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Fall Tree Craft

By Amy Latta | Children , General

fall tree craft

Fall is in the air, and that means it’s a fun time to do some seasonal craft activities as a family!

Today, I’m excited to share with you a cute autumn craft that’s simple enough to do with even younger kiddos and won’t break the budget.  Take a look:

POM-POM FALL TREES

Materials:
– styrofoam ball {1 per tree}
– assorted pom poms in fall colors
– stick from a real tree
– glue
– air dry clay

Step 1:  Glue your stick to the styrofoam ball.  Push it in and twist a bit so that the stick is firmly inserted, then add some glue to hold it in place.  We used low-temp hot glue so that it dried quickly but wasn’t hot enough to burn little fingers.

Fall Tree Craft

Step 2: Glue pom poms around the entire ball so that it’s totally covered.  Again, we used low-temp hot glue because otherwise this process would take forever.  The adults put a tiny bit of hot glue on the ball, and the kids pressed a pom pom in place, then we repeated that as we worked our way around.

fall tree craft

Fall Tree Craft

Step 3: Create a base for your tree using air-dry clay.

Pom Pom Tree Craft

Step 4: Enjoy!  Use your creations as decorations to bring a little fall color inside your home!

tree craft

Amy Latta is the author of One Artsy Mama, where she shares a variety of project types including home decor, kids’ crafts, sewing, jewelry, and more.  Recently, she published her first e-book, Crochet 101, to help beginners learn basic crochet stitches and techniques.  She is happiest when creating something and enjoys making all kinds of projects with her 5 year old “Little Crafter.” In her spare time, Amy is a professional ballroom, latin, and swing dancer.  When not on the dance floor or crafting, you can probably find her at Starbucks.

As Parents, You Must Be Unified

By Patrick Kansa | Children , Communication

holding-handsBefore my wife and I became parents, we went through a series of parenting sessions (with other couples and parents) that our church congregation offered. One of the recommendations that came from those classes is the subject for my article today – unity at the top.

At a very high level, both parents being unified is a simple concept to grasp, and one that makes a lot of sense. If both parents are on the same page (of the same book, mind you!) then your child knows exactly what to expect when it comes to things like privileges, boundaries, and the like. In practice, however, this can be more involved than you might think.

Talk To Each Other!

First off, you and your spouse must communicate with each other for what you think the rules should be. Sometimes, this might be something you discuss in advance (say, what time bedtime is), or things that you’re kind of talking through as the question or situation comes up (Hmm, can you have another snack today?). Whatever it is, no matter how mundane, you and your spouse need to come to an agreement.

mom-dad-sonThe trickier times crop up when there is a snap call that needs to be made, and your spouse isn’t immediately available for a quick level set. In our house, I generally take more of stricter position it seems, and I’ll be quick to deny something, or tell our older daughter that she needs to stop doing something. While that isn’t intrinsically a bad thing, it can set a dangerous precedent.

Say, for example, I told my daughter that she wasn’t allowed to do some certain thing with her art supplies (maybe cutting and gluing), for whatever reason. However, earlier in the day, my wife may have gone through with her how they were supposed to be used, and she (my daughter) used them responsibly. If I’m changing the rules now, that’s going to cause confusion.

This is especially critical if you’re dealing with young children, as we have. Their first instinct won’t be to tell you about the earlier permission that was granted – they’ll react in disappointment and frustration. And I can say from experience that that particular path is not a fun one to travel – for either parent or child.

Is There A Better Way?

There is a much different way this can go – and it’s the way I try to direct myself. Let’s go back to that earlier crafting example. I could, instead of shutting it down, ask her to wait while I went to check with my wife, and see if there was something that occurred earlier that would allow my daughter to be doing what she was doing.

parents-talking-on-couchThis nets us two very positive things. First, our daughter sees that we’re talking (and talking about her!), so she can know that her parents are on the same page about things. Next, it helps the both of us parents to make sure that we have the same baseline for permissiveness. This then leads (I hope) to our daughter knowing that she can’t try to get away with something.

How would that happen? Well, think back to your own childhood. Say, you wanted a cookie. Now, when I was growing up, I knew I had a much better chance if I asked my dad of actually getting that cookie. Even if it was a situation where I was told to go ask the other parent, I knew where my chances lie.

