books · crafty things

Fun at Home

I’ve seen several posts on Twitter of folks looking for ideas of what to do with their kids while they are all stuck at home together. This has also come up in some of my homeschooling groups as people have friends who normally use brick and mortar schools are asking for advice. The homeschoolers feel like our moment has come! We have insight that can help!

First, I’d say – don’t feel like you have to be doing something educational at all times. The world is stressful right now. If you or your kids need time to decompress, or are unable to focus then you need to just deal with your emotional health. That might be enough for now.

If you are looking for fun things that are also kinda educational to pass some time – I have ideas:

  • Reading. As above, don’t feel like this has to be ‘learning’ type reading. Its okay and good to read for fun. Audiobooks are also great. I get most of mine from my local library via their app (that also includes ebooks). Check out your library system’s website. I bet they have way more remote and digital services than you knew about. Our also has which is streaming movies and documentaries.
  • Art and Science kits. We subscribe to several crates. My 12 year old loves her Tinker and Doodle crates and the older one gets Eureka, but she’s less of a builder so they are hit and miss with how much she gets into them. There are lots of other options. Look around on Amazon for topics they are interested in, or Thames and Kosmos is another one my kids have liked.
  • Just use normal art supplies you have around anyway. Youtube is full of great and often free drawing and painting videos. Also maybe a good time to learn to crochet or do some other craft with the help of Youtube. If there is an art of craft they are interested in, someone has probably made Youtube lessons about it.
  • Other good video stuff: We like Crash Courses on Youtube (science, history, and a bunch of other topics) all fast and fun. BrainPop is also a lot of fun but can be a little pricey for the subscription. They do have a different free video each day though. Tons of topics and very well made. We also watch CNN10 which used to be called Student News – it’s a 10 min news summery each day and while that can get a little heavy they usually work to balance the bad with more upbeat positive stories of people doing good things too, and they always end with a funny (or trying to be funny) pun segment.
  • Board Games! I feel like there has been an explosion of amazing games over the past several years so this is hard to give specific suggestions, but some we have enjoyed are: Timeline (put cards in order of when each event happened in history), Evolution (make your creature the one that survives), Elemento (chemistry), Kloo (Spanish), we also had one that was about the Egyptian Gods and also required multiplication practice that they would even play just for fun, but I can’t find it right now. The point is, just pop your interests into the search bar at an online game store (or on Amazon or Ebay with the word game included) and see what turns up. Like reading, this doesn’t have to be overtly educational either. Exploding Kittens is one of the long time favorites here. All games encourage problem solving.
  • Puzzles too if they enjoy them. They make puzzles about everything. We have the periodic table, human skeleton, various maps, and the tanks of WWII, among many others.
  • Coding. There are probably a lot of resources online for this. All I really know about is Scratch from MIT, but there is probably a lot more out there and varies based on age of your kid. Khan academy might be worth checking out as well. They could be on the computer and learning too.
  • We use Math Mammoth and their website has a few free online math games. Additionally, their small, individual subject workbooks also include a long list on online games and resources for that subject. They were always a nice fall back if the kiddo was sick or tired and not focused enough for workbook work, but still got some math in that day.
  • Cooking – great life skill obviously, but also reading a recipe is learning, using fractions for measuring, etc.

Okay. Believe it or not this was all just off the top of my head, so I have probably left off a lot. If I think of enough additional things, I’ll write a new post. Find out what they are into – what they want to learn about, and help them do it!

If you have specific questions you think I could help with, leave a comment. My kids are in 11th (yikes!) and 7th grades this year and have homeschooled the whole way through. It’s been awhile since they were small, and if anything there is probably even more available out there than we had, but I can try to remember back to help out if needed.

In the meantime, try to walk the tough balance of enjoying the time you have together and not bothering each other too much. (And maybe don’t play the Pandemic board game, especially if anyone in your house is sick. We did that once a couple years ago when my youngest had the flu and she is still a little scared by the experience. )


Christmas AmiguruMe!

