DIY Simple Halloween Costumes for Kids

It’s Halloween season once again! Last year, we talked about how we could celebrate this occasion in an eco-friendly way (read the full post here). This time around, the focus of this article will be on how to get ready creative Halloween costumes for your little ones even if you’re short of time (read: now). I, sadly, belong to this category.

Dragon

Turning your kid into a cute yet ferocious dinosaur-cum-dragon this Halloween can be quite easy. This is because the major part of the costume is just a dangerous-looking tail, plus an added handmade mask for extra effect (this tutorial seems pretty useful for some quick work). All you need is some fabric in vibrant colors – tomato red or sunshine yellow or bright green works best. Lay a rectangular piece of the fabric on the ground and fill it up with cotton (I’m planning to use the filling from an old mattress for the purpose). The slightly tricky part here is to sew it up so make sure the cotton filling is not too much. You could also use empty toilet paper rolls taped together as a filling or even otherwise instead of cotton.

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Halloween” by ArtsyBee is licensed under CC by 2.0

The length of the tail should be such that it drags for a little distance on the ground when fitted at the waist. Using another color of fabric, you need to make small round balls filled with cotton to be roughly sewn onto the length of the tail. A yellow tail with red rounded balls as protuberances sticking out of it looks great. Make little belt loops on either side of one extreme end, insert a belt into the loops and fasten it on your child’s waist. Your roaring dragon is ready with a lethal tail trailing behind!

A Bunch of Grapes

This costume is the absolute go-to if, say, you need to get your kid dressed for trick-or-treating as soon as tonight. Simply head to the nearest store and buy a packet of black or purple or green balloons (at least 30-40 in number). Blow them up using a pump to save on time – it will take less than half the time it would otherwise take if you decided to blow them up manually. You need not worry about the size of the balloons; some could be larger and others smaller. Attach a small safety pin to each knot of the balloon, since you’ll be pinning them up on your kids.

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Ball” by Pexels is licensed under CC by 2.0

A word of caution here: The child needs to be wearing at least two layers of clothing, an inner t-shirt as well as a sweat suit. Carefully pin on the balloons on the front and back, top and bottom and your bunch of grapes is ready to flounce around! To add extra flair, twist a couple of pipe cleaners such that they resemble vines, stick them atop a hat and prop it on your little one’s head. This outfit couldn’t have been easier, could it?

P.S. Though my son is super excited to roar around and behave like a dragon (aka one of the creatures from his favorite dragon games), the daughter isn’t too ecstatic with her bunch of grapes idea of a costume. She wants to be a witch on a broomstick (I guess her neighborhood pals put that idea into her head). And so, with the promise of an elaborately designed wicked witch costume for next year, I’m off to get my two little tykes ready to say boo!

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How to Go Crafty this Thanksgiving

I like to call ours a crafty family of sorts. I won’t say we’re particularly good at it, but we try getting all messy and coming up with handmade crafts and painted stuff to put around the rooms whenever we get the chance. What with Thanksgiving right around the corner, it won’t be very difficult dragging the kids away from their favorite cartoon shows and dragon games in order to do up the house or bake some goodies for the occasion. Since the past few days, I have been on the lookout for fun crafts the kids could enjoy their hands at during the holidays. Here are a couple of ideas I came across which seem ideal for the festive season.

Hand-print Turkey Leaf Mats

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Image courtesy: Parenting

As a kid, I remember drawing the outlines of our hands on a large piece of cardboard, filling in color with crayons and marking an eye and a beak on the thumb part of the drawing to make a turkey which could be hung anywhere around the house. Don’t they say ‘old is gold’? This one is a tried-and-tested idea which can never go wrong. Let’s tweak it a little to make it more exciting. Ask your child to carry out the above procedure and then cut out the ‘turkey’, leaving around 2 inches empty space all along the borders. Now, use some big leaves pressed and preserved between the pages of a book to glue them around the edges of your turkey, just leaving the thumb part (where the head is supposed to be) to denote the feathers. If you don’t have preserved leaves, pluck some today and store them away in an old notebook – Thanksgiving is still a couple of days away!

This way, you can get ready some bright and colorful Turkey table mats for the much-awaited Thanksgiving feast.

Edible Fruit Turkey

Cut out a piece of cardboard the size of a bookmark and make two corners on one side of it curved around the edges using a pair of scissors. Stick on or draw eyes and a beak at the curved edges end.  Now take an apple or a pumpkin and cut about half an inch from the bottom. Now place the cut part upside down as a stand and prop the fruit on top of it. Add about 6-8 toothpicks (depending on the size of the fruit) at the back of it like the hands of a clock from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock. Add another toothpick at the front to pierce in the cardboard face. Add orange slices on each of the toothpicks in the clock positions and, lo and behold, you have a perfectly healthy, edible turkey sitting expectantly on your dining table!

