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Now that cold temps and snow have finally arrived, soups, stews, and chili call like sirens from the kitchen.  I’ve shared my turkey chili recipe before, and it’s one that we always enjoy. I typically make a double batch, freeze half for the future, and all’s well.  I came across a different recipe this week that looked delicious, and decided to try it.  My family was surprised when they heard what I was making, “Chicken chili?  Why chicken?”  Yet afterwards, we were all glad I tried something new.

Southwest Chicken Chili

Crockpot cooking offers a great opportunity for kids to help with meal preparation. Especially in a recipe as simple as this one, ingredients are measured, poured, and mixed. Kids can help with every step, and other than using a can opener, there’s nothing sharp or tricky involved.  As always, the beauty of slow cooking becomes evident when you return home from a busy day to find dinner waiting, without the mess of last minute prep.

Creamy Chicken Chili

The biggest difference between this recipe and the one I usually make (other than the chicken) was the addition of the ranch powder and cream cheese.  We make our own ranch powder and keep a jar of it in the refrigerator (using this great recipe), and it worked beautifully.  The only change I made to the chili was to use salsa in place of the diced tomatoes, and I omitted the chili powder as a result.  I used two frozen chicken breasts, and cooked it on low for eight hours.  We ate it with shredded cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and some crumbled tortilla chips, and it was delicious.  Really, really good. I will most definitely make this again.

Share your favorite crockpot recipe with our readers, especially ones suitable for kids in the kitchen.  Keep warm! Snow’s on its way.

Somehow, we always end up with too many over-ripe bananas. In the summer, they’re easy to toss into smoothies, yet this time of year, they pile up. Eventually, I peel and store them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer, but who needs 100 bananas in the freezer?

I’m a recent Instagram convert (don’t ask what took me so long, but now I love it) and discovered the videos on there.  The time lapse videos, to be exact.  In one minute or less, you can learn how to glam up your eyeshadow, upcycle random household stuff into crafts, and cook.  I scrolled across a video that started with two bananas, and had to learn more. Forty-three seconds later, I was copying down the recipe and excited to try it out.

Banana Oat Muffins

Banana Oat Muffins

These muffins came together so quickly (my daughter did most of it herself) and we had fun deciding what toppings to try out.  We settled on blueberries, chocolate chips, and diced apple.  The recipe yielded 18 muffins rather than the dozen shown in the video, so we made six of each kind.  Since oats are used instead of flour, these muffins can easily be made gluten free by using gluten free oats.  With a short ingredient list and no need for even a butter knife, this recipe can be made entirely by kids.  Leftovers warmed up nicely in the toaster oven, making them perfect for a busy school morning.

Now that I’ve discovered the wonder that is time-lapse cooking, I’m excited to see what is out there.  It’s fascinating to watch new dishes come together right before your eyes, and copying down the ingredients as they flash across the screen offers a fun challenge.  What are your favorite video recipes?  Share with our readers, below.

My girls had a friend sleepover the other day, and they woke up hungry and wanting a breakfast that was “not cereal.”  Fortunately we’re on holiday break, so I could indulge their wishes and save cold cereal for a busy school morning.  I had some other tasks on the agenda, so I looked for something that would come together quickly.  I found potatoes that looked great and would go well with eggs and fruit, so I decided to give the recipe a try.

Breakfast Potatoes

Breakfast Potatoes

The most time consuming part of preparing this recipe was dicing the potatoes. They didn’t need to be peeled, which was awesome.  I always skip peeling unless absolutely necessary.  There are great nutrients in the skin, plus, who wants to peel potatoes?  I expected the recipe to call for browning in a frying pan, but they were able to go in the oven, which saved me the time of standing in front of the stove.  The recipe indicated that they may stick to the pan, and recommended lining the pan with parchment paper.  I think this was key to the success of the recipe, so I definitely recommend following this tip.  The only two changes I made  (of course) were to use fresh rosemary instead of parsley, and I browned them under twice under the broiler instead of once, stirring halfway through.

Breakfast with Potatoes

They were quickly gobbled, with many compliments about their crunchy outside, fluffy inside, and flavor. Definitely kid friendly.  They were simple enough to go with any kind of main dish.  The recipe has been pinned on my Pinterest Breakfast board, and will definitely have a recurring role in our repertoire. Share your favorite breakfast recipes with out readers, below.  Happy New  Year!