I found this adorable book at the library, and decided that THIS is what I was making the girls for their Christmas amigurumi this year. They were more challenging to make than anything I’d tried before, but a challenge is good, and the instructions were great for the most part. I loved the book so much I think I may have to pick myself up a copy to keep. I have 2 more nieces who I’d like to make as gifts. The author/creator also has a book for making pets that looks fun, and one of cute food. If you’re on Raverly her page is worth a look. So much cuteness! And I found a free pattern there for Sneeches (with and without belly stars!) I think I’m making that next.
Eldest daughter AmiguruMe by Kara Hartz

Youngest daughter AmiguruMe by Kara Hartz

Niece AmiguruMe by Kara Hartz
While I don’t think I’ve ever posted photos of my kids, or my niece – trust me, this is exactly what they look like. Those little sandals and flip flops were the toughest, but turned out so cute!


If the Kids I know Are Anything to Go By, the Future is Looking Good

No matter what year it is folks seem to love to complain about ‘teenagers today’. They did it when I was little, they did it when I was a teen, they have always done it and always will. I never really saw it – whatever it was that makes people think the future is in dire straights because of how teens act.

As I get older, I guess I was supposed to see it more- the big problems with teenagers, but frankly, I still don’t. In fact, as my own kiddo has entered her early teen years, and she is hanging out with so many other teen people, I’m feeling more and more reassured.

A couple days ago my teen came on a walk with me and we saw a bag of garbage on the side of the road that had broken and spilled. We chatted about what a mess and a shame it all was, and I would have thought we’d leave it at that. That’s what people do, right? Keep walking. Nope. She thought we needed to clean it up. So we did. We went home, got a garbage bag, gloves and her sister and we picked the garbage up – and all the garbage along the road to and from our house to boot. They even did it with smiles and saying how much nicer the neighborhood looks now. They ain’t wrong.

The tween social group they belong to made Valentines, 90 I think they said, for a local nursing home. All they talked about was how great it was to do something nice for strangers. Their Girl Scout troop voted to grow food in a community garden to donate to the food bank. They have done many other community service projects over the years as well; this isn’t a new thing for them. I was in clubs and scouts as a kid, we didn’t do that sort of thing.

It is possible, likely even, that this amazing generation of teens and tweens of my acquaintance is not typical of all teens everywhere right now, but they’re here. They are full of hope and energy and a desire to help, and they are rubbing off on me. Isn’t that cool?


The Magician’s Nephew, craft project – rings and pocket.

I co-host a kid’s book club. One of my responsibilities is to come up with an activity and/or craft that goes along with our book of the month. Sometimes I’ve found great idea from a simple Google search. After all, we’ve generally stuck to the classics, or books that are commonly taught in classrooms. I’m actually more surprised when I can’t find anything good. It goes to show how spoiled the internet has made me. I expect it to plan everything for me. 
When recently, I didn’t find anything I liked for the book “The Magician’s Nephew” by CS Lewis, I needed to come up with my own craft idea. I decided, since I take so many ideas from other blogs, I should share what I came up with. Only fair.
What I decided to do was to have the kids make their own green and gold rings. First, I thought we’d make them from air drying clay, but the selection at my local craft shop was disappointing. So I wandered into the jewelry making section, and found this neat wire. Even thought I expected it to be more difficult to work with, it would also look way cooler, and that counts for something.
I’ve learned it is always a good idea to test out a project before doing it with a group of kids, so my girls and I tried making rings the night before our book meeting. It was much more difficult than I’d expected. My hat off to jewelry makers who use this stuff. I’d picked a think wire, 16 gauge I think it was. I thought we’d just measure the little fingers, use wire cutters, and pliers to bend. But the pliers also stripped all the beautiful color off the wire, defeating the whole point. So I ended up wrapping the wire around this peg, and precutting the rings, then just passing them out and letting the kids stretch or smoosh them to a good personal fit. 

