Friday, May 10, 2013

41 Summer Activities for Kids

I have looked up lists like this many times. When a summer evening comes and I realize the the highlights of my agenda for the following day are GET MAIL and KEEP CHILDREN FROM KILLING EACH OTHER, I feel the need to make some plans, however minor. I know some stay-at-home parents who are totally content to spend most of their time without a specific plan, but I am just not one of them. So since I am no expert at keeping my kids occupied in positive ways when the long (and very hot) summer days descend upon the Phoenix Valley, I decided to compile a list of my own 40-ish activities (in addition to the many other 50, 100, 101, etc. blog posts out there) if only so I can keep in one place a set of ideas to fill our days. Keeping such a list reminds me that it is a privilege to determine the content of my family's time, and there really is a lot of fun to be had while I have this precious stretch with my kids. 

To mix it up a little (see? this is SO original and SO DIFFERENT from those other blogs, right??), I've organized them by room of the house. I've tried to make them a little more interesting than your basic hide-and-seek and lemonade stand…though sock puppets and popsicles did make the cut. Some of these are better for older kids, some for younger. My kids are 2, 4, and 6, so I tried to list a little for each of them.

Living Room:

1. Collect all of one type of toy or household object you can find--cars, Lego people, baby dolls--and arrange them in a long line to make a parade. 
2. Play zoo. My kids love choosing an animal to imitate and then having me be the zoo visitor who marvels at all their noises and behaviors. You may only get 5 minutes out of this, but hey, it's something.
3. There is nothing wrong with an Easter egg hunt in July. (My kids go crazy over this.) We sometimes also do it with these Munchkin letters and numbers for the bath (, which is a cool, "educational" twist on the hunt idea. 
4. Go on a "color hunt": get colored baskets from the dollar store and have kids go around the house looking for objects of each color. 
5. Further thoughts on the hunt idea--if you have one child who reads and one who only recognizes letters, try this: write down a short message with letters on individual scraps of paper. Write a corresponding number in the top corner of each scrap to tell the order of the letters. Have the younger child hunt for the letters, then have the older child arrange them in numerical order to spell out the message. A bit complicated, but this kept us busy when our whole family was in a hotel room for two weeks on an extended business trip last summer.
6. Collect various jars with corresponding lids. Give them in a mixed-up jumble to your 2-3 year old and have him/her match them up.
7. Have a dance party. Make a playlist of your favorite tunes from high school to introduce your kids to your music, or make a Spotify playlist of kid-friendly songs. My kids love Dan Zanes, who makes great music for all ages, as well as the more typical Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Raffi, Dora the Explorer. You never know where this may lead--this afternoon at our house, a dance party involving Christmas music and the Chicken Dance song spun out into a whole play arc about The Christmas Chicken, who helps Santa when Rudolph sprains his ankle. 
8. While your kids sleep at night, cut out footprints of a mysterious creature (or something benign, like rabbit prints) and put them in a walking pattern on the floor. See how the kids react when they find them in the morning and what story they can concoct about the animal that tramped through your house last night.
9. Build a fort and pretend it's a cave on a snowy mountain (especially good for summer), a tent for camping, or a circus tent.
10. Have an indoor mini-field day. Use pillowcases for a sack race, race holding a small ball (instead of a raw egg--no, thanks!) on a serving spoon, have a roll-across-the-floor contest. Make silly prizes for winners.
11. Pretend the floor is hot lava. Make a trail of pillows for stepping stones.
12. Have friends over for a playdate. Choose a theme, like a colors of the rainbow potluck, Christmas in July, or kid-friendly science.
13. Practice tossing and catching a ball.
14. Blow up balloons and bat them around.

Computer/Craft Room:

15. If you have the means, choose to sponsor a child in the Third World through Compassion International ( blog post coming about this wonderful experience. Allow your kids to be a part of the selection process, or choose a child with your child's birthday. Once you have selected a child, have your kids send him/her letters and pictures.
16. Write cards/letters to faraway aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, military personnel, or hospital/nursing home patients.
17. If you have a Mac, go nuts with Photo Booth (it's the program that lets you photograph yourself with silly funhouse-style distortions).
18. Make paper hats.
19. Make sock puppets.
20. Use a rectangular cardboard box to make a toy car carwash: Cut an entrance and exit in the shorter sides, tape colored paper strips on the "ceiling" to be the hanging sponges, decorate with stickers.
21. Color in coloring books. 
22. Make your own Melissa & Doug-style shapes puzzle with the side of a cardboard box: put stickers on the box, cut the cardboard around the sticker shapes (a knife works better than scissors), and keep the undecorated cardboard intact to be the puzzle base.
23. Make a countdown calendar to your summer vacation with paper rings. Every day, kids get to cut off one ring until the big day arrives.