No matter what holidays your family does (or doesn’t) celebrate,  sweet treats are everywhere this time of year.  If you or someone in your life happens to be gluten-free, most of those babies are off-limits.  Instead of feeling left out, decide on what you’ve been missing the most, and bake to your heart’s content.  With great flour blends and tried-and-true recipes, no one needs to miss out on the sweet fun of the holiday season.  Our family has accumulated many hours of baking over the years, and I’m happy to share our tips for success, along with links to some of our favorite holiday cookies.

Some tips for gluten-free baking success

  1. Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 Baking Mix: I’ve tried lots brands of all-purpose gluten-free flour mixes, and for years I mixed my own using recipes from a few trusted sources. Mixing your own yields great results but is a huge time commitment.  The original Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose mix contained bean flour, which in my opinion was not conducive for any sweet baked goods.  The 1 to 1 blend, however, rocks.  I’ve found it to work well in making breads, cookies, muffins, and just about everything.
  2. Parchment paper: Gluten-free baked goods respond well to parchment paper.  Use it to line the pan before baking brownies, to roll out dough for pies or cinnamon rolls, or on baking sheets so that nothing sticks.  Working with gluten-free dough is different than traditional gluten-full dough, and parchment paper truly helps you get similar results.
  3. Your digital scale: So many quality recipes give measurements for dry ingredients in grams or ounces rather than cups.  At first I didn’t understand, but the precision and ease of assembling ingredients speaks for itself.
  4. Shape before you bake: If you’ve baked with regular flour, you know that baked goods tend to round themselves out as they bake.  Muffins puff up, cookies spread, and loafs naturally take shape.  Not so with gluten-free!  If you leave your dough or batter oddly shaped as it goes into the oven, it will maintain that exact shape after baking. After much trial and error, I learned two tricks.  First, if you’re baking anything in a pan like bread or muffins, give the bottom of the pan a few taps on the counter to help even out the batter.  Keep a small bowl of water nearby, and occasionally dip a fingertip or two into the water and use it to smooth out the tops of baked goods, being careful to use the water sparingly.
  5. Don’t overbake: Gluten-free baked goods don’t mess around.  If you overbake them, they get hard and crumbly, more so than traditional baked goods.  Err on the side of caution, and set your timer for just a minute or two less than necessary.  Better to check on what’s baking and give it another minute rather than find it’s overcooked.

Peanut Butter Blossom

Cookie Favorites

I shared a number of our family favorites last year and the year prior.  Still at the top of the list are Peanut Butter Blossom, the red and green M&M chocolate chip, and sparkly sugar cookies.  Last year we tried candy cane cookies, which were delicious and will be back this year. Lemon sugar cookies have also been a staple.  We’ve always enjoyed this recipe, although for a cookie swap this year I tried a different recipe (with Bob’s 1:1 flour substituted) and we may have liked them even better!  More fluff, and fun to roll in powdered sugar before baking.

The M&M Chocolate Chip

 

In the end, it’s just about adding a little magic to your holiday season.  Sharing the love takes many forms, and a sparkly cookie platter is just one way. Spend some time with our family’s baking tips and favorite recipes, and make some memories.  Share your favorite recipes and baking tips with our readers, below. Happy baking!

It’s no secret that I love a) my crockpot and b) soup.  Combine a + b and I’m one happy mama.  With the busy holiday season and cold days, coming home to a warm, healthy meal that was prepped in the morning is a gift in and of itself.  I was looking to make something different the other day, and had frozen chicken breasts and a bag of potatoes that I wanted to use.  I couldn’t think of anything offhand, so I did some Googling.  The search resulted in a plethora of options, so I read through them until I found one that looked good.  Hearty potatoes, chicken, carrots and celery, some turkey bacon to add flavor-depth… yum. Thanks to a well-stocked pantry, I was able to make a decent meal without a trip to the store.  This recipe also had a few steps that could easily be assisted by my kids, which is always a bonus.

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Healthy Slow Cooker Chicken Potato Soup

I followed the recipe almost exactly.  (Anyone who knows me just fell over in shock). There wasn’t anything I needed to omit or modify in order to make it gluten-free, which is awesome.  I used turkey bacon, which I had in the freezer but thawed really quickly by running the edge of the package under warm water in order to separate four slices. After these were crisped in a frying pan, I put the remaining ingredients into the crockpot.  I don’t always like crockpot recipes that require pre-cooking some ingredients as that kind of defeats the purpose, but for certain ingredients, like bacon, I get it. The chicken breasts were frozen (not shredded like shown in the recipe photo), but I knew that’d be fine since ultimately it would break up in the liquid.  Most soup recipes cook all day on low, so I was surprised to see this one call for cooking on high.  Since my crockpot is newer and cooks quickly, I was able to cook it for six hours rather than a whole day, and it was fully cooked.  My kids helped peel and slice the potatoes, carrots, and celery, so I count that as cooking with kids.