Now, in the book it is clear that you shouldn’t touch the rings when you don’t want to go into another world, so we needed a pouch or pocket to keep them in. I like felt for kid sewing projects because it is inexpensive, colorful, and super easy to work with. You can leave raw edges without worry. For my sample I sewed a lion on the front of the pouch for decoration, but brought along fabric glue as well, which turned out to be what most of the kids chose to use to add embellishments to their pouches. 
I did need to call on other mom reinforcements when a lot of the kids all needed help threading their needles all at the same time, but otherwise the project went well, and the kids seemed to enjoy their little treasures.
I told them that when they read a book, any book, it is like they are going into another world, so they should put on their outgoing ring (the gold one if I remember correctly). When they’re all done reading and ready to return to our world, they can put on their green ring.

A Safe Haven

There were trees of every size and color, filled with sprouts of new growth and tiny flowers not yet opened. Still none of them seemed right. Some might be adequate; they were near fresh water, others close to food, but those already held nests full of eggs or hatchlings in their boughs. I needed the perfect spot to nest with my new bride, Sparkle. I’d agonized over the decision too long. What if I was too late? 
Watching her bathe in a puddle this morning, I saw how heavy she’d grown with the eggs she carries. We needed a nest soon – very soon, a safe home where our family could thrive. Sparkle put her trust in me and I wouldn’t let her down.
I circled again in desperation, but knew that nothing had changed. There was no choice.  I would have to seek out the Wisdom Willow. I trembled at the idea, my feathers quivering, but knew that keeping Sparkle and the babies sheltered from wind, and concealed from predators was more important than my qualms. 
Will the tree speak to me? I’ve heard she doesn’t care for birds. She lived in a remote, quite corner of the woods. It was rumored that she befriended the squirrels and the thought of a huge squirrel charging almost made me turn back, but I tried to remember what was needed of me. 
What else did they say? I’d need to approach from the ground. She didn’t tolerate anyone in her branches. Speak clearly in a low voice and avoid chirping or singing. The tree was said to be temperamental. I could do everything right and still be sent away.  I was almost there. It was too late to worry now. Just get it over with.
I fought back my fear of the forest floor, forcing myself to land a short distance from the majestic tree. I hopped cautiously, cringing at each rustle of the leaves, trying to watch every direction at once. I was so exposed. It was dim beneath the trees, and I couldn’t see well.  Every breeze and stir made me want to flap away as fast as I could, but soon I was before the mighty willow. Her soaring trunk was very intimidating from my low position. Her branches stretched out, and seemed to hold the rest of the forest away. No other trees dared to let their branches intertwine with hers. I felt foolish for approaching. She would shun me for wasting her time. Maybe I should turn back…
“Windsong, why do you seek me?”  The voice was not loud, but filled the forest with authority.  I shouldn’t have been surprised that she knew my name, but I was. 
I spread my wings, bowing to the Wisdom Willow hoping she couldn’t tell I was shaking.
“Great One, I seek your guidance.” The words came out in a high squeak and I cringed at the sound. “Where shall I nest my family that they may thrive?” That wasn’t what I had meant to say, but my well-prepared speech would not come to my beak.
“You are late in the season to be seeking a nest only now,” she said.
The others were right. I was foolish to come. To her I was only another stupid bird. “Yes,” I managed to chirp, taking a hop backward, ready to fly if I should need. A cold breeze blew through her delicate branches making them float all around me. Was that a sign of anger?
“It has been ages since a bird sought my counsel, and this corner of the woods has been longing for songs,” said the Willow in a creaking, ancient voice. “Little One, you shall build your home in my branches. I’ve missed the joy of children these many years.”  
I released a breath I didn’t know I was holding, and almost toppled over in surprise. Had I heard correctly? The willow saw my confusion and a wispy limb scooped me up. 
“Do not fear me. I know what some say about me, and it doesn’t matter. You trust your own mind and heart over silly gossip, or you would not be here now. You shall be my eyes and ears throughout the woods. I am old. A young, courageous bird would be a welcome helper.”
The tension inside of me faded so quickly, I thought my feathers might fall out. Fluffing myself with pride I said, “Thank you… I am honored.” 
Warm rays of sunlight filtered through her leaves, catching juicy insects and glittering motes of dust in their beams. How had I never noticed the beauty of this region of the forest before?

