By Debby Abe, McClatchy Newspapers
For some kids, a week vacation from school is an invitation to binge on video games, Easter candy and marathon sessions of TV watching. But spring break also can be a time of learning with mom and dad.
“But with children out of school, this is a prime opportunity to spend quality time together doing activities that stimulate curiosity, creativity and learning that support your child’s social and developmental growth,” said Anna Sayre, operations and education manager at The Hands On Children’s Museum in Olympia, Wash.
While the experiences can take place in outings to museums, ski slopes and the like, the home can be a prime place for fun and enrichment.
“I’m a big proponent of doing art projects at home, and not sticking kids in front of the TV,” said Angela Hudson, museum educator for youth and family programs at the Tacoma Art Museum. “It’s such a perfect time to do a project together. Mom could do part of it, and kids could do some of it. Then it becomes a community-type project within the family.”
Hudson recommends parents talk with young children as they work together on activities. Statements such as “We’re cutting circles” or “You’re picking up scissors” bolster preschoolers’ language development as they learn to match actions and objects with words. Parents of older children can mention concepts such as composition, foreground and background.
“The main thing is to have parents repeat what they’re doing, even if it’s obvious,” Hudson said.
Cheryle Bigelow of Spanaway, Wash., found the perfect activity to keep kids occupied while teaching them about wildlife.
“Put the kids to work baking cookies for their winged friends,” Bigelow wrote in an e-mail. “The Internet will share many recipes for cookies, biscuits and even gingerbread tailored especially for birds.”
Bigelow’s recipe includes pancake flour, peanut butter and birdseed, and calls for the cookies to be baked.
She recently supervised her great-grandson Dylan Leeper, 5, and great-niece Jessie May Perry, 7, in baking the bird treats.
Black-capped Chickadees, Chestnut-back Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Sparrows and Dark-Eyed Juncos stuff themselves on the cookies in her backyard.
“I think it’s a good project because it’s not real expensive and it helps the birds. If there’s leftover bird seed you can spread it in the backyard and the kids can watch the birds eat it,” Bigelow said. “I think they learn something from watching birds.”
Here are project ideas for kids to do at home:
Find and use things from nature to create art. Pine cones, leaves and twigs can be turned into magical creatures with a little glue, ribbon, felt, buttons and some imagination.
Look through your gadget and sewing drawers to find unusual objects to turn into crafts.
Let kids help with cooking projects. Measuring and following directions are skills they can build while having fun.
Search the Internet for children’s activities and directions, including “printables.” Those are projects, such as coloring pages and craft templates that can be downloaded and printed for kids.
Make homemade Play-Doh from this basic recipe:
- 1 cup white flour
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup salt
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- Food coloring
- Optional: glitter and scents such as cinnamon and ginger
Mix all in a 2-quart nonstick saucepan, stirring constantly over medium heat till mixture thickens and pulls away from sides of pan. Within 5 minutes, it will form a smooth, elastic ball. Remove from heat, let cool slightly, and knead for 3 minutes. Store at room temperature in airtight container.
Make your own bubbles from this recipe:
- ¼ cup Dawn or Joy liquid dish soap
- 2 ½ cups water
- 1/16 cup Karo syrup
Place water in quart container. Add liquid dish soap and Karo syrup and stir slowly to mix. Let mixture stand overnight if possible. The longer it stands the better it is. Fashion a homemade bubble wand from pipe cleaners or wire. Make bubbles.
Make gift wrapping paper by using cut vegetables as stamps. Dip in tempera paint on a cut-open brown paper bag or a roll of packaged wrapping paper. Potatoes work well. Kids can also place cedar or leaves on a paper plate, roll with paint and press on paper to make a beautiful print.
Make anklets, bracelets and necklaces out of inexpensive beads, plastic lacing, cord and other jewelry materials available at craft stores. Pre-made kits with alphabet beads are available from Tacoma-based Personalized Bead Kits at www.personalizedbeadkits.com or email@example.com.
Make an Easter Paper Plate Wreath with the following materials and directions:
- Paper plate
- 1- to 2-inch cut squares of tissue paper in pastel colors
- 12-inch length of ribbon
- Carefully cut the center out of a paper plate to leave a round shape. This will form the base of the wreath.
- Scrunch the pieces of tissue squares into paper balls.
- Using a small amount of glue attach the tissue balls to the paper plate. The plate may be covered completely or sparingly.
- Using the hole-puncher put two holes at the top of your wreath.
- Thread the 12-inch ribbon through the two holes from back to front and tie a bow.
- Hang the wreath for all to enjoy.
Kids 4 years old and older can make a waterless snow globe from these materials and directions:
- Small glass jar or clear plastic cup
- Flat piece of Styrofoam, about ½-inch thick
- Small figurines such as trees and animals (or see below for items needed to make a mini-snowman)
- Iridescent flakes or glitter
- 2 miniature Styrofoam balls, smaller than a golf ball
- Small piece of black construction paper or felt
- Piece of ribbon or yarn
- Plastic bag tie threaded with wire
- Black felt-tip pen
- Globe directions: Using the cup or jar as you would a cookie cutter, press the mouth of the cup into the Styrofoam, twisting it slightly to push it through to the bottom of the foam.
- Stick the base of your figurines into the Styrofoam to secure them. Use a small amount of glue on the bottom if they don’t stay secure on their own.
If you don’t have figurines, you can make a miniature snowman.
- Connect two small Styrofoam balls with a toothpick inserted down the center, leaving the edges of the toothpick exposed on both sides.
- Add eyes and mouth with a black felt-tip marker.
- Add a nose by trimming the edges of an orange plastic tie so that the edges come to a point. Cut it ½- to ¾-of-an-inch long, and insert into the top snowman’s head.
- Add a scarf by tying a piece of ribbon or yarn around the snowman’s “neck.”
- Make top hat by using a rectangular piece of black construction paper or felt. Curl it around so that it forms a cylinder and glue or staple the overlapping edge together. Cut a circle larger than the circumference of the cylinder to create the brim of the hat and pierce it through the top of the toothpick. Glue the top portion of the hat to the base, covering the exposed tip of the toothpick.
- Secure the snowman to the base of the snow globe by inserting the bottom of the toothpick into it.
Next, pour about a tablespoon of glitter into the bottom of the plastic cup. Carefully invert the Styrofoam base and slip it into the lip of the cup so that it fits snugly in place.
Turn the cup or jar right side up to watch snow fall on the snowman.
Cheryle Bigelow’s Bird Cookies:
- 2 cups of dry pancake mix
- ½ cup cold water.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 6 tablespoons of birdseed, poured in a shaker (see note)
- Creamy peanut butter
- Mix the pancake mix and water. Roll out the dough and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Use a straw to punch a hole in the top of each cookie. Melt the butter and brush it over the dough. Sprinkle birdseed onto the dough and press firmly. Alternatively, bake naked and frost with peanut butter and sprinkle with birdseed later.
- Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 12 minutes or until light brown.
- Thread yarn, ribbon or twine through the hole. Package the cookies as little gifts, or hang in trees in the backyard.
- After the baking session, spread leftover birdseed, plus a few peanuts in the shell and a suet cake outside a window and the kids will spend hours watching the birds for less than the cost of a matinee.
Note: Before you start, put the bird seed in an empty shaker that was previously used for cookie sprinkles or as a spice container to make it easier for kids to handle.