Having Fun with the Summer Slide (Part I)

‘A term that suggests a playful amusement park attraction but actually describes a grim reality. The phenomenon was studied extensively by Johns Hopkins University researchers… [in 2007 and their] longitudinal study tracked Baltimore students from 1st grade through age 22… The researchers concluded that two-thirds of the 9th grade reading achievement gap can be explained by [lack of] access to summer learning opportunities during elementary school.’

This is how the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) defines ‘summer slide’, the tendency for students to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the previous school year.

Though we are a homeschooling family and learn all year round without the concept of any particularly long vacation of sorts, things do tend to get a bit different come summers. We go a bit slower than usual from the drawn-up curriculum, spending our time more on other ‘non-studying’ activities than classes, worksheets and ‘homework’ (yes, my kids still get homework from their homeschooling mom-cum-teacher, which they have to submit for correction the following day). Hence, homeschoolers like us also experience a summer slide, albeit perhaps a milder version as compared to those who attend school regularly.

I’ve decided to do a series of posts that talk about how we can keep our kids gainfully occupied this summer. Some of the ideas are tried-and-tested, others I found interesting while I came across them sometime in the past, which seemed suitable for the coming weeks. These can work for all kids – schooled, unschooled, homeschooled and the rest. Read on, and please feel free to add or subtract or suggest your own ideas.

On Your Mark, Get Set… Read!

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Kids” by henriquesaf is licensed under CC by 2.0

For kids who love reading (like mine), this one is simple. For parents of kids who don’t, this one will need a patient approach to get them into the habit. Try reading games like these which are interactive and helpful for beginners. If your little ones are old enough to read but simply not interested in curling up on the couch with a book, try something more fun. Join a neighborhood library. Ours organizes read-aloud story sessions for young kids. What’s more, kids do spend more time than usual with books if they have a whole shelf of them to choose from. Or else, read in places along with your child where you wouldn’t generally. Like the beach, or the park, or on a picnic. Make it all about the picnic (say) rather than the act of reading. Another exciting alternative is to read story books which have been made into cartoons or films. I remember reading The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Elves and The Shoemaker with mother back as a child and then following it up watching its video on the television. Reading time should be equivalent to family time.

Summer Camps… Where Strangers Become Friends

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Holiday” by lentemamaatje is licensed under CC by 2.0

“Summers are a particularly good opportunity to take into account our children’s interests and likes. Building activities around what our children enjoy or want to explore is essential to creating positive summer learning experiences,” says Mr. Boulay from the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA).

I’ve never been to summer camp myself but my husband has and vouches for their worth. Camps could be about anything your kids are interested in – skating, swimming, reading, photography, dance, baking, art… the possibilities are endless. In one word, a summer camp is akin to action; kids will be physically active, meeting new people, forming bonds and friendships, getting to know how to work as a team. There’s always something going on at a camp; even sitting around laughing and being silly all day long with your peer group is a learning experience for young minds. Read more here about how camps are a good idea both for your kids as well as for you.

No interesting summer camps in the immediate neighborhood? Not a problem. Discuss with your neighborhood parents and take the kids out on a day trip every weekend. It could be a zoo, an amusement park or just a giant playground where they can run around and play catch. A carefree day well-spent with like-minded kids of their own age will do them a world of good.

After all, aren’t summers all about going crazy and making the best memories possible together, slide and all?

Simple Ways to Make Your Child More Independent

‘The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.’

These words by Denis Waitley, the popular motivational speaker and writer, ring very true. However, more often than not, parents like us tend to do everything in their power to make life as seamless as possible for their kids. And while that comes naturally to over-protective mommies and daddies, we need to make sure we know where to draw the line, all for the greater good of our tiny tots.

Here are some simple ways we can help our kids become more independent and learn to stand on their own rapidly growing feet.