After about four hours of cooking on high,  I could tell the chicken breasts had softened up.  I gently shredded them with two meat forks, so that they would absorb the broth. After two more hours, the liquid was bubbly.  I tested the potatoes and carrots, which were fork-tender and ready to eat.  In order to give the soup some depth and creaminess, I ran the immersion blender through it just a little.  I made sure to break up the chunks of chicken and some of the vegetables, but left it very chunky. The soup was extremely hot due to being cooked on high, so it required scooping into bowls for a good cooling period before it was ready to serve.  The recipe photo showed shredded cheese on top, but it didn’t appear to need it, so I skipped it.  I could put cheese on most anything, so that says a lot about the flavor of the soup.  With the diced turkey bacon, it had a richness that seemed complete on its own.

This was a big hit.  My husband can be really picky about soup (he prefers dinner on a plate, not in a bowl) but the turkey bacon seemed to sway him into concluding that the soup was enough to be “dinner.”  My kids loved it, as it wasn’t too spicy and contained nothing that needed to be eaten around (like zucchini, whose presence always offends them when it’s in soup).  It made a wonderful amount- plenty for dinner with enough left over for another night.  That’s always a huge bonus, as another dinner that can just be heated and eaten makes me really happy.  I guess it doesn’t take much to win me over.

Overall, A+.  Easy to make without any fussy ingredients, unique soup (no beans or pasta, as so many tend to have), healthy, gluten-free without any substitutions, and one simple enough for the kids to help prep.  I’m looking forward to eating it again tonight.  My husband would like to add that “pork bacon would bring out a whole different flavor.” I don’t eat or cook with pork, though, so he’ll have to make it himself if he’d like to test that out. Share your favorite soup recipes with our readers below, or your feedback on this one. Happy (almost) Holidays!

Another busy time of year is here again.  That hectic time leading up to the holidays that can overwhelm even the most organized, Zen parent.  School parties, work parties, family parties.  Shopping, decorating, wrapping.  Helping the less fortunate by participating in clothing, gift, or food drives.  All of this, on top of the regular daily responsibilities of being a parent and an adult.  About now, I find myself craving ease in the kitchen, as well as something comforting, but healthy.  I have a love affair with my crockpot, as do so many busy parents.  This baby allows me to make dinner in the morning when I’m cozy in my pajamas, and feed my family at night when I’m frazzled and tired from a busy day.

Chicken and Rice Soup

Chicken and Rice ranks among my favorite soups.  My family loves it, it tastes pure and simple, and it’s super-duper easy to make. In fact, it offers yet another opportunity for kids to help with chopping and measuring.  This recipe from crockpot goddess Stephanie O’Dea is an oldie but a goodie, and customizable as your own.  She encourages any vegetable combination that tickles your fancy.  I typically stick to the very traditional chicken soup veggies (carrots and celery) but this time I also had three zucchinis needing to be used, so in they went.  My kids aren’t zucchini fans (unless it’s inside of bread) so they ate around it, but gobbled up the rest.  It made enough for dinner and two days of lunches, which rocked!

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I make a few changes to the recipe.  I skip pureeing the vegetables, leaving them in chunks since we enjoy them as they are.  I cook the rice separately, scoop it into individual bowls before serving, and store leftovers separately, so that the rice doesn’t get mushy.  Rather than cooked chicken, I put in two raw chicken breasts (often frozen) and shred them before serving.  After 8-10 hours of cooking, the chicken is perfectly tender and shreds easily, as I find that precooked chicken gets rubbery.

No matter how you make this simple soup, I can almost promise your family will enjoy it. Naturally gluten-free, filled with your favorite veggies, warm and relaxing, delicious… the list goes on and on!  Give it a go, share your results with our readers, below, and keep warm.  Chicken and rice soup is perfect for a chilly Fall day.  Before you know it, you’ll be baking holiday cookies!

