Five Ways to Beat the Heat This Summer

Posted 07-24-2015 at 08:00 AM by admin

beat the heat

It’s summertime and that means it’s HOT outside. But that doesn’t mean we have to stay cooped up in the house with nothing to do. Moms and kids alike can get stir crazy being inside all day long. Below are some fun options to beat the heat this summer (with kids!):

Hit the mall: This fun outing is sure to make mom and kids happy. Many mall locations have a children’s play area. And I’ve also noticed that quite a few have a coffee shop next door to the play area. How convenient is that? Not to mention air conditioning!

Cheap Movies: Check your local theater for $1 or FREE movies during the summer for the kids (parents are free/discounted too!). If your area does not participate, consider viewing a matinee at a discounted price.

Water Play: Head outside with the kids for a water balloon toss. Or flip on the hose for a fun afternoon of water play. Fill a baby pool and splash around to cool off on a hot afternoon. If you’re in an area with a local splash pad, you’re in luck! Have a beach or lake nearby? What a great way to cool off and the kids will spend hours playing in the sand!

Morning/evening walks and bike rides: Head on out as the sun is coming up or setting. Avoid the hottest parts of the day, yet still have sunlight for safety. We take morning walks and evening bike rides as a family during the summer months to burn off some energy.

YMCA Pool: Check local listings for your community pool or YMCA. Even if you’re not a member, you can pay a small fee to utilize the pool and/or gym for some fun!

For more options, go online and find a local moms group and/or playgroup. Local play groups tend to be even more active during the summer months. Some will take turns hosting play dates at each members home, head to the movies together, visit local museums, pools, libraries, and parks as a group. The options are endless. Also, as a group, many local venues offer a discount because so many people are attending together at once. So, joining a group has multiple benefits – finding new friends, keeping busy, and saving money.



Diaper Swapers

Crafts For Small Children: Yarn Ragdolls

Posted 05-7-2015 at 06:16 PM by Ellen

Ragdolls have a long history as children’s toys, although many have not survived the centuries due to being made from common household fibers, which were already worn and degraded to the point of near-disintegration. You can make a friendly little ragdoll for your kiddo using nothing more than a book, scissors and some scrap yarn.

First, grab a book. It can be any size, but the size of the book determines the size of your ragdoll. A bigger book means a larger ragdoll and vice versa. The thickness of the book doesn’t matter, but it should have some heft to it. Hardcover books are best. Remove any dust jackets before using the book for this project – you don’t want to damage it.

yarn doll 1

• Wrap your yarn into a working ball. Most yarn comes in a log-form called a hank or skein. This is helpful for some projects, but for our purposes, we need a good, solid ball.

• Wind the yarn around three of your fingers approximately ten times. Remove the yarn from your fingers and start wrapping the yarn around the center of the loops you just made.

• Keep wrapping in different directions until you form a ball. You don’t need much yarn for this project – 80 yards is more than enough to produce a sizable ragdoll that any child will love and adore.

yard doll 2

• Now that you’ve got your ball of yarn and book, it’s time to start winding the yarn around the book. This forms the body, head, arms and legs of your ragdoll.

yarn doll 3

• Anchor one end of the yarn to the center front of the book using your finger and begin winding the yarn ball around the book vertically. Keep winding until you run out of yarn – the more yarn you use, the thicker and more plush your doll will be.

• Next, insert your scissors under the wraps at one end of the book, where the space between the hardbound covers and pages creates a gap. Cut through all the strands of yarn and leave the yarn folded in half.

yarn doll 4

• Cut six extra strands of yarn, each approximately 5 inches in length. Wrap and tie one about 2 inches down from the folded center of the yarn. This creates the “head” of the yarn rag doll.

yarn doll 5

• “Guesstimate” and separate out two equal chunks of yarn for the arm and two equal chunks of yarn for the legs. Tie and knot each chunk about half an inch from the cut end.

yarn doll 6

• The sixth and final extra strand of yarn goes to separate the legs from the torso. Tie this piece of yarn approximately halfway between the midpoint from the tie that created the head and the ties that hold the legs together.