Here are some more food craft ideas which are pretty easy to whip up.

Hand-painted Pine Cones

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Pine Cones” by bergblau is licensed under CC by 2.0

Young kids love nothing better than getting paint all over their fingers and toes, hair and clothes. My rule at home is: Get yourself as dirty as you want to, provided you do it outside the house. Hand painting pine cones is something which falls precisely in that category of activities which are allowed only outdoors. This can be done with both closed as well as open pine cones. As a first step, use an old toothbrush with hard bristles to remove any dust or dirt settled on the surface of the cones. Hand your kids an angled paint brush each and let them choose their favorite shade of acrylic color to paint the pine-cones. The cones that are slightly open would look better on your mantelpiece if only the tips of their scales are colored a particular shade. This is something which can stay on as a decorative accessory for many, many years to come.

If you can lay your hands on some pine cones, well and good; however, if there aren’t any pine cones in your area, most of the art and craft stores do sell them.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Why Homeschooling Works for Our Family

There was a time when I felt I was a part of the minority, having chosen not to send my kids to a traditional school to learn. But recently, I read this article containing research facts on homeschooling which claims that ‘Home education – an age old traditional education practice that a decade ago appeared to be cutting-edge and alternative is now bordering on mainstream in the United States’.

I’ve been asked by many parent friends on different occasions why I chose to homeschool (or unschool, as I like to put it at times) both my kids from such a young age. Here are a couple of reasons why:

  • I wasn’t comfortable with the fact that they need to learn something in a particular subject, just in order to pass a test. I was of the view that I would like my children to take learning as something they love doing, at their own pace.
  • I wasn’t comfortable with the thought of my kids sitting down with their homework at a designated time each day, willingly or unwillingly poring over their books. I wanted to be able to gauge my kids’ interests and capabilities, and thereby design their own curriculum as I wished to. Learning shouldn’t be all about books and homework; it should be about learning naturally – be it taking a walk in the farm, planting flowers or learning how dough rises by getting your hands messy.
  • I wasn’t comfortable with the prospect of one single school curriculum catering to varying kids of a particular age. Some kids are good at math, some are exceptional in painting. Would it be right to judge both of them on a single common scale of math, or painting? No. With homeschooling, I could get the independence of individualizing each of my kids’ learning.

Homeschooling is a choice we’ve made for our family and till date, we’re very happy and satisfied with our decision. I admit there was a time right at the very beginning when I had this sudden doubt over my capabilities: Would I be able to do justice to this role of being a mom and a teacher? Would my kids turn out to be successful and at par or even better than those children who attend public schools? Wouldn’t their social skills suffer if they didn’t go out and mingle all day with other kids their age?

Today, it’s been over five years since we embarked upon this journey. And I can proudly say that all my fears and doubts have been happily laid to rest.

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Child” by picjumbo is licensed under CC by 2.0

At our place, four days a week are dedicated to planned lessons as in relatively scheduled learning activities and the remaining three days we are free to do our own thing as a family. Mornings generally begin with a prayer to the Lord above, followed by a leisurely breakfast and then we sit ourselves down in our playroom (which is a study-cum-reading-cum-painting-cum-playroom). We usually start with the basics of Math; on certain days I begin by explaining a new concept followed by sums on the same. Each of my two kids has his and her own learning time. If I am explaining concepts of addition and subtraction to the little one, I’ll make sure the elder one is busy solving a math problem worksheet of the concepts explained the previous day, and vice versa. Math generally goes on for an hour or so and then we take a ‘power break’ as we like to call it, when we take turns reading a story book together out loud.

This story-reading activity is usually one of the best times of our day. The kids love it, I love it and I’ve noticed that they are at their chirpiest best while reading. I’ve noticed how my elder one is getting better at reading out sentences without halting in between; three months ago she would have to stop a couple of times in between a single simple sentence to figure out words but now there’s a world of a difference. The best part is she’s learning without realizing the fact that she’s doing so! My younger one is still busy trying to string out correct spellings of words and we play interactive reading games like these together which are simple yet fun. I’m positive it’ll eventually help him build up his vocabulary and help him get more excited about reading.

By now, it’s time for a light lunch. I usually make sure the kids give me a hand while I go about getting the meal ready. Be it tossing up a salad in a large bowl or setting the table, measuring the volume of water that would go into a spaghetti recipe or practicing basic multiplication by counting the rows of cookies which have come fresh out of the oven, they happily do all this and more.