Let’s get right down to it… Mac and Cheese.  There, I said it.  I’ve always been a mac and cheese girl.  It’s a direct route to my heart, the first thing I try at a buffet, my favorite comfort food.  Even when I find a recipe I love, I keep trying new ones, because who knows?  There might be one I love even more.

Becoming gluten-free was a bit of a bump in the mac and cheese world.  For one, opportunities to eat it now rest solely on me.  No more buffets, no more potlucks, no more emergency blue box.  Another facet of being gluten free is that convenience foods are gone.  There’s no fast food, or grabbing a bagel, or a sandwich.  Portable food became important, and with the cost of a loaf of gluten free bread (sheesh) we aren’t going to rely on a sandwich every time.

Enter: Miniature Mac and Cheese Cups!  This is not the first time you’ve heard me sing the praises of Nicole Hunn, gluten free cookbook author and blogger extraordinaire.  Thanks to her cooking pursuits, I found the recipes (and the confidence!) to master pie crust, bagels, and rock-star worthy cinnamon buns. Macaroni and cheese, especially portable, mini mac and cheese, is just perfect. They were incredible, and we froze the extras, which I hear works well.  We couldn’t wait to try these, and so many of the other recipes in her new book, Gluten-Free Small Bites.  It’s filled with a bevy of delicious “small bites,” such as handheld wraps, roll-ups, and pies.

With Nicole’s permission, I’ve shared the recipe (and her photo).  Enjoy, and do check out her new book—you won’t know what to make first!  We can’t wait to try the spinach balls and apple hand pies.  If you pre-order before October 25th, you’ll have access to six extra freebies, including a flour calculator, and step-by-step videos of some recipes. If you get your hands on the book, share your thoughts with our readers, below.

mini-mac-and-cheese-cups

miniature mac and cheese cups

Makes about 24 cups

Ingredients

8 ounces small dried gluten-free pasta (like elbows)

1 to 2 tablespoons (14 to 28 g) extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter, chopped

3 tablespoons (27 g) Basic Gum-Free Gluten-Free Flour (page 4)

6 fluid ounces (1/2 can) evaporated milk

1 to 11/4 cups (8 to 10 fluid ounces) milk, at room temperature

4 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded

4 ounces sharp yellow Cheddar cheese, shredded

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 egg (50 g, weighed out of shell), at room

temperature, beaten

Directions

Boil the pasta in a large pasta pot to an al dente texture, according to the package directions. Drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and toss it with olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.  Cover the pot and set it aside.

Preheat your oven to 735°F. Generously grease the wells of two 12-cup standard muffin tins, and set them aside. To make the cheese sauce melt the chopped butter in a medium-size, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk to combine well. The mixture will clump at first, and then smooth after it cooks for a minute or so. This is the roux that will thicken the cheese sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture has just begun to turn a very light-brown color, about 2 minutes. Add the evaporated milk to the roux very slowly, stirring constantly to break up any lumps that might form. Add 1 cup of milk, and whisk to combine well. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced by about one-quarter, about 7 minutes. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon. Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the shredded cheeses, salt, and pepper, and mix to combine. The cheese sauce should be very thickly pourable. Add the beaten egg to the remaining milk, and pour the mixture into the cheese sauce, mixing constantly. Pour the hot cheese sauce over the cooked pasta, and stir carefully to coat all of the pasta in the cheese sauce without breaking up the pasta at all.

Fill the prepared wells of the mini muffin tins just past the top with the macaroni and cheese mixture, and press down carefully but firmly to pack the mixture into the well. Place the muffin tins, one at a time, in the center of the preheated oven. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the muffin tins for 5 minutes before running a toothpick around the edge of each muffin well to loosen the cups and popping them out. Serve warm.

From the book Gluten-Free Small Bites: Sweet and Savory Handheld Treats for On-the-Go Lifestyles and Entertaining, by Nicole Hunn. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Press, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc. Copyright © 2016.

One great way to get your children moving is to do it with them. Jenny is always up for a partner yoga pose. We don’t need any special equipment or clothing to do it. And when you teach your children the essentials of a healthy life early on, it will benefit them all their days.

This  partner yoga pose has many benefits:

  • increases spinal mobility
  • stretches the back and waist muscles
  • improves digestion
  • fosters parent-child bonding
  • sets a wonderful example of wellness for your child

Take a minute to try it out. You’ll be glad you did!

People tend to be pretty interested in homeschooling when they hear that we do so.  I get asked a lot of questions.  I never mind the questions, because I asked lots of questions to others before we began.  Genuine curiosity is always fine (sometimes there’s some judgment, but whatever) and we’re always happy to share our experiences.