You now have a very rustic yarn ragdoll that took under than ten minutes and less than $5.00 in materials to make.

• Get fancy and creative – make clothes for the doll by cutting up old socks or wrapping additional colors of yarn around different sections of the doll.
• If your child is old enough for it to be safe, you can even hot-glue googly eyes to the doll to give her a face or tie on brightly-colored strands of yarn to the head for hair.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to creating your yarn ragdoll.

Winter Treasure Hunt

Posted 05-7-2015 at 06:09 PM by Ellen

Getting your kids to play outside in the winter months can be more challenging than in warmer months. In the summer, kids spend hours riding bikes, splashing in the pool, running under the sprinklers and playing baseball, kickball, tag and hide-and-go-seek.

In the winter, once the kids are all bundled up and escorted out the door, once the snowman is built, there have been a couple of snowball battles and the sled-riding is completed, kids want to come back in and warm up.

When that happens, it can be a challenge to get them back out again. Children who do not get enough exercise all year long can become obese – and this could have life-long consequences. According to the Mayo Clinic, obesity in childhood can lead to medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type II Diabetes and other ailments that can have a negative impact on the quality of life of the child when he becomes an adult.

This is why proper diet and exercise are important for children. Controlling their diet in the winter can be handled easily enough, but how can you make sure your kids get enough exercise during the coldest months of the year?

You can create games that allow them to move around while they are outside. One such game called Winter Treasure Hunt requires kids to scour a location searching for buried items such as Christmas decoration, toys or other items.

Things you’ll need:
• Small toys, trinkets such as Christmas decorations, party favors
• Jars or another type of container

Setting up the game:
• Collect the items you plan to use in the game and bury them in the snow in the area where the game is going to be played. You want to make sure that part of the item is still visible so the kids can find it.
• Create a map of where items are hidden and give the kids hints about where the “treasures” are buried (keep a copy to use later to retrieve any items the kids didn’t find).

Put toys or other items that might be damaged by cold or snow in a clear plastic baggie. Kids can still see the item, and the item is safe from the elements.

Playing the game:
• Send the kids outside with the knowledge that there is treasure to be found and give out clues when necessary.

• Watch hilarity ensue as kids run around the location seeking out treasure.

• You can also add hints or clues to where things are buried throughout the location on index cards or signs placed throughout the search area. This can help kids hone their reasoning and logic skills.

• If you have a lot of kids participating, you can create teams and let the kids search for the buried treasure together. This develops teamwork skills.

• Once the kids begin to find treasure, it’s placed in jars or containers. The kid or team with the most items in a jar wins. The prize could be the items in their jar or something else.

This could also be turned into a neighborhood event, with all the kids and families on the block participating. It could be used as a way to gather the community together and enjoy some time outdoors as kids and parents go from house-to-house with their maps and jars looking for treasure.

However the game is arranged, it’s an ideal way to get the kids to spend extra time outside on a winter day once the sled riding is done and the snowman is erected and guarding the front yard.

The Pole Bean Mystery

Posted 05-7-2015 at 06:07 PM by Ellen

Dried beans are trendy again – and with good reason. Where else can you find a solid source of protein that makes vegetarians happy, while costing a fraction of other protein sources? Beans are a healthy, fat free ingredient that can be the star in lots of family-friendly meals, from Southwest chili to New England baked beans. Most people are familiar with the more common dried beans, including black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans and lima beans, but there are dozens of different bean varieties you can try.

Growing your own dried beans is very simple. The dried beans you harvest might be very different, but most of the vines themselves will be very similar. The leaves may differ in size and some of the vines are taller, but most bean plants look pretty much the same – especially to your kids. Knowing this gives you the perfect opportunity to teach your children about plants passing on their traits through their seeds.