How I Threw Out Half My Kid’s Toys, And They Thanked Me For It

I’m still a little in shock at how this played out.

Let me begin by saying that I have been concerned for some time about the volume of crap in my kid’s room. I tried talking them into donating some of the toys they don’t play with to kids who don’t have as much. No. Not interested. Then my oldest was on a big kick about earning money, so we had a great talk about selling some of her older stuff at a garage sale. She was only willing to part with one pink fuzzy dice, and strongly felt that $14 was a reasonable asking price for it. So, umm. . . that didn’t go well.

I despaired that one day their belongings would crush them as they slept. Almost literally. There were so many stuffed animals on the top bunk that I didn’t see how my daughter could get in there to go to sleep. “Don’t worry,” she assured me, and burrowed into the pile, her face eventually popping out like in that scene from E.T.

I hadn’t given up, but I was at a loss of how to get them to give up some of these old toys that they hadn’t played with in months, to years. If I pointed out that they had never actually played with a particular item, they would tell me how much they loved it. They remembered who had given it to them, and on what occasion. They seemed to have photographic memories suddenly.

Yet, they almost never wanted to play in their room. They didn’t have a lot of play space, for one. Also, I can only imagine how hard it must have been to find anything particular they may have wanted to play with. The little toy house, for example, was so full from being used as a storage spot, it would have taken awhile to clear out to be able to be used for an actual play session. Something had to give.

I am reading a book right now called “Simplicity Parenting“. It gave me the courage to do what I was too afraid to do on my own. So when the kids were recently having a sleep over with Grandma, my husband and I raided their room. We filled up garbage bags, and give-away boxes, and a pile of baby things for their soon-to-be new cousin, and several large boxes to go into storage. Storage because some things we just weren’t sure how attached they really were to them, but the room was still too full. If we’d made a horrible blunder and taken something that would break their tender little hearts, we wanted to be able to undo it.

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I was so full of guilt. So, so full. When they came home, they would hate me. They would never want another sleep over ever again. They would cry. But I would be strong. They needed some space to play. They needed to be able to see and get to their toys, not have mountains of mysterious piles. I was so afraid of their reaction. As an example of what we removed, the basket in the picture was their bat-tub toys. Before, it was brimming full. So overfilled that you had to pick it up carefully or toys would topple off the heap. Now it’s a little less than half full. Their room was similar in percentages. We took that much away.

One thing I did, to hopefully soften the blow, was get a few new things. Simple things. The book recommended this. We had strongly targeted all those movie and TV character toys in “The Great Purge” as I have come to think of it. The book talked about the virtues of more simple playthings that left more up to the imagination. So I got a small tub of pop-beads and I filled one of their now empty bins with fabric pieces and clothes pins to make forts or whatever. I also got them each a new book and a little bag of cookies (the guilt made me do that – they can’t hate me if I give them cookies, right?)

So the next day we were out until evening. I was so worried about the fallout that was coming when we got home; I was upset and distracted a lot of the day. They didn’t go up to their room right away. I watched them from the corner of my eye. Bracing myself for when they might head for the stairs.

At last it was time for pajamas and they went up to their room. I held my breath. And. . .

They didn’t notice.

The book said they wouldn’t, but I hadn’t believed it. They didn’t know my kids.

Actually, that’s not quite true. They noticed the new things. They saw the beads right away. Then the fabric. They were delighted and began building right then. They gave me hugs. They saw the books on their pillows (the pillows that were now uncovered and could be seen) More hugs for me. Then they looked at their storage bins. “Okay, here it comes,” I thought, “They’ll see now everything that’s missing.”