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Little Girl Reading” by jill111 is licensed under CC by 2.0

The supervised instruction period ends with lunch. Post a short siesta, it’s nothing about studies per se any more. About twice a week we make it a point to visit the neighborhood local library which has a dedicated kids’ section and my daughter loves to pick out a book or two for bedtime reading (seeing her hooked onto Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series gives me unparalleled satisfaction; I was inseparable from the said author’s books for a major part of my childhood). Sometimes we spend time reading together in the library itself. The librarian is kind enough to allow my son to carry along his coloring book and crayons while daughter and mom quietly immerse themselves in their books. On the way home, we usually stop at a pond where my son loves to feed bread crumbs to the ducks and the daughter has managed to make friendly acquaintances with the gang of kids who play hide and seek in the evenings at the adjoining park. That is ‘me-time’ for me; I sit back, take in my surroundings and relax.

On Monday and Thursday afternoons, a neighborhood mom holds basic baking classes for children at her own place, which both my kids love to attend. My daughter behaves all grown-up when she proudly instructs me on how to better my baking skills at home! And just recently, my son baked a chocolate muffin ‘all by himself’ and was so thrilled that he didn’t take a bite of it and insisted all of us taste it time and again in order to tell him how magnificent it was!

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Coloring” by kaboompics is licensed under CC by 2.0

Sundays are meant for family church visits in the mornings, followed by a crafting club class for the kids, as a result of which the children’s room walls are all plastered with handprints and mountains and waterfalls and glitter and stars and stuff. In the evenings, we have family movie time at home where we all take turns to pick a movie of our choice each weekend. My son recently picked the How to Train Your Dragon film and was thrilled when he learnt that there are dragon games based on the movie too with his favorite characters in it (and I was thrilled because the dragon games had a scientific tilt to them – he was learning science while racing his dragons through mountains and valleys and had no clue!).

We parents have formed a close-knit homeschooling group too and meet once every fortnight, to share notes and have fun. It is pretty fascinating how one gets to learn so much from like-minded parents out there who are in the same boat trying to figure out the same things as you in their homeschooling journey. Makes one feel pretty confident that yes, one is on the right track and the kids are doing well.

I recently came across this quote from Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s mentor and friend; she couldn’t have made a more explicitly correct statement than this:

“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less “showily”. Let him come and go freely, let him touch real things and combine his expressions for himself… Teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.”

Agreed, a little guidance along the way, a little push in the right direction is essential. Unschooling gives one the liberty to gauge one’s child’s interest and bent of mind, do away with a uniform pre-planned year-long curriculum and set the course for just the right mix of a more wholesome form of learning, replete with DIY science experiments that can be performed at home, craft activities that can be done together as a family, picnics to a nearby zoological park or farm to learn more about nature and lots more.

Would your child be able to enjoy and have the time of his life doing all that he loves and learn alongside, had he been a part of the traditional form of schooling? The answer would be a resounding NO. As Albert Einstein very rightly put it: “I never teach my pupils. I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

Through my homeschooling efforts, I try to do the same. And the sense of contentment I get as a mom and a teacher when I see them blossom on a daily basis in front of my eyes, cannot be explained in words.

Sound of Language

Teaching phonetics and the right pronunciation is important in English language classes because English is a non-phonetic language. Words are not written the way they sound. Pronunciation also differs based on whether the words are nouns, verbs or adjectives. Think ‘photographer’, ‘photography’ and ‘photographic’ where the stress on syllables varies. Learning to pronounce words correctly and understanding the different ways in which words are pronounced can help kids communicate better. While children practice phonemes in an early age, it need not stop at that.

You can teach your child pronunciation with English games and various other methods. Here are a couple of ways that will help children learn this aspect of the language.

Phonetic Symbols

Create a board with your child with different phonetic symbols that are commonly used in dictionaries. These symbols represent the various sounds. Knowing these symbols will make it easy for kids when they are learning vocabulary and will help them to simultaneously pick up the right way to pronounce these new words. You can also refer to the International Phonetic Association Symbols.

Dictionary Focusdictionary focus” by Chris Dlugosz is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Television

This is an old classic when it comes to teaching the correct pronunciation. Kids can learn standard pronunciation followed by any country by following the local news channel. These are free from local dialect and will train children to pick up different sounds and intonation.

Movies

Movies are a great way to train children in listening to different accents and understanding them easily. To make it more interesting, ask children to try and emulate the accents so that they become more aware of how the way they shape words changes. They can also try delivering the same dialogue using different emotions to see how it affects the way words are sounded.

Mime ArtistMime Artist” by Paul Hudson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Tongue Twisters

Remember the scene from My Fair Lady where Professor Higgins works on improving Eliza Doolittle’s pronunciation with tongue twisters? Tongue twisters are an effective way to improve pronunciation and fluency. Kids enjoy tongue twisters and you can ask them to start slow by paying attention to the way each word is pronounced and once they get that right, they can increase the speed.

Here are a few tongue twisters that you can try –

“She sells seashells by the seashore.”

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”

My Fair LadyMy Fair Lady poster, 1964” by Laura Loveday is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Betty Botter bought some butter but she said this butter’s bitter. If I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter. But a bit of better butter will surely make my batter b etter. So she bought a bit of butter better than her bitter butter and she put it in her batter and her batter was not bitter. So t’was better Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter.”