Getting started
Share in some garden fun along with learning all summer long by helping your kids to grow a row of bean plants. Beans are simple to grow and mostly maintenance-free, so even the smallest preschooler can help enough to feel like he or she is growing a garden.

Plant four or five of the same type of seed, adding differing varieties until you’ve planted an entire row. As the plants grow, the plot will look like a uniform wall of vines. When you harvest the bean pods at the end of the growing season your kids will be able to see the variety of beans you’ve grown.

The ultimate seed source
If you’ve looked through seed catalogs, you might think this little garden plot will cost a small fortune because you’ll be planting about a dozen different bean types. On top of that, most of the seeds will probably never even get planted. Think of the waste! But, if you take advantage of a little known packaging fact, your entire mixed seed collection will only cost you a dollar or two.

• When beans are picked for packaging that’s aimed at the grocery store, they aren’t allowed to have any pesticides or other chemicals sprayed on them before being bagged. What you have is simply a large bag filled with dried bean seeds.

• Check your grocery store dried bean section. Almost every store stocks bags of 12-bean soup mix, 15-bean soup mix or some other variety of bean seeds. They may make a tasty meal, but you can also separate out a handful of each bean and save them before using the rest of the package.

• The dried soup beans will last a year or more. Most multi-bean soup bags include such beans as pinto, kidney, lima, black, red, and about a dozen others, with possibly some split peas and other seeds. Choose smooth, whole seeds, and place half a dozen of each into an envelope, saving them aside until the spring thaw.

Planting with the kids
There probably isn’t a kid alive who doesn’t love an excuse to dig a hole. Imagine their delight when you let them dig an entire trench along the fence in the back yard. Show them how to dig about six inches from a chain link fence or other sturdy support, in a trench about six inches wide. Once the soil is prepared, have them plant groups of each seed, placing the seeds about two inches apart until the trench is filled.

Growing seasons vary
Watch the moisture levels in your bean garden. If you live in an arid area or if you don’t get rain for a week or so, give the bean patch about an inch of water from the hose. It’s healthier to let the kids soak the row once or twice a week rather than giving them a short sprinkle every day. Watch the growing vines with your kids and mention any differences you might notice in the color or size differences in the vines and leaves.

When the vines begin to die back and the bean pods are showing signs of becoming dry and brittle, it’s time to harvest your crops.

• Pull them all at the same time and drop them into a grocery bag.
• Once you’ve got them all together, compare how the pods look next to each other and talk about what kind of seed they think might be inside.
• Crack open the pods to solve the mystery, putting the contents of each type of pod into a different bowl or storage container.

There are benefits far beyond the simple act of planting and caring for a garden for children. If they plant and grow something, chances are they will eat it. And the simple act of getting outdoors and working with the earth will grow an appreciation of nature within them.

Paper Bead Necklace

Posted 05-7-2015 at 06:05 PM by Ellen

If you’re looking for a fun, green craft to do with your kids, consider rolling up a paper bead necklace. The beads can be made from any type of paper – from vintage wallpaper to catalogs to old magazines – the more colorful, the better. Of course, plain old paper beads will take on a whole new personality by adding a little paint and glitter. The possibilities for creating wearable art out of recycled materials are endless and limited only by your imagination.

• You’ll need paper, of course. A dozen sheets of printer-sized paper is more than enough for a single, child-sized necklace.
• Scissors are also a must – you’ll need them to shape the paper. If your child is old enough, a pair of safety scissors will come in handy with some of the cutting work.
• A pencil or other rounded implement, such as a wooden spoon or knitting needle, is necessary for winding the paper beads (the wider the diameter of the implement, the wider the hole in the bead). Some art beads have miniscule holes, but for the purposes of crafting with your child, a pencil-sized hole should do just fine.
• Plain white crafting glue works well, although little fingers may do better with glue sticks. If you want the project to last long after the crafting is done, consider using a medium such as Mod Podge to coat the finished beads.
• String, yarn or twine is necessary for stringing the finished beads into a necklace.