Following a basic routine

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Quotes” by fshnextension is licensed under CC by 2.0

Back in my childhood, I remember mom struggling to get me and my sister ready for school on time in the mornings. School mornings used to be nothing short of a whirlwind of activity – mum running to get the shoes on me while popping up the toaster and hurrying up my sister to finish her shower in ‘2 minutes flat’ (she loved to simply stand and hum under running water, regardless of how late she was). Eventually, we were told what all we needed to do ourselves. Our school clothes would be neatly laid out, provided we dress ourselves up, top to toe. Likewise, breakfast would be waiting for us in the kitchen, and we needed to clear up our plates even if the bus was honking outside. Agreed, it was difficult in the beginning but then eventually we got the hang of it. Once I missed the school bus because I couldn’t find my shoe at the last moment. That taught me more than what days of mother’s tirades could. Today, since my kids are homeschooled, they don’t have a bus impatiently honking for them outside. But yes, class is at home sharp at 9 am and they know they need to be dressed and ready in their seats then. A basic routine helps in inculcating a sense of self-discipline in any individual, kids or adults.

Daily/weekly grocery shopping

This one is for slightly older kids. You could begin with guiding your son/daughter through the supermarket, armed with a list of things to be bought. Helping you with grocery shopping is fun for them too; they get to decide what goes on the list before leaving for the grocery store, they can then check off the items one by one once each object is in the shopping basket and they learn how to handle money plus not overshoot the budget for the day. A treat once in a while doesn’t matter but kids should know that having a fixed budget and not going overboard helps them to save for the future. For younger kids, one could introduce the piggy bank concept and put in a couple of pennies saved for every shopping expedition.

Caring for pets

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Animal” by OpenClipart-Vectors is licensed under CC by 2.0

Now this one is a dicey option. Not everyone is in favor of having a pet dog or a cat at home (including me). But I’ve seen my kids bonding with the Labrador next door; they will forget their own lunch but will dash out of the house before time when they know the pet will come out to his kennel for his mealtimes. Apart from the fact that dogs, for instance, make great companions, children are generally very responsive to pets they can proudly call ‘their very own’ and don’t shy away from taking responsibility for them. Many of my parent friends vouch for this fact. Though I partly agree with them, I do understand that having a pet is a huge responsibility for the entire family, not just the kids. So it’ll probably be just a pet turtle along with the usual virtual pets for my kids to begin with, for now. Then we’ll decide whether we’re ready for the big decision.

Also, we need to remember that praising the little ones for small tasks they’ve managed to accomplish on their own will help them a great deal in the feel-good factor. It may be something as simple as buttoning up their shirt correctly, or tying up their shoelaces (a tad haphazardly) the first time. But it’s a big deal for them, and thus a big deal in turn, for us. :)

Our Favorite Bedtime Story Books

The most trying part of the entire day for a parent to young kids has to be bedtime. When my kids were toddlers, well-wishers kept telling me how important it was to establish a proper, set bedtime routine for them. I tried everything I could think of, but there were times when nothing seemed to work. My husband used to joke that our kids were ‘allergic’ to bedtime; they would do anything just to delay getting tucked into bed. And one fine day, I just gave up trying to do multiple things and switched to the tried-and-tested way (which, I admit, seemed the easiest way out) – plopping down on the bed with a story book in hand. And miraculously, it worked. The kids would follow suit and that was that. If only I had known it could be this simple from the beginning!

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Bed” by OpenClipart-Vectors is licensed under CC by 2.0

The kids aren’t toddlers any more, but our bedtime story reading routine continues. We snuggle together every night with whichever book they decide to pick out; sometimes they read out loud, sometimes I do. Needless to say, this has to be the best and most peaceful part of the entire day – the laundry (clean & dirty) all segregated and in its place for the following morning, mobile phones and other devices with their ever-running virtual games and cartoon videos put away in the desk drawer, the breakfast menu decided and vegetables chopped up and ready – in short, the chores of the day all taken care of.

Here are our favorites from the long, never-ending list of bedtime stories we’ve read time and again.

Looking for Sleepy (by Maribeth Boelts)

A cute little story about a Papa Bear, a Little Bear and their bedtime. Little Bear, of course, doesn’t want to go to bed. Papa Bear must go through their bedtime routine and find the elusive ‘Sleepy’ in order to help Little Bear fall asleep. My younger one was initially in the habit of falling asleep while holding either mommy or daddy’s hand. (Sigh. I do miss those times.) Well, Little Bear likes that too!  Heartwarming illustrations make it an ideal bedtime read for toddlers.

