by themselves. Times have drastically changed since I’ve grown up.

On one hand I can understand why this is. It is incredibly easy for parents to imagine in very vivid ways the driver of a rusty windowless van sitting at the side of a park, beckoning young children to get in. It’s a chilling thought, but it’s also mostly one of the imagination rather than practicality. We’ve heard it said that times have changed since “back in the day”, but that seems to be an assumption built out of emotion rather than evidence. In fact, when we do look at evidence we can find that times have actually gotten better. The chances of a “stereotypical kidnapping” (a case of a stranger snatching a child) is extremely rare.

In a 2011 report it is noted that homicide rates in general have “declined to levels last seen in the mid-1960’s“, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, with the majority of homicide cases against children being the fault of a parent or other family member. If you’ve ever stopped to look at the missing person’s bulletin board at Walmart you can see that most cases of kidnappings involve a custody issue within families, or a runaway situation.

It is heavily unlikely that a child will be picked up at the mall by a stranger, yet I rarely see kids hanging out in the food court alone with their friends like I used to do. What’s far more likely is a stranger meeting a child through social media, and yet there are more children at younger ages carrying their own smartphones and laptops. The idea of allowing children the freedom to explore their physical locations unsupervised is becoming significantly more challenged by the justice system (you can see a few cases here, here, and here). However, the idea of a 12 year old having practically unlimited access to the internet isn’t as widely considered to be neglectful.

It is natural parental instinct to constantly worry over a child’s safety, and it can sometimes be a struggle to make decisions that effect their well being. There is a comfort in having control over a situation, and when a child is under direct supervision it is easier to believe they are doing okay than when they’re allowed to drift on their own. Strangers can’t threaten them, bullies can’t hurt their feelings, and we can step in when they’re about to break a bone. Not only is it hard to trust the world around them, but it is also hard to trust them. It’s almost as if there is a piece of parental subconscious that believes children have no regard for their own well being, and lack any awareness of safety. Whether we want to admit this out loud or not, it is easy to withhold trust unfairly rather than giving them the space to take responsibility over their own security.

Is our knee-jerk reaction to be overly safe the best for their long-term welfare? Hovering over our children will grant us the ability to swoop in when a situation becomes uncomfortable, but at some point the lessons children will learn from their freedom will outweigh the risks taken when parents let go of some control. As I think back on my own experience as a free range kid I strongly believe that the freedom I had as a rover instilled some of the traits I find most useful as an adult.

If I wanted to go somewhere in town, and my grandmother (who raised me) was too busy to drive me, I was told to walk. To this day I maintain a “if you want something done, do it yourself” mentality that has gotten me through a number of stressful situations where I couldn’t rely on others. The idea of walking a mile to get ice cream, or to meet a friend, or to pick up a book from the library, or to buy supplies from the hardware store for a creative project was not foreign to me. I was motivated to abandon a little bit of laziness in place of determination. My schedule wasn’t under the dictatorship of my parent’s schedule, which allowed me the opportunity to learn how to manage my time and efforts. To this day my determination can get me up and going when I need something done my way, and I have always blamed that on the fact that my grandmother told me to walk myself from point A to point B if I wanted to do something bad enough.

Not only was responsibility and character built through free-ranging, but I also feel I had a better sense of safety than I would have, had my parents chosen to hover. If they were going to let me out and about unsupervised, they were going to be sure I knew how to handle myself in various situations. My freedom provided opportunities for us to discuss the common sense of keeping safe, and had I spent my childhood with an adult helicoptering over my every move I doubt it would have been as effective. I would have grown up with the expectation that my parents had my safety and well being covered, rather than understanding that I share responsibility in taking care of myself. When I walked through a neighborhood without my parents I was well aware that I needed to be cognizant of anything suspect.

And yet, I also believe that it helped me keep reality in perspective. The majority of people out and about are generally good, and I was comfortable accepting help from strangers when I needed it. Asking to borrow an unknown person’s cell phone at the library to call home when needed (which I did once or twice) is a far cry from climbing into the back seat of a windowless van. Rather than encouraging fear and over caution, my parents allowed me to have a healthy mix of common sense and a comfort in seeking help when I needed it. It is without a doubt necessary to teach  “stranger danger”, however, as we go through life we will find that strangers are significantly more likely to lend a helping hand rather than carry evil intentions. Had I been more sheltered I would have been less able to accept that help. As I grew into the person I am today I couldn’t count the number of times simple acts of kindness from strangers helped make my life a little easier, and in turn my comfort has allowed me to be on the giving end of these interactions . A dear friend and role model of mine once said to me that it is easier to instill caution than it is to get over fear, and I could not agree more. I didn’t start off afraid of the world around me. Instead I became aware of true dangers after I saw that most people at the library, or the park, or the public pool were regular humans. As an adult I realize that if something were to ever truly go wrong while I’m out and about, it would be these strangers who I would call out to for help.

But aside from the lessons and responsibility I’ve gained, the true benefit of my free range life was having a real and genuine childhood. I have been bumped, bruised, and my skin has been permanently scarred, but with each injury I have a history that I wouldn’t trade for the world. With my parents inside the house and unable to disrupt our activities in the middle of the woods with their watchful presence, the other kids and I shared a world that no one else could ever experience. No one could understand the battle lines of our war games, and our inside jokes will never make sense to an outsider. We trusted each other in a way that is incredibly unique among children, and encouraged each other to take new risks and overcome challenges. We developed teamwork and comradery while building forts and attempting the crazy ideas we came up with. We knew how to be silly, we knew how to be brave, we knew how to productively argue with one another, we knew how to encourage each other, we knew how to pick ourselves up when we fell, we knew where to find adventure, we knew how to make the most out of our carefree days. We knew how to live, because those were the first moments in life we were free to be who we were separate from authority.

Someday my son will experience something I could never be part of. He will have a world separate from anything I could understand, and there will be things he won’t be able to find the words sufficient enough to explain to me. My hope is that I can trust him enough to look out for himself, and that wherever we are at that time it is a place where I feel comfortable unleashing him. If I’m able to do that, I know he will learn things I could never teach him. They would be the type of things a child only learns while their parents are not looking. They are the things that will help shape him into the person I want him to be.