Cut it out
The basic shape of a paper bead is an isosceles triangle. If it’s been a while since you’ve taken basic mathematics, an isosceles triangle has two equal sides. Cut each piece of paper into one or more long, skinny triangles with one shorter side.

It doesn’t matter how you do this, but using a ruler and pencil to draw out the triangles beforehand can maximize how many beads you get out of a sheet. You can also cut as you please, choosing the most appealing patterns from each sheet of paper.

• Wrap a triangle around your pencil, starting with the widest end. The longer, tapered ends will form visible layers as the paper is rolled.
• Add a dot or dab of glue to the tapered point of the triangle and hold it there until it dries. Yes, you’re literally waiting for glue to dry. Repeat this process for each bead.
• If you want to give your finished beads a glossy finish and a longer lifespan, now is the time to break out the Mod Podge. Coat each bead entirely and set them aside to dry.

Making the necklace
Cut a length of yarn approximately 24 inches long – this will you enough length to easily string your beads, tie a secure knot and still have a pretty long necklace. Tie a large knot at one end of the yarn to stop the beads from sliding off as you string them and string your paper beads onto the yarn in whatever pattern is most pleasing. When your necklace is complete, tie both free ends in a secure knot.

If your child enjoys the stringing process, more than the finished product, simply leave the necklace untied so your child can have hours of fun just stringing and re-stringing the beads. In fact, it can become an activity set rather than a one-time jewelry piece. Let your and your child’s combined creativity guide you.

Gardening with Kids – Making Pots and Starting Seeds

Posted 05-7-2015 at 06:03 PM by Ellen

Every mom has food problems with her kids. Some won’t eat soup, others can’t stand foods to touch each other and a surprising amount of little ones refuse to eat vegetables. Other than pulling your hair out or trying the old “Just one bite!” routine, how can you get your kids to eat a balanced diet if the only green food they’ll try is lime yogurt?

Smart moms over the years have realized that kids will go along with almost anything as long as you make a game or a project out of it, especially if they think they’re doing something only grownups usually do. Think about it, how many parents “let” their kids wash the car every weekend? The same goes for getting kids to eat a variety of vegetables. Give them their own garden plot, let them put in a variety of seeds and you’ll have youngsters eager to try green beans and carrots all summer long.

There’s something about doing it themselves that make even the smallest kids proud and happy – especially when growing food for the family dinner table. Planting tomatoes and peppers is simple enough for even preschool children to do with a little help and learning about growing food is a great way for kids to appreciate living a greener lifestyle.

Planning a garden
Very few vegetables are complicated to grow, but the reliable basics are best for teaching kids how to garden, just to help guarantee good results. Among the best for children to grow are:

• Tomatoes
• Peppers
• Broccoli
• Marigolds (for natural bug repellant)

Look through seed catalogs with your kids and let them help you choose interesting varieties of foods, such as yellow tomatoes or purple broccoli. Weird veggies are cool and much more fun for kids to grow.

Making seedling pots
Instead of using plastic containers that just end up in the landfill, why not have kids make their own biodegradable seedling pots? They’ll hold up on a sunny windowsill while the seedlings are starting and they’ll help condition your garden soil when they break down later in the season. All you’ll need are some old newspapers, an empty soup can or similar sized container and some masking tape.

• Have your children tear the newspaper sheets into individual full-sized pages, then fold each page in half vertically or lengthwise.
• Lay an empty soup can at the top of the folded strip with the bottom of the can about 2 inches in from the cut edge of the paper. The folded edge of the newspaper should extend beyond the open end of the can.
• Roll the can down the length of the paper to wrap the can.
• When you get to the end of the strip, pick up the paper-wrapped can and fold the loose edges of the paper over the bottom of the can to enclose it. Keep these folds in place with a piece of masking tape.
• Hold the paper firmly and slip the can from the inside of the paper pot.
• Fold the open edge of the pot inside about half an inch all the way around the pot. This will stabilize the rim area.
• Fill the pot with potting soil and have your child plant garden seeds inside. Line up pots in a row on a tray or cookie sheet and water each pot to keep the seeds moist.
• Keep the tray in a warm spot out of direct sunlight until most of the seeds have sprouted, then move the tray to a sunny location.

