Saturday, May 28, 2016

13 "Grandma + Me" Summer Ideas!

Current exhibit:
"Invasive Species!"

An anonymous fellow grandma friend insists I use her case study as the intro to this post. She has a great sense of humor, self diagnosing as woefully deficient at entertaining grandchildren in a fun and fulfilling way. She blames years of "corporate bossiness" for her condition. "But I'm just not domestic and crafty like yoooou are!" she wails. "What should I dooooo with them after we get home from the zooooo?" 

Oh, geez, Louise! (not her real name!) Haven't you ever heard of cookie dough or a dollar store glow stick or a home made sock puppet?

I promised "Louise" a handful of ideas to use this summer. And I guaranteed her that my list wouldn't include "Take them to the zoo!" That lame directive pops up on top of every list screaming "TEN Fresh Ideas for Grandparents!" Come on, people! What kind of a grandma doesn't already dooooo thaaaaat on her own? That's what zoos (and their amply stocked gift shops!) are made for anyway!

Try these instead:

1. Make a cardboard box doll house. This one's an ongoing project that will have you working side by side with your grandchild for weeks. You'll utilize scraps of lace for curtains, clear plastic packaging material for windows, toothpaste boxes for sofas, bottle caps for kitchen stools and fabric scraps for carpeting. Recycling. Designing. Measuring. Dreaming. Remodeling. It's all there. My sisters and I each made our own one year after mother came home with a discontinued wallpaper book. I still remember the red flocked huge fleur de lis pattern I selected for my shoe box living room - the "cat's pajamas" to an eight year old of that era. I wonder today, in horror, if anyone actually ever papered their walls with it. Probably. It was the 50s!

If a doll house isn't appealing, turn the box into a Natural History Museum showcasing backyard finds, or a school classroom, art museum or playhouse for a pet cat.

Our Nature Museum is an ongoing project. Cousins add and subtract as seasons change and new finds are discovered.

If you don't want to bother with the fine details, escort your kids into a room filled with cardboard boxes of every shape and size (the bigger, the better!). Add only a roll of wide masking tape and let the constructing begin! Make tunnels and bridges and places to hide. When you're done, fold them all up and lead a good citizen patrol to the community recycling station.

2. Cook age appropriate things together, then create a recipe book that includes photos of the children at work. Provide watercolors for decorating each page. Bind everything together at the spine with ribbon scraps laced and tied through punched holes. Lovely gift for parents!

3. Visit the public library and bring home a huge stack of kids' books covering a range of fiction and non-fiction topics. Design a photo library card for each child and invite them to browse the cardboard box shelves you've stocked. Initiate a reading club and offer a reward for every ten books completed. Create a cozy reading tent with draped blankets and/or bean bag chairs and a flashlight or camping lantern. Install a cardboard box book drop and a kid sized desk and let grandchildren take turns working. Host a story time. Turn your library into a family resource by collecting books and magazines from everyone and include adults as borrowers - serviced (and late-fined!) by the kids, of course! Here's the one I made - now entering its second successful year!

4. Turn your neighborhood walk into an active scavenger hunt. Send grandpa to hide messages beforehand along the path you'll take. Read clues to the kids to direct them to each find. Make messages directing crazy challenges for the entire group (you too, grandma!) such as:

10 jumping jacks!
Sing "If You're Happy and You Know It" as loudly as you can
Spy something yellow (or shiny, or prickly, or sticky, or fuzzy)
Hold hands and skip for 20 seconds
Point to three things that start with "H"
Take one turn each to lead "Simon Says"
Do the "Hokey Pokey!"
Find three bugs each
Go trick-or-treating right now at the house in front of you!*

Yes, the goal is to make a spectacle of yourselves! Leave a trail of neighbors peering out of windows, smiling away at kids fortunate enough to have such a fun goofball for a grandma! (Or wondering if they should lock their doors. That, too, I suppose!)

*Okay, this one does need an explanation! I'm lucky enough to have a fellow neighborhood grandma who agreed to be in on the prank! She dressed as a princess, answered the door, and handed out jumbo candy bars to my kiddoes as if spontaneous trick-or-treating on a balmy afternoon in July was the most normal thing on earth! This year it's my turn to reciprocate when her grandkids show up on my porch!