This is situational, of course – there are some things that parents are more inclined to do (or not do) based on interests, level of busyness, and the like. For example, I’m not about to be ready to teach my daughter to sew, but if she wants to practice using a hammer, I can probably find a project for her. At a low level, we just don’t want things to get to the point where a child knows that they can try to play parents off of each other, or even just play games to try and get what they want.

There Are Wonderful Benefits

This will all come to fruition if your child sees that you and your spouse are unified. This can happen in many ways throughout a day or evening. It could be at the dinner table, where we’re teaching our daughter to say “Excuse me” and then wait to be acknowledged when my wife and I are talking to each other. It could be your child seeing you and your mate holding hands as you walk down the sidewalk, or embracing each other when you get home from work.

parents-kissingFrom what I recall (on this topic) from the class, this not only avoids scenarios where the child tries to play parents against each other, it also allows the child to have a feeling of safety, of being loved. They see the discussions, the hugs and kisses, and they not only know, but they feel that things are good with Mom and Dad. This keeps them free to be children who are learning and growing, secure in the fact that they are part of a cohesive, loving family.

Easier Said Then Done

As I mentioned at the start, this is one of those concepts that is very simple on paper, and it’s easy to see the benefits. Of course, parenting is never as clean cut as the plans we might lay out for ourselves, and seeking and maintaining unity is something the both of you will have to work through to find the right level of give and take, in order to provide that loving environment for your children. There’s no guarantee that it’ll be easy, and if you’re like me, you’re liable to slip up now and again. We can keep at it, though, and the rewards that you AND your children will gain are immeasurable.

On this topic, I’m curious – what do you and your spouse do to make sure that you’re unified when it comes to raising your children? Sound off in the comments and let us know – I’m sure there’s good tips out there from our readers that would be beneficial to everyone.

 

Academic Skills Treasure Hunt

By Amy Latta | Children

Believe it or not, friends, August is almost halfway over!  And for most of us, that means it’s time to start thinking about the new school year!  Maybe your kids have already headed back to the classroom, or maybe they have a few more weeks to wait, like my little man does.  But no matter what the schedule, it’s a good time to start reviewing and practicing some academic skills in a fun way!

Academic Skills Treasure Hunt

The family that plays together, stays together, right?

Here is a fun family activity you can adapt for kids of all ages to help reinforce some of the skills they need to succeed in school.  Or, if you homeschool, you can work it right into your curriculum!

Academic Skills Treasure Hunt

Materials:

– index cards
– coins or other small “treasures”
– tape {I used decorative washi tape for fun}
– marker
– pirate costumes {optional}

STEP 1: Label ten index cards with numbers.  Starting with card #1, write a clue on each card through #9  for where the next treasure/clue can be found.  Then, tape a coin or another small treasure {like a chocolate coin, a lollipop, a ring, or something else your child would enjoy} to cards 2-10.  Card 10 should not have a clue because it is the last one, just a treasure and a “Well done, matey!”

Academic Skills Treasure Hunt

STEP 2: Beginning with card #2, hide each card based on the clue written on the previous card.  For example, if card #1 says “Look in a cold place,” you can put #2 in the refrigerator.  If #2 says, “Look near books,” hide #3 on the bookshelf, and so on.

STEP 3: Hand card #1 to the child and let him/her begin the search!

Academic Skills Treasure Hunt

STEP 4: Once all the treasure has been found, remove it from the cards and have your child sort and count it.  Since we used money, we had him sort the coins by type and size, count how many of each coin type he found, and finally count up the value of the money.  If you used a different type of treasure, you can do your own variation; sorting by candy type, color, etc.

Academic Skills Treasure Hunt

This fun activity reinforces a number of different skills…and your child probably won’t even realize it’s educational!  Here are the things my son practiced as he searched for and found his treasures:

Sight words, Reading, Reading aloud, Sequencing, Following Directions, Counting, Sorting, Adding, Money values

If you have an older child, you can try variations to make the game age-appropriate, like incorporating vocabulary words into the directions on the cards.  You could also ask him/her to solve a math problem or spell a particular word before finding the next clue.  It might be fun to scramble a word in the clues too, like, “Look near the hocuc” and ask them to unscramble it {“couch”} to know where to search.  If your child is learning geography, you can incorporate things like north, south, east, and west and have them plot the location of each clue on a map of the house.  There are tons of ways you can personalize this basic activity, and I promise your kids will enjoy it!  For extra fun, locate a few props like a bandana, a scarf, or some face paint and get the whole family in on the fun by dressing up like pirates.