Planting your garden
Once the seedlings have developed two sets of true leaves, which are the larger, firmer leaves that form after the first seedling leaves have fallen off, it’s time to transplant into the garden.

• Choose a sunny spot where the plants will have room to grow and prepare the soil by digging and loosening the ground.
• Plant the seedlings inside the paper pots, making sure the entire pot is buried. Leaving some of the paper sticking above ground will allow moisture to wick away into the air, causing the roots to dry out. A completely buried pot will break down, helping to add nutrients to the soil as your vegetables grow.

Spend the spring and summer teaching your kids about how plants flower and produce foods and allow them to harvest their own plants when they’re ripe and ready to eat. A quick swish under the hose before letting them take that first bite will be all the preparation they need for the ultimate gardener’s reward: food as fresh and tasty as can be.

Knitting with Kids

Posted 05-7-2015 at 05:58 PM by Ellen

Knitting and kids – two things that you don’t usually think to put together. But knitting is actually the perfect activity for kids – in fact, children as young as 3 years old have been learning the art for centuries.

More recently, Scandinavian schools and Waldorf Schools have been teaching knitting to elementary-school aged children as a basic life skill. Knitting works on fine motor skills, cognitive abilities, reasoning skills and basic math skills. Knitting also allows children to tap into their creativity, play with colors and focus on a task for an extended period.

A sense of accomplishment comes from completing a knitting project at a young age – even if the stitches are slightly uneven or one or two are dropped; it’s something created by his or her own two hands. Here are a few tips on getting your child started with knitting.

Forming the stitches
As a parent, you may need to cast on for a child. This is something even adult beginners struggle with – websites such as offer video tutorials to help you get started. Older children might be able to comprehend the movements and want to try themselves, so encourage it!

Forming the basic knit stitch is really the meat and bones of teaching a child to knit. An old nursery rhyme encourages the basic movement memory of forming a knit stitch:

“In through the front door,
around the back,
Out through the window,
And off jumps Jack!”

• “In through the front door” represents putting the knitting needle in through the front of the stitch.
• “Around the back” reminds children to wrap the yarn around the working needle from back to front.
• “Out through the window” represents taking the working needle under the non-working needle.
• “Off jumps Jack!” is telling the knitter to let the old stitch fall from the non-working needle, completing a fully-formed new stitch.

Knitting tools
Experienced knitters know there are a variety of needle sizes from the ultra-tiny 000 to the ultra-large size 75. For a beginning child knitter, choose a medium sized needle – sizes 9 or 10 work well in small hands.

Let the child pick their own yarn. Some knitters advocate for natural fibers like wool – partially because they don’t slip, but there really is something to be said for manmade fibers like acrylic. They come in bright colors and are machine washable and dryable, ensuring that any project your child makes will withstand hours of wear or playtime. Plus, acrylic yarn is cheaper, especially in comparison to wool. If your kid doesn’t like knitting or abandons the project for a while, the monetary investment is minimal.

Choosing a first project
Choosing a good first project depends on knowing your child.

• Are they in it for the long haul?
• Do they want a certain item of clothing?
• Do they just want to learn the basics?
• If you’re looking for an instant gratification project, a swatch that can become a doll blanket, rug, or piece of a larger child-sized blanket later on can’t be beaten.
• Work in simple garter stitch (knit every stitch of every row), or teach more adventurous children the purl stitch and let them work in stockinette stitch (knit one row, purl one row).
• For kids working in garter stitch, letting them change color at the end of every row or whenever the mood strikes them can really keep their attention.

Remember, the first project your child makes might not be aesthetically beautiful or technically perfect, but it will be unique and lovely because THEY made it.