5. Teach something unique that the kids will always identify with just you. How about a new way to communicate? - American Sign Language - Morse Code - common phrases in a second language - Hieroglyphics - your own invented secret language! My two sisters and I did this, becoming quite fluent speaking "Sister-ish" in public! We authored a pictorial dictionary, adding and practicing new words every day. Wrote songs in our language, too! I still recall many of our descriptive sentences. "Newmon ooff doe gantzie!" ("Telephone for you!") That's from the old days, you know! Phones with a cord were attached to the wall!

Enrich school skills by introducing Roman Numerals or tales from Roman and Greek mythology. Identify classical music. Hold a Swan Lake dance party with silky scarves to wave or decorated wrapping tube wands to twirl up a storm of majestic beauty! March to The Nutcracker. Peter and the Wolf is rich with instruments to recognize and animal behavior to mimic. Display the work of famous artists and discuss them until the kids converse easily about Warhol, DaVinci, Cezanne and Michelangelo. Hang a few Monet prints on a clothesline in the living room and refer to it as the "Monet Gallery" until the works are familiar. Then add another room and artist. Make a Bingo game of significant works and play it together.

6. Guide your grandchildren to give to a good cause. Plant catnip in your backyard and care for it. In the meantime, show the kids (boys too!) how to hand sew small fabric square pouches that will eventually be stuffed with a little polyester filling and a few sprigs of the dried plant. Deliver the completed toys to an animal shelter or sell them at a garage sale for donations to a pet rescue.

7. Contribute to family game night by creating original fun to play at home. Make something as simple as "Familiar Faces Bingo" (family member photos on squares) or a board game that twists and turns with challenge cards that feature inside jokes:
"Oops! Someone forgot to clean the litter box! Go back 3 spaces."
"Can you believe it? Everybody's got their jammies on and it's only 8 PM! Move up 5 spaces!"

8. Going out together after dark is awesome fun! Hide glow-in-the-dark lizards (or glow sticks with rubbery critters attached) and search for them. Then come inside and make plastic jar habitats for them with mini cactus plants and glow-in-the-dark "moonstones" or stick-on stars. Use as soothing night lights.

9. Crafty Grab-Bagging! Go Pinterest-ing for a variety of simple craft projects. Find at least 3 per child. Place directions and supplies inside individual paper bags and tie with a length of yarn. Hang a group of individual bags to the underside of a light fixture, patio umbrella or the branches of a tree. (If needed, mark some for "boys," others for "girls.") Children will cut down one bag at a time and complete the project inside. When parents arrive to pick their kids up, invite them in to view an exciting craft show.

Here's a few ideas:
Stamp pad, paper and marker for making thumbprint animals
Sock puppet
Popsicle stick doll furniture
Paper tube race car
Bird seed ornament
Origami paper and instruction sheet
Wood scrap blocks, bottle caps, glue and directions for robot sculpture
Strips of colorful paper, glue stick and wiggle eyes to make paper chain snake

10. Food Sculpting Lunch Event! Cut trays of veggies and fruit. Supply pretzel sticks, crackers, cheese cubes and small bowls of cream cheese tinted with food color. Create little houses, bugs and animals using cream cheese as glue. Healthy munching while you work? Yep! That's lunch!

11. Ladybug Launch! Take kids on a hike to find ladybug-shaped stones, then paint them. Print "Good Luck!" on the bottom of each one, or "welcome!" on ones destined for new neighbors. Go for an after dark walk together to hide the bugs in semi-conspicuous places in the neighborhood. Indicate spots where bugs are left on a pre-drawn map. Speculate on which ones might be found, then check the next night to see if you guessed correctly. Small and cute. That is all.

12. Create an ongoing family newspaper or single edition magazine with editorial offices at your house. Brainstorm for stories, then compile raw material into published editions. Include a calendar of family events, puzzles, art work and creative writing. Make it extra fun by awarding a prize to the first reader who calls in with the correct answer to "Find the Fake News Story and Win!"

13. And finally, yes! You you do have my "permission" to take those grandkids to the zoo! Attack that gift shop, ride that train, feed that giraffe and come home sticky fingered in cotton candy and frosty-faced in gooey goodness. Fall asleep in the car on the way back - right alongside the kids!*
* Designated grandpa-driver a "must-invite!" - he'll get you "kids" home safely!

And again, for the record, "Louise" you don't need to be "domestic" or "crafty" in order to complete any of these 13 tasks. I don't share a single moment of your corporate boardroom experience, yet I am still quite capable of bossing people around!......

