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.


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.

Dyed Sugar Cubes

My son has crazy good dexterity, and his hand eye coordination has a tendency to amaze me. Not even 2 years old  and he can pull the outlet covers out of the sockets (which he doesn’t do much of, thank G-d), and build intricate towers out of his blocks with crazy balancing techniques. I truly enjoy watching him at work when he’s playing a fine motor or manipulative game, and I often wonder if this is going to be a factor in the hobbies and career he will choose someday.

But that’s getting ahead of myself. For now, he’s just a boy exploring the world.

Wanting to find a new fine motor activity,  I decided to let him experiment with eye droppers, colored water, and something to absorb the liquid…which ended up being sugar cubes.

I set out cups filled with water, and added a few drops of food coloring to each of the cups. The sugar cubes were placed on a paper plate in front of my son (who, surprisingly, did not try to eat them), and I gave him the eye droppers.

Having never seen eye droppers before, he had to spend a few minutes learning how to use them. I showed him what to do and eventually he was comfortable with it after a little trial and error. Once he got the hang of it his concentration was hooked to dying the cubes.

For older kids this might be a great science experiment when learning about absorption. For now, it was just a fun way to play with colorful liquid.

And then we did a bonus activity…We pulled out a light box.

Now, our light box is actually something my grandfather built for me when I was a kid so that I could trace stuff while crafting. At the moment I use it for activities like this. Being the extremely handy person that he is, it is a super sturdy and well buil2878756t design that I could not replicate.

There are other ways to get your hands on a light box that doesn’t require the blessing of a handy dandy family member though. You can buy something, such as an unnecessarily fancy and expensive piece. Or a children’s light box that is on the smaller and cheaper end (or something in between). Chances are you will actually have far better luck looking for a light box that was meant for artists. They are much cheaper and more often than not better quality. Just be aware that some boxes do get hot enough to burn.

There is also the option of creating your own, with less skill necessary than what my grandpa used. Pintrest is filled with ideas such as these.

Typically a good light box could work in a well lit room (our box is certainly bright enough), but to make it extra cool we retreated into our laundry room (which can be completely dark with the door shut). Wanting to protect my box from sugary gunk, I put a piece of parchment paper over the surface. Considering just how bright the light is, it also helped to filter the light and protect little eyes.

The sugar cubes looked very neat with the light shining through them, and we were definitely intrigued for a good while. Kiddo spent a lot of time lining them up in various formations, and designing intricate tower structures. That was also an excellent fine motor activity!

It was a  fun experience with an easy clean up, and I felt good incorporating a new fine motor challenge (working the droppers), as well as new ways to play with colors. It’s definitely something I would do again, and I’m sure my son will be very excited when he sees me pulling out the droppers and food coloring!

Sponge Painting

It’s a very simple and cheap activity. All you need are:
* Sponges (make sure they’re not the kind with soap already soaked in them)
* Cookie cutters (or anything that can be used as a stencil)
* Marker
* Scissors
* Paint and paper

Having an entire box of cookie cutters, I had my choice of shapes. I choose a few, traced them onto the sponge, and then cut them out. The cutting was significantly more difficult than I anticipated, so I would personally recommend staying away from shapes that are more complex. Once the sponges were cut we were ready for our art project.

At 1 1/2 years old, stamping is a concept my son only partially appreciates. He thought it was neat, and even discovered that it worked better if he brushed the paint onto the stamp rather than dipping it on to the plate.

Mostly he enjoyed smudging the sponges around the paper, creating his typical blend of color across the page. The end result was not unlike his other paintings, except that you might find a recognizable shape such as a star or elephant somewhere on the paper.

That’s not what matters though. The important thing is that he got to explore a new way of doing a familiar activity. It allowed him to experiment, and once the sponges are rinsed out and dried we now have new materials to add to his art supplies.


Snow Painting

Snow happens about one time a year around these parts, and it rarely lasts beyond a day. This year we had a bit of odd weather patterns which brought us one day of pure ice followed by an evening snow fall (which will probably be gone by tomorrow morning). Coming from Chicago I had to get used to the lack of snow, which is the one thing I miss the most about my Midwestern roots. Come December I start getting a small tug in my heart when I think of the things my son is missing from my own childhood experiences.