No. They saw toys they hadn’t seen in forever. They were even more thrilled. “Hey! Here’s my airplane! Thanks Mama for finding it!” They ran around the room, noticing all the things that had been buried and invisible before. They thanked their father and me over and over again for organizing their room. They saw books on their shelves that they’d been looking for but couldn’t find. Another hug.

Why didn’t I do this before?

Because it felt mean. But it wasn’t. They were overwhelmed. There was just too much there. They are so beloved by so many people who love to give them things, it had smothered them. I am sure eventually – probably tomorrow – they will notice something is missing. Then I’ll tell them about the storage. Maybe we’ll rotate some storage items back and some of what they have now away from time to time. Maybe we won’t. But one thing is sure – my room is next and I only hope I can be as brutal with my own belonging, because I’m feeling a little smothered too.


Learning to Ride: No pedals required

Image: graur codrin /

I guess this isn’t a new idea, but I’d never heard about it before. Learning to ride a bike without any pedals on it. Frankly, it sounded like a stupid idea to me when I first heard about it, but now I’m a believer.

My brother in law thought this would be a great way to teach my oldest daughter to ride a bike. I’d had no luck getting her to try learning at all, she was pretty fearful about the whole thing, so I said, “Why not?” Now in an amazingly short amount of time, she is riding all over the place, with pedals now – no training wheels ever.

The concept is that learning to ride a bike with no pedals separates the steering and balancing part of the learning process from the peddling part. Training wheels do that too, but they teach balancing last, whereas a bike with no wheels teaches peddling last. I learned to ride with training wheels, and I remember how terrified I was at the idea of those trainers coming off. I think that peddling is nothing compared to the difficulty of learning to balance. After watching my daughter learn to ride this way, I wonder why anyone tries to learn to peddle before they can balance.

An important key I should mention is that when her bike had no pedals, her seat was low, so she could easily stop herself by putting her feet down, and she had good brakes. So she’d scoot around on this thing, looking kinda silly, but when she came to a little downhill area, she’d coast, and keep her feet up. Just a second at first, but gradually longer and longer (actually not all that gradually, she extended her coasting time with feet up quite a bit in a matter of days) until she could turn, and stay balanced the whole time.

So when her uncle put the pedals back on, now she didn’t need a downhill to ride anymore. She had power to go uphill too if she wanted. And that’s all there was to it. She was riding. What I noticed was that when she came to an uphill that forced her to go slowly, and she began to wobble – this is the part where I distinctly remember panicking as a child learning to ride, and I’d stop to put my feet down from fear of falling over – but she didn’t. She wasn’t concerned at all. She knew how to stay up just fine. She even knew, on her own from her coasting practice, that all she needed was to get up a little more speed to make the balancing even easier. It was so cool to watch.

This kid is quite a little creature of habit, and I’m so thankful that we will never have to break her from relying on training wheels. I fought tooth and nail to keep mine when I was learning, and I’m thrilled not to have to live that again from the other side.

I was looking for a link about this concept to include (I decided it wasn’t necessary – just google for info if you want to know more), and was surprised to find a bunch of places selling special bikes with no pedals on them for this purpose. So in case anyone doesn’t know it – you can take the pedals off a regular bike. No need to buy a special ‘balance training’ bike or anything like that. But I highly recommend this method!


Peanut Butter and Pickles and Squirrels

We went camping (in a cabin with a bathroom, so not too rough) last weekend. After lunch one day we left our jar of peanut butter out on the table. I didn’t think about it since some other members or our group were still eating when I left to take a kiddo to the potty, and everyone was leaving when we came out, I didn’t think to check if they cleaned up (I’m a trusting soul that way).

So everyone knows what happens to food left out at a campsite, right? But since I thought it was packed away, I didn’t look for it later.