So what’s a typical day of homeschooling like?

Well, there’s no typical day.  That’s the thing with homeschooling… every day is different, even two days at home.  I can’t speak for all families, but I know for us, we have a blend of consistency and variety that keeps us going.  Some things stay the same- we try to start around the same time (although I don’t wake up my kids, unless we have somewhere to be. They’re not late sleepers).  Some things are done daily- math, vocab, a little history, reading, and practicing piano.  Then, we rotate through other tasks- science reading and experiments, spelling, geography, writing lessons and projects, foreign language studies, cooking, typing, chores, outdoor activities, crafts or art projects.  If I’m working on something more in-depth with my older daughter, my younger one will sit and read, create something with some craft supplies, play an elaborate game with the dog, set up a fort, or sing and dance around. There’s homemade GAK on the ceiling and glitter that’s permanently cemented to the table, and the dog has worn everything from underwear to dresses, but we’re always creating.  On nice days, we’ll sit on the deck or in the yard and work, and on cold days, we may cuddle up in bed or on the couch under blankets.  By mid-day, we’re often out for the afternoon, going to a co-op class with other homeschool families, science club, dance class, or a meetup at the park.  On other days, we go on field trips to museums, local businesses, or theater performances.

How do you have the patience?

Who says I have patience? Ha ha.  My answer is that the patience to homeschool is like a muscle… you don’t have it at first, but it develops over time.  I see homeschooling as an extension of parenting. There are great moments, good moments, and pretty crumby moments.  Sometimes things are going just right, and I marvel at how my children are thriving.  Other times, they’re fighting over who gets to sit on the yoga ball or who gets the green mechanical pencil, and I wonder if we’re doing the right thing.  Most days are better than not, and when something is not working, we look at what’s going on.  In my opinion, homeschooling is a gift.  It’s not something I have to do, and I expect my children to respect our time together. If they’re not willing to make it work, we don’t have to continue.  Knowing there’s a safety parachute if necessary makes those challenging moments bearable.

What do the kids learn?

Everything.  Traditional school subjects, plus whatever else they’d like.  Gardening, cooking, sewing, foreign language, dance, reading unit prices in the grocery store, how to make phone calls to businesses, tennis, about animals and nature, music, household chores, the US capitals, human sexuality, Brazilian money, government.  You name it, we’ve probably discussed it, read about it, watched a video about it, or learned from someone who knows more than we do.  We’ve toured a baseball stadium, veterinarian office, countless museums and historical sites,  and so many businesses in  the community.  When you homeschool, you get to learn a little bit about everything, and then a whole lot more when you find something you love.

Do you not want your kids around others?

Yes, I was really asked that.  Of course I do! In fact, since homeschooling, we’ve developed an even larger network of friends, joined more activities, and are home less than we were before.  My kids take dance classes, belong to Girl Scouts, have joined town sports teams, attend classes and field trips with other homeschool families, and are constantly out in the community interacting with children of all ages and adults.  Most homeschool families we know do so much other than just school—volunteering, playing sports, and traveling are just some of the possibilities.

Do you homeschool for religious reasons?

We do not, and I personally don’t know anyone that does.   I do know there are large chapters of Christian homeschool groups.  Everything we do is secular, which means there is no religious affiliation.

Are you going to homeschool until college?

I really don’t know.  Most homeschool families take it year by year.  At the end of each year, we consider what worked, what didn’t, if we’re satisfied with how things are going, and we want to do going forward. So far, my children have wanted to continue homeschooling at the end of each year, and I see them doing so many special things that I’m happy to comply.  If they or I think another schooling option would be more suited to their needs, we’ll consider it at any time.

Do you think you’re better/smarter than others, and too good for public school?

I was really asked this.  The answer is, obviously, no.  Homeschooling works for my family, but it isn’t for everyone.  I don’t look down at families who send their children to school, or think I’m smarter than teachers, or other moms who don’t homeschool.

Do you need a teaching degree to homeschool?

No, you do not.  You need to find out what your district requires, obtain materials to fit those subjects, and jump in.  There are lots of enrichment courses, tutors, and classes available whenever desired.  I have training in teaching since I’m a psychologist, and my husband is a teacher, but I know people who are doing an awesome job homeschooling and do not have higher degrees.