24. Make popsicles.
25. Make a simple strawberry jam: Boys especially enjoying the strawberry mashing part.
26. Go on a "smelling adventure." Blindfold each kid and have them smell various foods--peanut butter, lemon juice, pickles--and see how many they guess right.
27. Make cereal necklaces.
28. If there are 9 weeks in your kids' summer break, choose 1 new (or familiar) fruit at the grocery store every week. Let each fruit represent one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Talk about it with your kids as you eat the fruit. It can be totally silly, like "This is the mango of peace," but you'll probably find it helps your kids memorize the fruits of the Spirit. (It's more or less how I learned, and I still remember the Banana of Self-Control, no joke). 
29. Have a snack time taste test. Purchase three varieties of something cheap (like granola bars or fruit leather), give small portions, and have kids rank them favorite to least favorite.
30. Make edible play dough: 1/2 cup honey, 1 cup peanut butter, 2 cups powdered sugar is one recipe. See if your kids will actually make anything with it before cramming it in their mouths. (Mine didn't.)
31. If you have tile/hardwood/other hard flooring, spell out a message with masking tape for Daddy to read when he comes home. Or just let your kids practice their letters and numbers with the tape.

Outside the house:

32. Go to the mall
33. Go to a coffee shop
34. Go to Ikea
35. Go to the library (here's a list of some awesome kids' books we love:
36. Go to a local pool/splash pad


37. Make a "poor man's pool": fill a cooler with water and ice cubes and have kids play with their toys in it--they can pretend it's the North Pole for their animals, etc.
38. Squirt gun fight.
39. Experiment with the sun's power: paint a picture with watercolors; then, over several days, leave it out in direct sunlight and take pictures of how it fades each day. Should be interesting after a week!
40. Draw with sidewalk chalk (in the morning before it gets too crazy hot!)
41. Blow bubbles.

Have a fantastic summer!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I Hereby Dub Thee Sir Cookbook

Almost without my realizing it, in the last week I made three dinner recipes from the same cookbook. This is almost a personal faux pas, since I typically make my best effort to keep things interesting by selecting meal ideas from a wide variety of sources--food blogs, recipe websites, magazine clippings, old standards, and yes, of course, cookbooks. But this little revelation of my own predictability led me to a happy conclusion: that this particular cookbook is just really freaking awesome. I have consistently used it ever since I purchased it a year or so ago. So allow me to share it with you in all its foody glory. Yea, verily, it is……

Real Simple Easy, Delicious Meals
by the Editors of Real Simple Magazine

I wish I knew who the "Editors of Real Simple Magazine" are, because they really deserve a heartfelt thanks. This cookbook knocks it out of the park, and here's why:

--Simplicity, as the name implies. I don't subscribe to Real Simple magazine. Though I really like its content, I have (ironically) been annoyed by the overwhelming amount of ads in the magazine every time I've picked up a copy. The philosophy, though, bears repeating in a world of too much choice: simplicity is good. Granted, when I first think of "simple" food, the images are not particularly appealing--baked chicken, maybe, or a very plain pasta. Basically the stuff you'd feed your toddler or your highly sensitive Midwestern grandma. But the recipes in this cookbook are simple in the most flattering sense. More and more, I'm becoming the kind of cook who believes that simple, limited-number-of-ingredient recipes truly can be the best ones, especially when made with high-quality ingredients. Simple does not have to equal boring. Samosas, for example, or chicken souvlaki, or chocolate croissant bread pudding are dishes from this cookbook that may be simple but certainly seem interesting and different in my kitchen.

--Appealing pictures for every recipe. Must be a product of my technology-addled, information-overloaded generation, because I need a picture to make a recipe worth making. You can tell me "Potato and Leek Flatbread with Greens" all day long and I'm still not gonna get it (though this also has to do with forgetting what leeks actually are).

--Variety. Again, to me, cooking dinner is a game of keeping it interesting. I get it when people "cook by numbers" with Taco Tuesday, Pizza Friday, etc., but meal planning is (seriously) one of the highlights of my week because it gives me a sense of perpetual innovation. (Hey, it's the little things.) I want to be continually improving as a cook and expanding our family's palate. I love that this cookbook offers options of varying time/difficulty from the cuisine of various cultures. 

--Nutrition Information for every recipe. Always helpful.

--Beyond my expectations, this cookbook has taught me a lot. Though it doesn't have an instructional section and offers only a few charts, the recipes themselves, by nature of their simplicity and frequently overlapping ingredients, have taught me a lot about creating my own recipes. Don't get me wrong, I am not Giada-ing it up whipping up new inventions for ricotta or anything, just able (now that I understand some basics) to maybe make a decent salad dressing without a recipe, or a tasty chicken rub. I like being able to do that.

--Last, every recipe I have tried from this book has been delicious! I would (and have) make all of them again.

So now that I've shown you mine, you show me yours--what's your favorite cookbook, and why? Which one do you return to year after year? Which one has taught you the most? Which one would you run back for if your kitchen was burning down (not that you and your cooking had anything to do with starting the fire…)? Let's hear it!