Apart from these, you can include exercises where kids have to read along with a recorded tape and try to match it as best as they can. You could silently say a word and looking at the shape of your mouth, kids have to figure out the word. These exercises will help your child become more comfortable with the sounds of the English language.

The Great Outdoors – Activities to transform your backyard!

It’s coming up to my favorite time of year. For those of you who have been reading this blog a while, you know that almost every time of year is my favorite time. I can’t help when each season has its own charm. This season, it is the joy of stepping foot outside of the house and not freezing into a life-sized ice sculpture. Aah the great joys of being outdoors!

I have been making lists, and you know how much I looove lists, of all the activities I could potentially participate in or host this spring/summer. Some of the activities I found online, they blew my mind. Here are some that I’m mostly definitely going to try or con people into trying. What’s great about these activities is that it is something that people of all age can enjoy without having any bones broken or muscles aching.

In no particular order, here are 10 insanely fun games that make you wish summer was a year-long affair.

Giant Beer Pong

Giant Beer PongIdea from kroqslightning

Glow in the Dark Capture the Flag

Glow in the dark Capture the FlagInstructions at Let’s Get Together

Outdoor Pictionary

Outdoor PictionaryInstructions at Tiny Sidekick

Dunk Bucket

Dunk BucketInstructions at The Happy Housewife

Cup Races

Cup RacesInstructions at All For The Boys

Sponge Launch

Sponge LaunchInstructions at How Does She

Lawn Twister

Lawn TwisterInstructions at One Good Thing by Jillee

Giant Jenga

Giant JengaInstructions at A Beautiful Mess

Water Slides

Water SlidesInstructions at How Does She

Frozen T-Shirt Race

Frozen T-ShirtInstructions at A Girl and a Glue Gun

Would you take any of these up? Do you have your own summer outdoor list? Let me know.

How to Plan Fun Holiday Activities for Kids

While the holidays are a welcome break from the school routine, it does leave kids with a lot of time. Activities for kids during holidays can serve a dual purpose – they can be fun and educational. These activities can also be made more interesting by introducing a holiday theme. Additionally, it helps kids stay in touch with their schoolwork during holidays so that they don’t have trouble getting back into it once they are back at school.

ButterfliesButterflies” by Cockburn Libraries is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I prefer using activities over worksheets as they give kids the sense of doing something and having fun. We usually plan our holidays ahead of time and I take the kids’ help in preparing a holiday plan. When we involve kids, they take more interest in the activities as they have helped select them. I try to have a good mix of indoor and outdoor activities, and squeeze in a short trip. The drive and place we head to offer opportunities for learning, whether the kids count the yellow cars en route, trek through a bioluminescent forest or collect shells on the beach.

ChannukahChanukkah Menorah” by atl10trader is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Museums and local cultural centers are a good source of information for child-centric activities. I also find that giving kids the space to do their own thing during the holidays is a good idea instead of filling the calendar with activities. My kids usually use this time to get out and play, bike around the neighborhood, read, or play on their favorite app.

Younger kids will enjoy coloring activities, simple crafts and games like sorting. I usually bring in elements from the holiday so that they can also learn something about the holiday. It could be a snowman in winter, a beach in summer, a menorah during Hanukkah or a shamrock for St. Patrick’s Day.

Treasure BoxTreasure box craft @ Spearwood Library” by Cockburn Libraries is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Even math and science activities can be presented to kids by adding a holiday spin to them. Ask kids to count the number of gelt during Hanukkah or grow clover as part of a science experiment. Making a paper snowflake during Christmas can be a demonstration in symmetry.

Food and holidays go hand-in-hand. I get my kids to help me make something special like a rainbow colored drink in summer or a little strawberry treat for Valentine’s Day. Kids also learn math skills like measuring and chemical reactions like fermentation when they don their chef’s apron  . I also find that it is easy to cover multiple skills like critical thinking and writing with a round of journaling every day.

Sand PaintingSand painting @ Spearwood Library” by Cockburn Libraries is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

To sum it up, here’s how you can plan fun, learning activities during holidays –

  • Plan ahead.
  • Let kids be part of the planning.
  • Incorporate elements of holidays into the
  • Use a mix of indoor and outdoor
  • Take a look at their curriculum and choose activities that are age-appropriate.
  • Look for opportunities to teach core subjects in creative or leisure activities like art, crafts, games, reading.

My Family’s Fall Bucket List

I love fall – the crisp cold air means you get to snuggle up in a sweater and nurse a hot cocoa but it is not yet cold enough to be miserable. Because we love making lists, every year this time we create a fall bucket list. Here is ours for the year. I would love to hear what would be on yours.

Fall Bucket List