winter’s last gasp wishlist

Oh my god the snow, you guys, THE GOLL-DANGED BEAUTIFUL TREACHEROUS SNOW. About 4 feet so far up where we live, and that’s small potatoes compared to our friends in eastern Massachusetts. Ethereal, marshmallowy landscapes that create impassable roads and frightening ice dams on your roof. I love it and I hate it. I’m enchanted and yet I’m halfway to losing my mind.

In a few hours, it will be March. MARCH! The month in which Spring officially begins! Although it usually arrives in the midst of a giant snowstorm, I’m clinging to the knowledge that in these parts, the first day of Spring means that in about two more weeks, it will actually be Spring. Brown, muddy spring with almost no flowers yet, but Spring nonetheless.

So with that in mind, I’m trying to make the last few weeks of this seemingly endless winter go by more quickly with an end-of-winter wish list. Some wintry things I’d like to do before Old Man Winter finally eats it once and for all.

1. Make an Ice Cube Garland

ice cube garland

This picture is from a few Februarys ago – I can’t believe we could see grass at this time of year! Making an ice-cube garland is super easy and a great way to add a little color to the unrelenting whiteness around us. Just fill an ice-cube tray with water, add drops of food coloring to each cube compartment to make different colors, and dip a bit of twine into each cube with the end hanging out. Once they’re frozen, tie each one onto a length of twine and tie the ends to trees or whatever outdoor place you have to tie things to. The nice thing about doing this project when there’s snow on the ground is that as they melt, the colors transfer from the garland to the snow below, so you end up with a cool rainbow splotch pattern on the ground.

2. Read Snow Music one more time.

Oh, man. This is my favorite winter picture book. I’ve been meaning to write about it literally since I started this blog and now I’m so freaking sick of the snow that I can’t face writing an entire blog post about how magical it is. But seriously, this book makes it extremely magical. It perfectly captures the sounds of a new snowfall. I remember once in college, walking home from work on a snowy evening when everyone had already left campus for winter break, the streets were so deserted that as I crossed Lincoln Avenue, I could literally hear each snowflake hitting the ground. I was so struck by the magicalness of it that I just stood there on the median, listening. Lynne Rae Perkins perfectly captures it in the opening of Snow Music (“Everybody whisper: Peth peth peth peth peth peth peth peth”) and it just gets cooler from there. The music of a snowplow scraping down the street. The music of an escaped dog, running happily through the snow. The “k-tk” of a dried leaf blowing along the pavement. Just trust me folks, this is a good one.

3. Make Ina Garten’s Hot Chocolate.

gourmet hot chocolate

You really can’t enjoy hot chocolate in the spring, summer, or even fall like you can in the winter, so I’m going to go out with a bang. This Ina Garten recipe is the most decadent, yummy thing ever. It’s not my everyday in-from-playing-in-the-snow recipe, but it deserves to be drunk at least one more time before winter’s over. (As do we all.)

4. Make Swedish Snowball Lanterns.

I saw these the other day on The Artful Parent and posted excitedly about them on the facebook page, but my plans to make them the next day were foiled by some unforgivingly cold temperatures. Nonetheless, we still have plenty of snow (rueful laugh) so this is definitely on the docket. Maybe we can even make an ice lantern with the enormous chunks of ice I just had hacked off my roof. Oh New England, you beautiful snowy ice damming bastard.

5. Sugar on Snow.

sugar on snow

This is what spring in New England looks like, folks. You still have plenty of snow, but now with fresh maple syrup. Since we just finished reading Little House in the Big Woods and are entering maple syrup season, this is the perfect dessert of the moment. All you have to do is heat your maple syrup to 234F, drizzle over some fresh snow, and enjoy. Next, eat a pickle. Cause that’s the New England way. Other acceptable accompaniments: coffee and a donut.

6. Visit an Ice Castle

I probably have the only 4-year-old girl in America who isn’t into Frozen. (There was a brief period after we watched it last winter when she spent a lot of time playing Frozen. Which in her case meant pretending to be a dinosaur hunting and devouring Elsa and Anna.) However, I think any kid – hey, any adult – would be enchanted by these awesome ice castles. There’s a couple of these in our region, and I think they’re closing really soon, perhaps as early as next Sunday.