UPDATE! I found another great source of ideas for grandparent-child interaction. This one focuses on clever things to do before and after visits from long distance family members. A "days-to-the-next-visit" candy jar, "acts of kindness" day, and "hidden notes left behind" are all favorites of mine from an engaging list of ten you'll find here at Kay and Leslie's GrandparentsLink blog!

FURTHER UPDATE! are even more new ideas from Kay and Leslie! In this 2017 batch, I like the "Grandma's Salon" experience, time capsule making, and especially the Boy Scout badge earning suggestion.

But why the latter? What is it about Boy Scouts that piques my interest and swells me up with pride? Hmmm....these two, perhaps?....pictured on the May 2017 evening they advanced from wolf to bear pack? :)

AND THE FUN CONTINUES! Click here for a great group activity invented by my friend, Connie, at Hill House Homestead. She has organized a clue based scavenger hunt that employs a home made decoder. Kids really have to put on their thinking caps and work together in teams to enjoy this delightful adventure! - it's one that I can't wait to try with my own grandkids!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Under the Sea" Birthday Party!

This party's been splashing about in my archives for more than half a year. It celebrates the day my twin granddaughters became young ladies at the age of three. The majority of the ideas, the planning, and the work are the successes of their talented mommy, my oldest daughter, Mary Jo. But, like all of our celebratory events, tasks were shared with daddy, grandparents, and aunts and uncles. I love this aspect of our family. We work together, allowing the children to experience extended family support while witnessing how creative cooperation results in outcomes that reach far beyond the ordinary!

And, the extraordinary began as guests arrived! Twin mermaids coyly greeted them, beckoning beneath a bubbling balloon arch to a bounty of bouncing beyond!

Greeting guests with giggles galore....
the prettiest pair of merry little mermaids!

"Hello, friendly octopus!"
But exotic sea creatures weren't confined to outdoor decor.....

Floating mystically above the buffet table, home crafted jellyfish created an ethereal atmosphere....

Clustered beneath them, "crabby croissants" eyeballed the crowd....

But I think the kids had their own eyes on a spread of desserts that spilled "beach candy" and "sand" onto an inviting tray. Individual pail sets, also pictured at top, were my contribution. Snorkeling on over to my favorite crafty food blogger's site, Hungry Happenings, I took inspiration from Beth's clever starfish design. I substituted sugar cookies for her recipe, pressing them, thinly iced, into finely ground graham cracker crumbs to duplicate her whimsical results. Sand pail sets were filled with crumbled spice cake and presented to the kids for dessert. They "shoveled it in" using scoops as utensils with varying, but adorable! - degrees of messy success!

Little ladies munched their lunch at an outdoor table laden with pretty party favors. They found dainty starfish wands, beautifully embellished tiaras....

and golden chests of treasure holding sparkling strings of pearls and more!

I had a second job, too. A crafty take-home project! We filled plastic jars with tinted, glittery water and floated toy fish and creatures of the sea amidst a tangle of foliage and a sprinkling of shells.

I've been told that even today, months later, affectionate shakes of these sample slices of the sea still hold gentle swirls of fascination!

Who but resourceful mommy would find a rental bounce house topped by a trio of dolphins? This towering attraction not only set the theme, but provided "oceans" of lively fun for guests who ranged in age from one year to six.

Our lovely hostess also thoughtfully provided a peaceful place to shovel for shells when bouncing wore you out!....

....because even energetic older brothers needed an occasional break from the liveliness that marked the third year anniversary of the doubling of the twin population in this happy family!

Party Notes!
So, where did we get all this cool stuff? We're happy to share! None of these sources are sponsored.

Balloon arch custom made and installed by a local party supply and rental company that also provided the bounce house.

Mermaid costumes from Chasing Fireflies online children's clothing retailer.

Plastic pail sets and treasure chests from Oriental Trading Company. Mary Jo spray painted the chests, which are sold in black.

She also crafted jellyfish from party lanterns and streamers, assembled tiaras with lace ribbon accents, and made starfish wands from materials purchased at Michael's.

Aquarium jars (6" plastic, 32 ounce) from Just Artifacts online party supply retailer. Plastic sea creatures from Hobby Lobby.

Visit Hungry Happenings for a bounty of clever food crafting ideas for every special occasion. It's a real treasure trove for grandmas who like to "swim upstream" against the usual world of ordinary!

And, finally, visit Mary Jo's blog, Mrs. Party Planner, for many more profiles of creative, high energy family party fun!