Indoor Snowball Toss

Posted 05-7-2015 at 05:58 PM by Ellen

Winter means snow, sledding, making snowmen and snowball fights. But there are some days during winter that mean snow days from school – days when it is too cold or too snowy to head outside. On those days finding things for the kids to do can be a challenge.

Housebound, stir-crazy kids can keep parents from finishing what they need to accomplish, so having a few indoor activities that conjure up the outside is always a great idea. The indoor snowball toss allows your kids to throw snowballs indoors without getting everything wet. Who doesn’t love that?

What you need:
• 10 Styrofoam cups
• Markers
• Six large pom poms

Let your kids decorate the cups with the markers. Older kids can make snowmen, add animal faces or create a decorative pattern on the cups. Younger kids may just scribble, but that’s okay. It’s an enjoyable activity for all the kids that keeps them happily occupied.

Setting up the cups
Once the kids have completed coloring the cups, place them on the floor in a pyramid pattern with the point facing toward you. The cups will look like how bowling pins are set up at a bowling alley:

• Four cups in the fourth (back) row
• Three cups in the third row
• Two cups in the second row
• One cup in the front
• Make sure the kid’s artwork is facing forward.

Playing the game
• The object of the game is to toss the pom poms into the cups, scoring one point for each pom that lands in a cup.
• Before the game starts, players decide how many rounds each game lasts, usually between three and five rounds.
• Each child takes a turn tossing the poms into the cups, with older kids standing further away from the cup than younger kids. The kid with the most points at the end of the game wins.

From a child development standpoint, the game helps your child work on his hand-eye coordination, as well as group play etiquette. The game can be played by a lot of kids at once, so not only does it work for an indoor activity because of the weather, it can be a game played at birthday parties or other gatherings with a large group of kids.

How to Grow a Sunflower Playhouse

Posted 05-7-2015 at 05:55 PM by Ellen

Is there a kid alive that doesn’t love a fort, a tent or a secret backyard spot? Children seem to be born with a need for small spaces where they can let their imaginations run free. From magical campsites underneath picnic tables to blanket tent “castles” in the dining room, kids love to play in their own special cozy spaces.

Imagine if – instead of using a temporary shelter, your children could have a semi-permanent spot in your backyard – a place that felt completely private inside, but was open enough so that mom or dad could easily keep an eye on their antics.

If you’re willing to give up a piece of your gardening space, you can create a spot like this for your kids to enjoy all summer. Growing a sunflower playhouse for your kids will not only add a bit of whimsy to your landscape, it can be used as a base around which you can grow other flowers. Big enough for them to pretend to camp out in, a sunflower playhouse is also cozy enough for secret club meetings.

Mapping the playhouse
The size of your custom playhouse will naturally depend on the available space in your yard and how many of your (and the neighborhood) kids will be in it at one time or another. Most of the time your kids will only have one or two friends inside the secret playhouse, so unless you’ve got a giant pack of kids constantly roaming through your backyard, you won’t need to increase the size.

• Have your child lay down on the ground where you’ll grow the playhouse and mark his or her height on the ground. Do the same thing in the other direction so you have basic vertical and horizontal measurements.

• Dig a trench about six inches outside of each measurement, surrounding the entire central area. It goes without saying that you’ll need to situate the playhouse on a flat piece of ground in the sunshine, but locating it on a nice patch of grass is especially comfortable.

Growing the walls

• When you have the trench dug, it’s time to plant the walls. Timing will depend on where you live in the country, but if you aren’t sure of the best time to plant for your region, squeeze a handful of garden soil. If it crumbles like chocolate cake, it’s ready to plant. If the soil stays in a muddy clump, give it a week or two and test again.

• Once the soil is ready, plant sunflower seeds two inches deep and six inches apart in the trench that circles the play area. Don’t forget to leave a space for the doorway!

• When choosing the sunflower seeds for this project, look for one of the super-tall varieties such as Sunforest, Mammoth Russian or American Giant. These will all grow plants at least 10 feet tall, making most impressive playhouse walls.