The Elves and the Shoemaker (Grimm’s Fairy Tales)

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Image courtesy: The Illustrators Agency

‘Once upon a time there was a kind shoemaker who was very poor…’ So the story begins. He has enough leather only to make a single pair of shoes; but, as if by magic, every morning he finds shiny and brand new pairs of shoes ready on his worktable. Eventually they find out it’s the handiwork of two dancing and skipping elves. The shoemaker’s wife stitches them tiny new outfits in return, which they love. A wonderful tale of helping hands and the little joys gifts can bring. A fairy tale that reminds me of my own childhood (watch this video for that tinge of nostalgia).

Bedtime for Mommy (by Amy Krouse Rosenthal)

My personal, all-time favorite since the moment I set my eyes on it. So it’s all about bedtime but with a twist – the daughter is putting her mommy to bed, instead of the usual other way around! The weary little girl helps her mom get ready for bed – a warm bath, freshly laundered clothes neatly laid out for the next day, even a bedtime story read out. The hilarious role reversal of sorts has the mom doing everything she can to stall bedtime – this part especially elicits guffaws from my kids (guilty conscience!). An out and out fun tale.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears (by James Marshall)

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Image courtesy: ThingLink

A naughty little girl who gets into trouble is what Goldilocks and the Three Bears is all about. The fascinating house of the three bears, Goldilocks slurping as well as spilling her porridge all over the floor and the three bears coming back to find their house in a mess – the story comes out to the kids in vivid detail through the well-drawn illustrations which add humor to the tale. Some fairy tales are meant to be handed down from generation to generation and are never forgotten; Goldilocks is one such gem of a story.

As the saying goes:

It’s very important to always read a bedtime story… Else, how would your dreams know where to begin?

3 Simple Cleaning Hacks for Parents

Cleaning house while children are growing is like shoveling the sidewalk while it’s still snowing.

I couldn’t have put it better. Agreed – in the present so-called modern era kids are supposedly more into online games on the computer and cartoon shows on the television rather than actually creating a physical mess like we did in the yesteryears. But even then, our home is a complete mess at the end of the day. This only means that kids today are more adept at multi-tasking and manage to do anything and everything that they can get their hands on! Well, for a majority of us parents out there who have kids that create a mess, here are three simple cleaning hacks which can make life easier.

Sweep It Clean

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Lego” by blickpixel is licensed under CC by 2.0

So your kids never give you a hand with cleaning up around the house? Well, you’re definitely not alone; neither do mine. My son absolutely adores creating a mess – be it on the kitchen table with bread crumbs and marmalade, with crayons and paints on the wall (yes, wall) in his room, or on the carpet in the living room. Some of these messes, I’ve realized, are beyond my control to control. However, I do try and distribute the basic cleaning chores around the house by making it up like a game. For instance, both my kids have miniature, colorful brooms of their own. They have a doormat marked right outside the door of their rooms on the floor with colored chalk. They have got the hang of what to do by now – broom their room and get all the grime from the corners of their room into the square outside their doors. It takes each one of them barely five minutes to do their rooms and only then do we sit down for a leisurely breakfast. No questions asked.

Paint Your Dreams

Every child is an artist, albeit a messy one. We have all kinds of artistic work pinned up at various prominent positions on the walls of our home – most of them are unfathomable riots of color and hence, my husband likes to call them ‘modern works of art’. I remember a couple of years ago, when my daughter started dabbling in colors – both literally and figuratively, as in she loved immersing her hands and feet in paints and then walked around – first I tried using newspapers to lessen the mess involved. She didn’t enjoy crayons too much, so (messy) paints it was. Usually, the water colors she used soaked right into the paper she painted on and the entire ‘artwork’ was ruined, accompanied by sobs. Then I tried something new – discarded egg cartons and cleaned up empty pizza boxes. Newspapers spread out on the grass in the backyard, opened up pizza boxes acting like a huge canvas and water paints did the trick. The paints did not soak into the thick cardboard, there was no dearth of space with regard to the size of paper available for painting and the mess was as minimal as could be in the situation.