7. Pajama Muppet Show Marathon

What they lack in Elsa and Anna fan-dom, my kiddos more than make-up for in their devotion to the Muppets. Muppets were the only thing they asked Santa for this year. (Unfortunately they had to go and fall in love with the most obscure and un-merchandise-friendly ones: Beaker and Camilla… these kids never make it easy for me, I tell ya.) But Santa delivered, and muppets are right up there with legos, dragons, and dinosaurs for most played-with toys in our house at the moment. So while I love spending the morning outside playing in the snow, I’m keeping this idea in my back pocket for the next time we all just feel like hunkering down with a cozy blanket and having some laughs. I have a feeling they’ll all be excited about this:

Advertisements

12 amazing autumn nature crafts

Wow, you guys love a good nature exchange! Over 100 enthusiastic participants signed to trade natural finds with a partner, from school groups to families to individuals! I sent out emails last week assigning everyone an exchange pal. (If you think you signed up and haven’t received a message from me assigning you a partner, please send me an email at rainydayriotblog@gmail.com and let me know.)

So for all those who love to collect and receive Mother Nature’s goodies, I put together this little round-up of different ways to explore and create with natural items.  Whether you’re gathering on your own or trading with a partner in the nature exchange, these are some great ways to have the fullest experience with your natural finds! Just a reminder, if you are using items you’ve received in the nature exchange, please keep your exploration indoors so you don’t accidentally introduce invasive species into your environment.

When we come home with treasures from a nature walk, I usually begin by just setting them out for open exploration. This can be something as simple as a large platter or tray to spread the items out on, or you can make a whole nature table with them, like this wonderful one from The Imagination Tree.

After examining and enjoying the items, sometimes they find their way to a bowl on the coffee table or a centerpiece. But this indoor land art project from Smiling Like Sunshine looks like more fun:

Another way to enjoy natural items is to create a small world box with them. Any semi-enclosed space can work for this kind of project. In this post on Create with your Hands, our old favorite, the cardboard box, does the trick. With natural items combined with small animal figures or dolls, kids can make a whole little world of their own.

After plenty of time to enjoy the sensory, and tactile experience of nature finds, you can make them into something to decorate your space. I wish I could find the original source for these simple but beautiful hanging decorations. It looks like some twine and a large stick are all you need to make them – and maybe a dab of hot glue here and there for the more slippery-shaped objects.

Here’s another way of making a hanging decoration out of nature stuff – this adorable mobile from Red Ted Art. Bonus: this one actually has instructions!

For the slightly more ambitious, here’s a really cool wreath project from Fun at Home with Kids, with, once again, cardboard and nature things as the main materials.

And it wouldn’t be a 2010s craft round-up without a garland, would it? I’ve been admiring this one on pinterest for a while, but it turns out it’s another one of those untraceable images seems to exists nowhere but pinterest and a bunch of Eastern European home decor image collection blogs. Still, this one looks super easy to create too, just yarn and your favorite nature and seasonal items.

Another way to create with natural items is to paint them. Colorful acorns are another ubiquitous pinterest thing, but these ones from Home Stories A to Z are just so cute, and you could do the same idea with many other nuts, seeds, or stones.

I also love these acorn cap jewels from Kiwi Crate. So pretty, and easy enough for kids to do it all themselves, with nothing more than markers, white glue, and playdough.

It’s also fun to make something entirely else out of natural items. I love Krokotak’s little snails made from buckeyes (as we call them in the midwest).

And if you have some wool roving and wooden beads, you can make these cute little pinecone fairies from a tutorial on Willodel.

Or these squee-worthy milkweed pod babies from Kleas, another terrific project that even a preschooler can make.