So I have to take advantage of what I can get, even if it’s just pure ice that only looks like snow. We woke up this morning, had our breakfast, and immediately bundled up in our winter gear. Before stepping outside I paused just long enough to gather what was needed to make our ice excursion into an art project.

And that is how snow painting became a thing around here.

This time around I only used one color. It was a spur of the moment decision, so I didn’t have much time to prepare more colors. It only took about 1 minute to throw together. I filled the bottle with water, dropped a decent amount of food coloring in it, and outside we went!

At first we were distracted by the thick layer of ice that covered the entire driveway, especially since our driveway is on a hill. After a number of rounds of sliding down the ice on our bottoms, we then made beautiful art on the snow/ice covered porch. I had to demonstrate a couple of times, but once little man decided to give it a try he thought it was the best thing ever. There were lots of adorable giggles.

Snow Paint

What You Need:
Food coloring
Water bottle

What To Do:
Mix water and food coloring in a bottle, and squirt it on to the snow to make art!

Clean Mud

Snow days (or if you’re from around here, they’re more like “ice days”) can be fun, but once outside time is over you’re left asking “what now?”. Being trapped in the house can mean a bad case of cabin fever. Throw a toddler into the mix, and you have a situation on your hands.

Needless to say, I had to think of something quick and easy to whip together. We played blocks, trains, cars, read books, colored, and we still found ourselves bored. On top of this, it was getting to be “that hour”.

You know, the one that hits between 3-4 PM where it’s too early for dinner, but the kiddo has just about had it for the day? Yeah.

Much to my relief we had all the ingredients needed to make “clean mud”, and we were able to get through the pre-dinner meltdown hours meltdown free. Even the preparation is an activity in and of itself. We were able to watch the ivory soap experiment (heating it in the microwave), and unraveling the toilet paper was quite exciting.  At first he was a bit unsure of what to make of the actual “mud”, but after a few pokes and probes he quickly realized what fun this could be. It was a parenting win.

Clean Mud
2 bars of ivory soap
1 roll of toilet paper
2 cups warm water

Heat the ivory soap in the microwave for 1 minute (one bar at a time). If you’ve never put ivory soap in the microwave before, be sure to watch it puff up! In a large bowl, mix the heated soap and water together.

Unravel the toilet paper from the roll, and place it in a container (don’t worry, you will have less mud than the mountain of toilet paper looks like). Carefully pour the water/soap mixture into the pile of toilet paper a little at a time. Knead it all together in between pours. Once everything is well mixed, it’s time to play (as if preparing this stuff wasn’t enough play already)!

Fizz Painting

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a die hard fan of vinegar and baking soda. Between the cool science experiments and the fact that it’s a non-toxic way to clean just about everything, who doesn’t love baking soda and vinegar? It’s a treasure in the land of motherhood.

Which brings us to the very simple art activity of fizz painting.

It requires ingredients that you would usually have laying around the house, so chances are you can make a last minute activity out of this when your children are going bonkers for something to do. As he normally does when I present something new to him, my boy spent the first few minutes simply observing with curiosity as I showed him what to do. The moment he decided to give it a try, however, he was enthralled.

Of course, the activity didn’t end when all the colors were used up. Oh no, not with this little man. The fun continued when he ran to his sensory/art supply shelves and pulled out some fun things to play with, including sponges, paper, and paint brushes. This quickly turned into a full on art project. I know, sometimes that’s a headache to deal with, but it’s also the type of initiative I (personally) like to encourage.

So, although I expected this to be an easy-clean up project , I feel it was even more successful than originally anticipated since he chose to let his creativity loose.

Fizz Painting

What You Need:
Baking soda
Food coloring
Plastic bowls or something to hold the colors in
A 9X13 casserole dish
Eye Droppers

Spread a layer of baking soda in the casserole dish.

In each bowl or container, mix food coloring with vinegar.

Use the eye droppers to drop the vinegar into the baking soda, and watch it fizz! For added fun, use the mushy mixture to paint!