Squishy Soft Toys

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Stuffed Animals” by ErikaWittlieb is licensed under CC by 2.0

Well, now that I come to think of it, one never outgrows soft toys. There’s proof – have a look at this article which explains the science behind the love of stuffed animals. After all, I still have the cute brown bear with flappy arms sitting on my favorite armchair in a corner of my bedroom, after all these years. And especially where there are kids, there will be soft toys. Loads of them. Our home is no exception. You’re very likely to step on at least half a dozen monkeys and rabbits and puppy dogs as you step into our main door and walk to, say, the dining table. Soft toys are cuddly, huggable and best of all, squishy. So when I chanced across this idea online which talked about making a neat, squishy bean bag out of them to keep them out of the way, I was eternally thankful. Strewn all over the place, they lend color and cheer to the room. Zipped up in a thick cloth bean bag, they are not messy and make for an extremely comfortable, squishy seat. A storage bag-cum-bean-bag of sorts.

Wish to add any other parenting hacks you use to this list?

3 Inexpensive Stocking Filler Ideas for Kids this Christmas

‘Christmas is a stocking stuffed with sugary goodness.’

Or used to be once upon a time, to be more precise. When we woke up on Christmas mornings as kids, I remember the loudest squeals of delight being reserved for the cylindrical sticks of striped sweet rock candy curved like walking sticks, which were poking out from the tops of our heavily laden stockings. But today’s kids? Pop in a candy cane into their Christmas stocking and they’ll be ripping it out in a jiffy, more eager to see the heavy stuff underneath. Sigh! Talk about the smallest pleasures in life being the sweetest!

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Christmas” by PublicDomainPictures is licensed under CC by 2.0

Well, let’s come back to the present. Xmas is right upon us and you would have probably already thought up of gifts that your little ones are looking forward to (thanks to being privy to the ‘sealed’ letters to Santa Claus). Apart from these expected gifts which will occupy pride of place beneath the Christmas tree, here are a couple of fun yet inexpensive ideas for the stockings hung up by the chimney. After all, the Christmas stocking legend continues to live on!

Keychain – with a key

Something as simple as a keychain can be a great Christmas stocking present for your child – provided it has a key dangling at the key ring end of it! The key could be that of your child’s desk shelf, or that of a drawer in the cupboard, or even of his or her own room (of course, you will need to keep a duplicate key with yourself in this case). While the keychain could be your little one’s favorite cartoon – be it Mickey Mouse, Pokemon, Minions or even Batman, the fact that the child is responsible enough to own a key would be a big deal for him or her. In no time, you’ll see them flaunting their gift in front of their friends, boasting about the prized possessions locked away from prying eyes!

Movie tickets for the family

This is something my kids have come to expect every year in their stockings. They know that somewhere in its deep recesses there will be tickets for the whole family for a show everyone has been looking forward to since a while. The son is a fan of Charlie Brown, so last year it was The Peanuts Movie; before that it was my daughter’s love for her favorite dragon games which led us to watch the second part of How to Train Your Dragon. This year it’s probably going to be Disney’s Moana which we’ll all be heading to. Makes for a fun family outing on the occasion.

Fairy lights for their room

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Magical” by AllSimpleThings is licensed under CC by 2.0

Agreed, the Christmas tree is done up with fairy lights, and a real fairy with wings plus a wand adorning the top. But then, won’t your kids be super excited at the prospect of hanging a string of twinkling, colorful fairy lights against the curtains in their room, or on top of the frame of their bed? It’ll make Christmas all the more special for them! What’s more, a variety of LED fairy lights are available today which are perfectly safe with even the bulbs not heating up when lighted. Needless to say, when night falls, you will probably have no trouble at all tucking them into bed, with the star-like glow to keep them company!

May this Yuletide spirit bring an abundance of cheer in your lives… Merry Christmas!

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!

3 Fun Ways to Have an Eco-Friendly Halloween

Halloween has a ‘spooktacular’ history of its own. As legend has it, when a drunken farmer called Stingy Jack was turned away from both heaven and hell, he carved out a turnip to make a lantern out of it and find his way in the darkness; hence jack-o’-lanterns came into being. Then there was a myth among the Celtics that if one dressed up as a ghost, all evil spirits would be fooled into thinking the person was one of their own and would not take away their souls. Sinister yet fascinating tales, eh?