And these are just a starting point – the stuff we gathered last fall, and even things we received two years ago in another nature exchange are still floating around my house, decorating candleholders, serving as hideouts for playmobile people, taking on their own lives in a made up game with rocks and bits of yarn. Here’s hoping your fall nature finds bring you months of enjoyment!

adventures in cardboard

Ahhhh, beautiful, precious cardboard. Is there anything it can’t become? Our recycling bin is one of our most shopped sites for art materials and entertainment, in fact my son recently forbade me from throwing away any cardboard box, EVER. These kids love cardboard so much that despite having two cutely outfitted twin beds, they have recently taken to even sleeping in it.sleeping in a box

Other past cardboard ventures include fairy houses,toilet paper roll fairy houses

toilet paper roll critterstoilet paper roll bat

a viking longshipcardboard viking ship

a submarine and crewcardboard submarine

a deep sea dioramadeep sea diorama

a plethora of birthday party decorations over the years, including dinosaur lawn decorationspainting a cardboard ankylosaurus

and a great white shark beanbag tossshark beanbag toss

and hilariously, an iPad.cardboard ipad

cardboard ipad

Yes, we’re those mean parents who won’t get their kids a tablet. (I spend enough energy setting and enforcing screen time limits as it is.) They love to play games on their grandparents’ ones, and my son tries to create analog versions of his favorite apps to play back at home.

Some of his best efforts have been “Dino Maker,” a mix-n-match game that lets you select a head, front, back, and tail to create your own dinosaur species

dino maker cardboard ipad app

“Ant Squish,” where you use your fingers to squish the ants as they rotate around the tablet, and make their pipe cleaner guts spill out, but avoid touching the wasps or you lose your turnant squish cardboard ipad app

And “Medic,” where you remove construction paper tumors from the patient’s brain.cardboard ipad app - brain surgery

playing the cardboard ipad

Most readers of this blog have probably seen the amazing video Caine’s Arcade, featuring a mind-blowing game arcade created completely out of cardboard and recyclables by (then) 9-year old Caine Monroy. If you haven’t then it’s required viewing before scrolling on to the rest of this post:

I watched, and rewatched it a couple of years ago when it came out but what I didn’t realize until recently is that it had a huge impact beyond the viral popularity of the video. Donations flooded in for a college fund for Caine (currently at almost $240,000!) and the filmmaker ended up starting a foundation to promote this kind of creative play for kids. It’s called the Imagination Foundation and they also host an annual event called the Global Cardboard Challenge where kids are invited to make anything their imaginations can dream up out of cardboard and other recyclables.

We actually went to a very similar event recently, sponsored by The Play Workshop, a new non-profit organization in Northampton, MA, that is working on bringing a permanent adventure playground to the area. If you read that Atlantic article The Overprotected Kid about adventure playgrounds last spring, then you’re probably as excited about this prospect as I am! A place for kids to play independently, constructing their own play structures out of loose parts. Healthy learning about risk-taking! Self-expression! The pride and excitement of creating things for themselves! I long for my kids to have the kind of free-wheeling childhood I did, and while there were no European-style loose parts playgrounds involved, there was a heck of a lot more independent, unsupervised play than is considered normal, or even legal, today. Less helicoptering, more Roxaboxen. I have a lot to say about the trend toward constant supervision ’til high school, actually, but that’s pretty far off track from what I meant to talk about here, which is my passionate love of cardboard.

So The Play Workshop’s eventual plan is to create an adventure playground in the Pioneer Valley, but until they reach that goal, they are putting on these pop-up adventure playgrounds, where the loose parts are easily transportable stuff like, you guessed it, cardboard boxes and recyclables!pop up adventure playground 3

My kids had a great time exploring other children’s forts and joining in their play,pop up adventure playground 1

as well as making some improvements to them.pop up adventure playground 2

and making some constructions of their own.pop up adventure playground 4

They even built a teeter totter out of an old cable spool and a long board!pop up adventure playground 5

What my three year-old lacks in cardboard building skills, she more than makes up for in imagination. She adopted this scrap of box and declared it her pet tiger, carrying it around with her for a good 30 minutes.

pop up adventure playground 7

And both kids seemed to get as much enjoyment out of the clean-up process as they did the building and exploring part, utilizing this pile of flattened boxes as a trampoline.pop up adventure playground 8

I want to finish by sharing my favorite resource on cardboard and kids. The amazing and inspirational LiEr of Ikat Bag wrote this awesome cardboard manifesto a few years ago, and it is basically the bible of how to make stuff out of cardboard with your kids. What kind of cardboard to use for what purpose, how to cut it, how to bend it, how to fasten it, and links to a bunch of tutorials of cardboard toys she’s done, including the cool viking ship we made (above) and dozens of other great things.

Oh, and I can’t end this post without my all time best favorite movie about kids and cardboard ever:

Happy Cardboard Adventures!