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.

Diaper Swapers

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.

Homemade Snow Globes

Posted 05-7-2015 at 05:54 PM by Ellen

homemade snowglobe

If you’re the parent of a small child, chances are high that you’ve got at least one or two empty baby food jars floating around. These things multiply like rabbits – you only buy one or two but they just keep showing up in the pantry. And after the contents are gobbled up by your adoring little one, you just don’t want to throw away the containers.

After all, they’re perfectly good glass jars. Of course, after you’ve organized your push-pins, rubber bands, hair ties, crayons, nuts, bolts, nails, washers and every other tiny thing you’ve accumulated, you still have a mountain of jars left. Why not make something beautiful and fun from them?

homemade snowglobe supplies

A note on supplies

• For the purpose of this article, a glass shaker jar with a replaceable, solid lid is being used. Toddlers love throwing things and baby food jars might not always hold up to a solid pitch into the floor or an even more solid object. Similar containers can be found at your local discount stores.

Next up, you’ve get to choose the contents of your snow globe. Think of snow globes as miniature dioramas. You can put anything in there, as long as it will fit on the lid of the jar.

For my project, I again turned to the local dollar store and picked out some super-cool dinosaurs that any little boy or girl would love instantly. After locating the ones my daughter hadn’t hidden, I decided on a blue Tyrannosaurus Rex. Unfortunately, you don’t see him in the final project – which brings me to my next point: Glue.

Glitter and glue

You’ll want to use a glue that will stand up to being immersed in baby oil. Some websites mention that straight water works just as well, but I discovered that baby oil lets the glitter (or “snow”) swirl at a much slower, languid pace and it captures my child’s interest longer.

Because the glue I initially chose was not oil-resistant, Mr. T-Rex did not stay put and was cut from the project. E-6000 is a two-part epoxy resin that only cures when the two parts of the glue are mixed together. I recommend this as it’s not only oil resistant – it’s pretty much resistant to everything – including prying toddler fingers. Always have an adult do the gluing, lest you end up at the emergency room with a sticky, craft-related problem.

You’ll also need glitter. I chose red glitter, but any type of large-cut glitter will do. Let your child mix colors or choose just one color for a display piece. Again, I found mine at the dollar store. A three-pack set me back – you guessed it – a dollar.

Putting it all together

Remove the label from your jar. Hot water and dish soap should take most of it off, but if not, you’ve already got baby oil on hand to take off the rest of the gunk left behind.

Open the jar and glue your diorama bits to the inside of the lid of the jar. Be creative in your placement, or just stick ‘em on there. Again, make sure the adult crafter is doing the gluing. Keep little fingers away from the glue at all times!

Add the baby oil to your jar. You’ll want to fill it ALMOST to the top, but not quite. Leave enough space for your diorama items and the glitter. A little empty space is not a problem in the finished project – it will still look beautiful and provide hours of fun.

Add the glitter to the jar – carefully. A tiny, one-ounce container of glitter was almost too much for the jar I used, so add the glitter in small amounts until you’re satisfied. You can always add more glitter, but getting it back out is nearly impossible once it’s floating in the baby oil.

When you’re happy with the glitter-baby oil ratio, coat the inner lip of the jar lid in glue and screw it on tight. Wait for the glue to dry and then hand it to your kiddo for some snow-globing fun. Remember – this quick and easy craft project can be done with minimal time, effort and cost.

The look on your kid’s face as they turn the globe and watch the glitter swirl is invaluable!

Growing Garbage for Fun and Learning

Posted 05-7-2015 at 05:50 PM by Ellen

In the 1940s, most kitchens had a cheerful green vine growing in the windowsill, along with multiple plants decorating countertops and shelves. Our great grandmothers didn’t go to the plant nursery to get house plants and potted ferns – they grew their decorations from items that might otherwise be thrown on the compost heap.

Kids love to plant gardens, but creating houseplants from garbage is a fun and fascinating project you can do with them on rainy afternoons and weekends during all kinds of weather. Not only will you end up with some great house decorations, you’ll teach your kids the value of recycling and reusing objects instead of throwing them away into the landfill.

Sweet potato vine

The classic sweet potato vine has been a kitchen standard for decades and is easy for kids to grow.

• Choose a firm red or yellow sweet potato (ideally one that’s already started to grow buds) and insert four strong toothpicks around the middle to suspend it inside a jar.
• Fill a jar most of the way with water, place the potato in the jar with the more pointed side down and place the jar in a windowsill where it will get strong sunlight. You should see some small buds emerging from the top of the potato within a few days. Fine roots will start to form under water in the first week.
• Pour out the water and replace it with a fresh batch every week. The purple vines and glossy green leaves make an attractive house plant – one your child can even be proud to give as a gift.