Fast forward to the following morning.

The kids were playing with a ball that fell down into a small ravine that ran next to our picnic tables. Auntie bravely trekked down the slope to retrieve the ball, and said, “Hey Kara, your peanut butter is down here!” So I climbed down there too. We’d seen squirrels watching us during mealtimes from the ravine, and from the looks of the jar I got back, that’s who made off with the peanut butter. Which is pretty impressive since the jar probably weighed as much as the squirrel.

Looks like they were frustrated by the jar though, and eventually gave up. There were a couple of small scratches on the bottom of the jar, but nothing like what you see here on the lid. That makes me wonder – were these squirrels (who live at a campsite and are no strangers to human food containers) familiar enough with peanut butter jars to know that they could get in through the lid, or did the lid end just smell better? Because it occurs to me that if they chewed at the bottom as much as they chewed at the lid, they probably could have made it through the much thinner plastic on that part of the jar. But they didn’t. Silly squirrels.

Oh, and the pickles. . . Well, Grandma made a comment (when she went into the ravine after the ball on a separate occasion) about all the weed prickles that got stuck in her socks. There were all sorts of burs, spores, and foxtails down there. My littlest spent some time thereafter concerned about getting pickles (that’s how she said it) in her own socks, and had to examine everyone’s feet frequently in constant worry, lest the pickles attack someone else. Gotta watch out for those darn pickles.


A pocket quilt

This is a project that I’d wanted to make for a long time and never seemed to get around to. I decided to make it a Christmas gift to force myself into a deadline. Luckily the kiddo loves it.

For awhile we were spending every morning searching for some tiny lost plastic animal. I’m not a morning person, so moving furniture is not what I’m hoping to do as soon as I roll out of bed. So I made the rule that only stuffed animals are allowed in bed at night. Then we started a ritual of carefully lining the “hard critters” as they are affectionately called up on the dresser at bedtime where they could be seen from bed.

The pocket quilt has saved the day!

Now it hags next to the bed. Each critter gets happily tucked into their own pocket at bedtime, and they are still there in the morning. No searching through blankets. No dragging the bed far enough from the wall to get an arm down there. Yea!

Plus, it’s cute – if I do say so myself. Decoration and storage all in one. Maybe I need one for my room now. . .

It’s super simple. I did it without a pattern, but I could probably write instructions up if anyone is interested. I just figured out how big I wanted it to be and worked backward from there for the size of each block and pocket. I know I’ve seen more elaborate versions out there too.


I Spy Forever

I think I’ve made it clear by now that I love I spy quilts. I’ve loved them since I was a little girl snuggled under the quilt my grandma made. So I don’t know why it should surprise me that my girls love them to. Maybe there is something universally appealing about all those neat pictures and patterns.

I made a twin sized I spy quilt for my first born when she moved from her baby bed to her big girl bed. My second daughter is still in her crib, and will be for quite awhile, but I’m already planning quilts for her too. I’d imagined that I’d make her something different. Couldn’t decide what exactly, but just different.

Then yesterday we were playing on big sister’s bed and she was just fascinated with the I spy quilt. We often play with the smaller I spy security blankets I made for her, and she just loves that. But the big bed quilt was even more amazing to her. She would point at a square and look at me waiting for me to tell her what the picture was. I was surprised how long she stayed focused and kept wanting to play (although I shouldn’t have been).

I think she’ll be getting her own I spy quilt one day too. Different is overrated when the good old stuff still brings in so much fun.

I’m actually working on an alphabet quilt for big sister now. It’s taking a while because I got the hot idea to find fabric with pictures for each letter (apple print for A, Blue fabric for B, etc.) Turns out some letters are a bit tricky to find. So that can be my fun and different quilt to make for now. Baby sister will get a different quilt too one day. It’s fun making new kinds of quilts, and no matter how careful we are, everything still needs to be washed from time to time. But the I spy is a necessity in this house.