Academic Skills Treasure Hunt

What are your family’s favorite ways to play together?

Hugs & Glitter,

siggy

Put The Phone Down!

By Patrick Kansa | Children

Put The Phone Down!Given that the name of this site in Engaged Marriage, I think that today’s parenting post is rather fitting, as I want to talk to you about another aspect of engaging in your marriage – and that would be being fully engaged with your children.

But, before we get into that, you’re probably wondering what might make me an expert in parenting.

Who Is This Guy?

I’m not an expert. I don’t have any degrees that relate, nor have I devoured stacks of books.

However, as with most things in life, I’m learning as I go along. My wife and I are doing the best we can for our two little girls. Sure, we’ve learned by doing our share of reading on the topic, but parenting is just one of those things that you truly have to experience.

And it’s that experience – and the mistakes that we’ve learned from – that I’m hoping to share with you here.

Back to my original premise of engaging with our children.

We’ve always had distractions in our lives – our jobs, chores around the house, errands that need running, things of that nature. More recently, of course, we’ve had all manner of mobile devices (phones, iPods, and tablets) crop up that many of us carry everywhere we go. And it’s those devices that can cause us to become disengaged from our children.

Put The Phone Down!When our oldest was still relatively little (under 6 months old, say), I would often rock her to sleep at night. Of course, once she was asleep on my shoulder, I couldn’t immediately lay her down, as the odds were she would wake up. I needed to wait awhile to ensure she was truly asleep.

With a sleeping baby in your arms in a dark room, how do you pass the time?

For me, that was easy – I’d fire up the iPod, and hop on over to Facebook, or perhaps play a game. And that was the pattern I kind of established for myself.

It was easy to follow, as I generally always had the iPod in my pocket when I was at home (never know when you need to check your email, right?) As our daughter got older, however, both my wife and I realized that perhaps that wasn’t the best course of action.

Distracted_parents text addedA Lesson Learned

Where it really struck home for us was when she was a toddler.

We’d set a phone or iPod down somewhere, and if it was in her eyesight, she’d pick it up and bring it over to us. Yes, in some sense, she was being helpful. But that action also carried a message.

It seemed like, since she always saw us with a device, that she thought we must have set it down by accident, and was bringing it over.

For us, that cut deeply.

I know for myself, I’d often sneak a quick peek at my email while she was distracted for a few minutes playing with her toys. But that device was pulling me away from my child. Sure, I wasn’t missing out on any milestones, but I was still missing out.

And I certainly wasn’t doing anything constructive to help her to learn and grow – or just simply have fun.

Put The Phone Down!The end result of this was a  decision – when we’re with the kids, the devices stay tucked away.

Often, my cellphone is in a different part of the house once I get home, so I don’t have any distractions from that. Sure, I may have the iPod tucked away somewhere, but it stays tucked away.

This way I can be engaged with my daughters, enjoying their laughter and curiosity. If that means being the crazy customer at their “restaurant” or building an amazing track for Thomas, then that’s what we do. We engage them, and do our best to take their imaginations on a journey.

Why Make This Choice?

And if you think about it, there’s a relatively simple equation behind this decision: Time spent on a device plus time with your kids is equal to the time you have before they go to sleep.

Decrease one, and the other increases. And even though they may not have the vocabulary to form the idea, your children will interpret what they think is most important to you – it’s what you spend your time doing.

Put The Phone Down!

This is one of those lessons that we learned the hard way, via our oldest bringing us the phone that we set down somewhere in the house to get away from it. She had that image of it in our hands set in her mind, and she was restoring the picture of what she saw as normal.

This isn’t to say that we don’t use the devices in kids presence. Sometimes, there may be a question that comes up that a quick YouTube search pulls up a video that explains something we can’t quite describe. Or maybe they want to see a silly picture we took of them.