The excitement levels of the kids here at home know no bounds when Halloween is around the corner. They will eagerly give up their favorite virtual games to plan their costumes down to the last intricate detail (including the last streak of face paint!) and sometimes even forget to have their meals on time (if not reminded) in the entire planning melee with their neighborhood pals!

This year, I decided we should try and be more environment-friendly while planning the Halloween stuff, from the costumes to the decorations and everything else. Just a bit of extra effort on our part, that’s what it takes. Also, it’s all the more fun when you do things together as a family instead of buying stuff off the shelf.

Here are a couple of fun ways to have an eco-friendly Halloween this time.

Halloween Costumes

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Trick Or Treat” by Clker-Free-Vector-Images is licensed under CC by 2.0

 Scary, scary Halloween night…

Dress up in a costume and make sure it can fright!

Getting Halloween costumes ready every year wins hands down as the most entertaining and fun part of the occasion. It all boils down to how creative you can get – the possibilities are endless, especially when it comes to designing your own Halloween outfits instead of picking up a readymade one to be worn just once and discarded. Ghosts are an all-time favorite of kids and there are so many homemade costumes that can turn you into a terrifying one! Short on time? Go for an old bedsheet or a sack too big for you with holes cut out for hands and a cardboard headgear or mask with snake-like slits for eyes. Wish to be a groaning mummy? A dozen rolls of toilet paper to wrap you up will give you that eerie look. Thinking out-of-the-box and want to be a wicked angel with wings? Old wire hangers bent into the shape of wings can be attached to your back for added effect. And don’t forget the broomstick if you’re planning to dress up as a witch!

Halloween Food

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Sweet” by PublicDomainPictures is licensed under CC by 2.0

 Trick or Treat…

Give me something good to eat!

Say the word Halloween aloud and the first image to pop up in most of our minds would be – a spooky old jack-o’-lantern grinning away to glory. When we scoop out the fillings of a pumpkin in preparation for carving it, why unnecessarily throw away the seeds to end up in the dustbin? Roasted pumpkin seeds are nothing short of a delicacy; what’s more, they involve practically no cooking whatsoever. Simply preheat your oven to about 150-170 degrees C, mix the pumpkin seeds in a bowl with salt and a tablespoon of butter and bake till it turns deliciously golden brown. Carved a pumpkin or two too deep to make a perfect jack-o’-lantern? Turn it into a simple pumpkin pie – you just need milk, eggs and sugar to bake it like any other pie. Halloween flavors at their finest!

Halloween Decorations

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Pumpkin” by typopets is licensed under CC by 2.0

 Shadows of a thousand years rise again unseen…

Voices whisper in the trees, “Tonight is Halloween!”

Using natural, biodegradable items to do up your house will in no way make your home appear any lesser scary-looking than if you had used readymade plastic decorations from the neighborhood store.  Old cardboard egg cartons can come in handy – cut out 3 egg cups from the discarded carton, put them upside down, make zig-zag cuts in the bottoms of the two side cups and once you’ve painted them black, you just need to stick on the eyes to have a scary bat staring up at you! Watch this simple tutorial to have a better idea of how to go about it.

Old see-through containers, glass jars lying around as junk or unused mason jars can be a big hit too. Almost all kids have small animal specimens to play around with. All you’ve got to do is pop, say, a grasshopper or a lizard specimen into a jar and fill it up with colored water (use food coloring for the purpose). Broken eyeballs off an old teddy bear or a limb from a worn-out doll or two should be spooky enough too.

Also, scarecrows aren’t just meant to scare birds away from a field where crops are growing, are they? Go dig out clothes from the basement which everyone in the family has outgrown or will never wear (even dirty old ones with gaping holes and blotches on them would do) and get to work tying together bundles of hay to make the arms and legs of a scarecrow. Prop it up on a chair in your front porch, with a glowing jack-o’-lantern as a head and a straw cap on it and voila! No points for guessing whose porch would be the most ghostly of all once night sets in!

Have a good Halloween, folks!