Carrot ferns

Baby carrots are all the rage, but frugal parents know they can make their own carrot sticks for a fraction of the cost. As an added bonus, you can use the ends of the carrots to grow a beautiful fern full of soft fronds after you eat the rest of the veggie.

• Cut off the bottom 2 inches of a few carrots and set them aside. Fill the bottom two inches of a small bowl with pea gravel, fish tank rocks or something similar.
• Push the cut side of the carrot ends into the gravel and fill the bowl with water just until it covers the rocks. Place the bowl in a sunny window and keep the water topped off.
• After a few weeks, the carrots will produce tall, lacy fronds that look exactly like expensive fern plants. Keep them in the bowl or plant them in potting soil for an even longer-lasting set of plants.

Avocado tree

For fast results with impatient kids, nothing beats growing an avocado seed.

• Push four toothpicks into the side of the seed and suspend it over a small container of fresh water with the pointed side down (just like growing the sweet potato vine).
• Keep the water fresh by changing it twice a week and keep the jar in a sunny window to encourage sprouting.
• Once roots have appeared at the bottom of the pit and a sprout begins to produce leaves at the top, plant the avocado in a large pot filled with potting soil.
• With sunlight and regular watering, your fast-growing avocado tree will be as tall as a toddler within a couple of months.

Citrus trees

Orange and lemon trees grow much more slowly than avocado trees, but sometimes that’s a good thing. If you’ve got a kid who doesn’t deal well with change, it’s good for him or her to grow a plant that will stay healthy and growing for a year or two before you have to transplant it.

• Pick a seed or two from a lemon, orange, or tangerine and soak them in water overnight.
• Plant the seeds in potting soil and cover the pot with a plastic bag to keep in the moisture.
• Place the pot in a warm, sunny spot and keep the soil moist.
• Remove the plastic when you see green shoots coming up, and place the planter in a sunny window.

Your miniature citrus tree will have brown twigs and glossy green leaves, growing slowly enough so that your child can proudly introduce “her tree” to anyone who comes to visit for the next couple of years.

Feeding and Identifying Winter Birds

Posted 05-7-2015 at 05:45 PM by Ellen

Usually, when we think of birds, it conjures up green grass, flowering trees and other signs of spring. However, seeing birds in the winter happens just as frequently. Many birds do not migrate to warmer areas when winter approaches, meaning these birds have to adapt from living outdoors in warm weather to life outdoors in the cold.

Birds are warm-blooded creatures, which means their body temperature maintains itself within a certain range regardless of the temperatures around them. To do this, however, birds need a diet rich in high-energy foods. The extra energy allows the birds to fluff out their feathers more, increasing the insulation their feathers provide in keeping the bird warm. Birds also need a source of water and in the event of severe weather, a place to take shelter.

This is where you and your kids come in. You can provide the extra food, water and shelter these birds need to make it through to spring. And while you provide these supplies, it’s a great way to learn to identify different types of birds.

Food, feeders and water for winter birds

The food birds consume in the winter is higher in fat and proteins. The extra nutrients help the birds stay warm. If you want to feed a variety of birds, using ground feeders, platform feeders and hanging feeders will attract the most birds.

Ground feeders attract:

• Sparrows
• Juncos
• Pheasants
• Thrashers
• Woodpeckers

Platform feeders are appreciated by:

• Cardinals
• Wrens
• Titmice
• Jays

Hanging Feeders will receive visits from:

• Chickadees
• Titmice
• Nuthatches
• Finches

High protein foods, including oily sunflower seeds, peanuts and suet are welcome meals for birds. Put a mixture of these seeds in your feeders and watch the birds flock to your yard.

A tip about placement for your feeders:

• The feeders should be out of the wind, so if possible, try to place the feeders on the east side of your home, preferably near a tree line. Also, birds have to eat while staying watchful for predators, so having the feeders in a place that is open enough to eat and stay on the watch means more bird visits.

Birds also need a reliable water source. Providing a heated birdbath will provide water for birds all winter. You can also use a regular birdbath that has been properly de-iced. As for shelter, you can build or buy one that can help bids keep warm in the winter and provide safety from predators. Having fir or pine trees and other trees that keep leaves in the winter also provide shelter for birds when it rains, snows or becomes extremely windy and cold.