But that’s the root of why the device may be out in their presence – it’s focused on something for the children, not necessarily for us.

And lest you think I’m preaching from on high on this topic, let me assure you – while I’ve personally made strides to improve this, I’m by no means perfect in this regard. If I was, I probably wouldn’t even have the iPod on my person when I’m at home, and would need to go hunting for it.

The Winding Path Of A Parent

But that illustration is representative of parenting, at least in my mind.

You pursue a course of action, and then you make corrections as you realize a change needs to be made, for the benefit of your children. Email and Facebook messages will be waiting for you once you have some downtime when the kids are asleep.

Your children, however, will only be the way they are in a moment for that moment – and once it’s gone, it’s gone! At the same time, we’re also setting an expectation – by our example – of how we expect our children to act when they (one day) have their own electronic distractions – we will want their full attention when we’re talking to them.

Put The Phone Down!What I’d like to encourage you to do is simple: once you get home, set your phone up on a cabinet somewhere where it’s out of sight (and hopefully out of mind).

For the few hours you have at night before your kids go to bed, really focus on your family (children AND spouse), and make the most of that time that you have. For extra credit, you might even consider an electronics-free day (or weekend) – it’s something we’ve talked about in our house, but haven’t quite gotten there.

And for those of you already further along this path, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts, and some of your “tips and tricks” around this particular subject.

As with many things parenting-related, it’s not always an easy path to walk along – but it is certainly one of the most rewarding ones we’ll find ourselves on.

Make an At-Home Photo Booth for Free Family Fun!

By Amy Latta | Children

How to Make an At Home Photo Booth

The family that plays together stays together, right?

It can be a real struggle for families to find and spend quality time together these days.  Many moms and dads work long hours and are exhausted by the end of the day.  Not to mention the fact that in today’s economy, most families don’t have a lot of extra money to spend on various activities.

In our family, we are constantly trying to find the balance between giving each person time to recharge alone, getting date time as husband and wife, and having fun all together.

One of the things I’m constantly brainstorming is what kinds of family activities we all can enjoy even on weeknights that will strengthen our relationships for years to come!

Here’s a quick, easy, and totally free idea for something to do that will bring out the silly side in everyone!

At-Home Photo Booth

You’ll need:

– a camera/smartphone
– access to a computer
– props and backgrounds {optional}

Recently, my son and I were at the mall when he spotted a photo booth and asked me what it was.  I explained that you pay money, sit inside, and it takes several photos of you that print out on a strip.  He, of course, was immediately sold.  I, on the other hand, could think of lots of better uses for my $3.  Then it hit me, photo booths are fun.

 Why not do it on our own?  

To have your own photo booth experience, you can either put up a sheet or blanket to make a background, or use a plain wall behind you.  Then, pose in as many silly ways as you can imagine and take the photos either by flipping the camera on your phone or setting up a tripod.  Here are a few ideas for making your photos memorable:

1. Face It

We tried all the crazy faces we could think of: bunny ears, big grins, serious faces, “deep in thought” faces, fish faces, sticking our tongues out…well, you’ll see for yourself.   It can actually be a funny way to see how similar your facial features really are to those of your children…

2. Give Yourself Props

For New Year’s Eve, I used my Silhouette Cameo cutting machine to make hats, mustaches, masks, and more out of cardstock and popsicle sticks for us to use.

We even got the extended family, my parents, to play along!

If you don’t want to make your own props, use things you already have around the house!  Get out various sunglasses, hats, or even old Halloween costumes.

3. You’ve Been Framed

Holding an empty photo frame can add another fun element to your snapshots.

4. Strip It

There are online photo editors like PicMonkey.com and Ribbet.com where you can upload your photos and turn them into collages totally free!  If you want that authentic photo booth feel, you can have it!  Just create your collage, print, cut, and voil·!

The best part about it?  Well, there are actually a few.

It’s easy, it’s free, and it’s fun for the whole family.  Plus, you can have all the entertainment you want without even having to leave the house.

And hey, some of the photos might turn out to be useful in the future, like on your Christmas cards or to embarrass your kids in front of their prom dates.

Here’s to families and fun!