Filling in the walls

After the sunflowers have grown to about a foot in height, fill in the spaces between them by planting sweet pea, clematis or moonflower. These fast-growing, aromatic vines will twine themselves between the sturdy sunflower stalks, adding another leafy layer to the walls.

By the middle of summer, you’ll have a green roofless house in your yard, with flowers and vines covering the outside and inside walls. Make sure to have your kids water the planting trench each week when it doesn’t rain. Sunflowers originally developed in areas that lacked water, so they can survive with some abuse and lack of water, but they’ll grow taller and sturdier if they’re well cared for throughout the growing season.

Once the sunflowers reach above your head, the sunflower playhouse may be your kids’ favorite place to play all summer long. It’s perfect for laying in the grass reading a book, holding club meetings, having an afternoon snack or for a little privacy. A sunflower playhouse holds no bounds for imaginative kids.

How to Grow a Birdhouse

Posted 05-7-2015 at 05:55 PM by Ellen

Hanging a birdhouse is a great way for kids to learn about the cycle of life and the birds living in your neighborhood. Most children enjoy watching the antics of the birds living in your yard, but they’ll be even more fascinated if they grew the birdhouse themselves. Instead of hammering together a few boards, your children can take a tip from Native Americans and early settlers by growing a special birdhouse gourd and turning it into a home for your feathered neighbors.

The best gourd
Birdhouses are most commonly made using a special type of gourd, which, when dried correctly, become as hard as wood. In fact, some gourds are even carved into tools like wood. Your birdhouse will enjoy some drilling and carving before the project is finished. The first part is easy, though.

Look through an online seed catalog for birdhouse gourd seeds. They’re specially grown to be the size and shape that birds prefer. While other gourds will work for this project, birdhouse gourds will give you the best results.

Growing the gourd
Check the seed packet to find the best planting time for your region. When the soil has warmed enough for your variety, plant the gourd seeds near a sturdy fence or structure to which the vines can attach and climb. This will allow the gourds to grow without being twisted, avoiding any rotting that can happen when gourds sit on damp or wet ground for long periods of time. After the vines have died back in the fall, cut the gourds from the dead foliage, leaving about 2 inches of stem attached to the gourd.

Preparing the gourd
Gourds need to be completely dry before they can be turned into birdhouses. Lay the gourds in a spot where air can reach the entire surface, like over an old window screen in a protected garage. Drying will take months, so plan to make the birdhouses in the spring. If you shake a gourd and hear the seeds rattling inside, it’s dry enough to be used.

Make a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water and pour it in a bucket. Place the gourd in the solution and let it soak for 15 minutes. This will kill any bacteria that might turn into mold and rot your birdhouse later in the season. Once the soaking is done, allow the gourd to air dry.

Making the birdhouse
Birds need a way to get into the birdhouse, so a doorway should be cut into the gourd. Surprisingly enough, each variety of bird will only use a birdhouse with a certain size of doorway hole. You can see the right size of doorway hole for the type of bird you’re trying to attract in this chart.

• Use a keyhole saw or doorknob cutter to saw a hole in the upper half of the gourd’s side. You can add a perch by drilling a small hole right beneath the doorway and inserting a twig, a shortened dowel or even a colorful pencil. Drill about four small holes in the bottom of the gourd for drainage and two holes near the top for the hanger.

• After all this drilling, your kids are probably eager to pitch in, so this is where they get to have some fun by painting and decorating the birdhouse. House paint is weather-resistant and available in a wide range of colors. Decorative art, using permanent markers or other artistic mediums, can be applied to the gourd later, once the paint is dry.

Be sure to keep to lighter paint colors so any baby birds won’t be too hot inside, but otherwise let your kids’ imaginations go wild. When they’re done decorating the gourds, slide a wire through the top holes in the gourd and hang the birdhouses in the trees in your yard. Make sure you hang the gourds where the birds will get a bit of privacy without interfering with your view.