Watching the birds

Now that your feeders are set up and filled with high-energy food, you’ve provided water and options for shelter, get comfortable and watch what happens. At first, you might only see a few birds or maybe a flock or two. But once word gets out that your yard has food, water, and shelter, it will become a gathering place for a variety of birds.

When the birds start to gather, older kids can take pictures of the birds, while younger kids can draw pictures of them. Later you can use the pictures to try and identify the birds in a bird encyclopedia on from pictures on the Internet.

It’s a good idea to research the kind of birds that are native to your area in the winter. This will help you know what kind of birds to look for in your bird paradise. During the day, you might even catch a song or two from a finch, cardinal or jay or hear the hammering of a woodpecker.

Setting up an area for birds to eat, drink and be merry is not just a fun activity for kids; it’s a wonderful thing to do for the environment. Making sure birds make it from winter to spring helps to keep our eco-system in balance.

Creating a Yarn Monster

Posted 05-7-2015 at 05:38 PM by Ellen

yarn monster

Grrrrr! Rawr! Arrrrrrrgh! – those just might be the sounds a couple of yarn monsters would make if they were able to talk, and with your child’s imagination – they just might. At first glance, yarn monsters are merely giant pom-poms. But they’re so much more than that: Yarn monsters are good for hugging, tossing or just holding at nap time.

And their tickly tendrils make for hours of giggles and laughter as they go on adventures with other toys in your child’s magical world of play.

Of course, once you’ve made one yarn monster, you’ll have to make more – one is never enough. This is the perfect crafting project for you and your child on a cold or rainy day.


• While it’s no surprise that yarn monsters require yarn, the size of the monster depends entirely on the amount of yarn used. For example, a small yarn monster can take up to 80 yards of yarn, while a larger monster requires several thousand yards of yarn.

• When you decide on the size of your monster, choose yarns in multiple colors that either coordinate or contrast. This is an excellent time to put those hoarded lengths of knitting yarn to use, too.

Note: Using acrylic yarn will not only allow the monsters to survive occasional cleanings and accidental dunkings, the colors are less likely to fade and the material won’t shrink.

• You’ll also need some type of cardboard. Heavy-duty corrugated cardboard used for shipping boxes works best for bigger yarn monsters, while smaller monsters can be made using less sturdy cardboard, such as that used to make cereal boxes.

• If you’re a crafter who is proprietary about scissors, you’ll need one pair for the yarn and one for cardboard; otherwise a sharp pair of household scissors will do the job, as long as they’re strong enough to handle heavy cardboard and thick yarn layers.

• Googly eyes and hot glue are optional. Not all yarn monsters need to have eyes, especially if your child is still prone to chewing things or putting things in his or her mouth. But without eyes, your yarn monster is really just a giant pom pom. So consider using large, sturdy knots of yarn for the eyes in white yarn.

Cut it and wrap it

• Cut two identical circles from your cardboard. While they don’t have to be perfectly round or particularly neat cut outs, they do have to be the same basic size.
• When you’ve cut your circles, cut out a second set of circles on the inside – essentially making two identical cardboard doughnuts. These form the template for your yarn monster.
• Wrap any skeins or hanks of yarn into balls – for this project it is necessary. Begin by winding the yarn around three of your fingers ten or fifteen times. Slip the yarn off of your fingers and begin wrapping yarn around the center of the loops. Keep wrapping in different directions until a ball takes form.
• Do not make the ball any larger than the center of your cardboard doughnut, but uniformity in size does not matter otherwise.

Yarn monster

• It’s time to bring your yarn monster to life and it couldn’t be simpler. Have your child help you wrap the balled-up yarn around every inch of the cardboard template.
• When every inch of cardboard has been covered, cover that layer of yarn with another layer. And another. And another, until you can’t even pass one strand of yarn through the center hole of the cardboard template. This could take a few days to a few months, depending on how quick your child wraps the yarn and how big your yarn monster is, as well as how often you both work on it.

Note: This is a great activity for those “Mom, I’m BORED!” moments.

• When you can’t wrap any more yarn around your cardboard doughnut, stick the scissors in between the two circles of cardboard and cut open the yarn around the outer edge.
• Cut a length of yarn about 12 inches long and separate the two cardboard circles by about half an inch. Insert the yarn length in between the circles and wrap it around the yarn encased by the center hole of the cardboard doughnuts. This secures the pompom and holds your yarn monster together. Tie a knot – or two or three – very tightly to keep your monster together.
• Slide the cardboard templates off and fluff your monster out so the tie and knots aren’t visible.
• If you desire eyes, glue them on using a low temperature hot glue gun. Enjoy!