There’s lots to know about homeschooling, and I’ll keep sharing as we go along. Feel free to ask questions or share experiences (below) with our readers.  If you’re looking for fun ways to enhance summer learning, check out last week’s blog!

Many homeschool families don’t follow a typical school year schedule, but instead learn throughout the year.  They schedule breaks around holidays, vacations, and whatever works best for the family.  Others do follow a more traditional schedule and take a summer break, but might continue certain subjects as a way to either get ahead or address a remedial subject.  Whether your family homeschools or not, there are lots of fun ways to keep skills sharp over the summer.  There’s a real phenomenon called summer learning loss; due to the extended break, math and reading skills slip so far back that the beginning of the school year is spent relearning lost skills rather than progressing forward.  On the flip side, summer is a time for fun, friends and family, outdoor time, and relaxing.  No need to sit the kids down with a stack of workbooks and force them to miss out on those lazy days.  Instead, there are ways to integrate learning into life, and make it fun for the whole family.

Waterfall

Get Outside

Incredible learning takes place outside.  Pick berries and notice all the kinds of produce grown locally.  Take a hike or go to the beach, and observe birds and wildlife, collect leaves or shells to to look up at home, watch how a caterpillar or crab explores the ground, take note of the various kinds of rocks, watch the different kinds of clouds roll by, collect some ocean or stream water to look at under a microscope.  One thing that my family has begun doing is nature journaling,  Take a notebook, pencil, good eraser, maybe some colored pencils. Go to a loved spot- your backyard, Grandma’s yard, a favorite hike or park, the beach, poolside, wherever, and spend some quiet time there. Encourage your child to consider- what do you see, hear, feel? What does being in this spot make you think about? Are you inspired to draw a picture of something, describe it, write a poem, or just jot down some thoughts or feelings?  To make this fun, bring along your own notebook and join your child in this activity, so that it’s more about nature appreciation and less about work.

Watch a Movie

Those rainy afternoons, lazy evenings after a day of playing in the sun, or sick days are good for something– cuddle up on the couch with a movie!  Instead of parking the kids in front of another mindless kids’ movie, sit down and join them for something of quality.  An old film, a classic musical, a documentary, it doesn’t matter what.  We find it fun to watch movies based on favorite books, and discuss the differences.  Watch a movie and then look for literary elements like foreshadowing.  Analyze what the character is going through– how did he overcome hardship, go on an emotional journey, develop bravery or courage?  My kids love acting out scenes after they’ve fallen in love with a movie, which often leads to imaginative play, drawing, and skits.

Create!

Possibilities are limitless here.  Give the kids of bag of craft supplies and let them go wild, or make a fort out of blankets and pillows, or build a village out of milk cartons and cardboard boxes.  Make a model car, sew a pillow, concoct your own clay or bubbles, build a robot! It can be fun to tap into ideas online such as Pinterest or how-to YouTube videos, but it can be just as worthwhile to let little ones use their own imagination.

Read, read, read

Reading is one crucial skill that should be nurtured year-r0und, and a parent’s attitude and encouragement can make all of the difference. Some kids read willingly, whereas others need a little push.  Sign up for your library’s summer reading program, through which kids can earn prizes and get excited about setting goals.  Go to the library at least once a week.  Let your child pick out books, peruse the “new books” section, and even slip in a few that you think would be interesting.   A variety is great here– some fiction books, mixed in with a book on one of the topics sparked during your outside time, combined with an interesting non-fiction book about a place you might travel to, or your heritage, or animals.  Have family reading time on a rainy day, get in bed a little early after a day outside and let the kids relax and read, or read aloud on a car trip to visit family or friends.

zoo

Follow Their Interests

Was there something that really piqued your child’s interest during the year? Maybe learning about pyramids, the snake that served as the classroom pet, the Revolutionary War, or a really cool Picasso painting studied in art.  Use this time as a laid-back way to find out more. Library books, a documentary found online, or day trip to a museum or zoo are all ways to nurture learning in an organic way that will be fun and not forced.  There are so many local community resources, such as museums, festivals, and parks that can be enjoyed as you broaden your child’s mind.

Let Your Child Be an Apprentice

Take advantage of your child’s time at home to teach them some useful skills. Bring them into the kitchen to help bake muffins (fractions! math!), take part in a home improvement project, wash the car, work in the garden, follow Grandma/Grandpa/Uncle/Older cousin around and learn how to do something worthwhile.  We make it a point to never do any kind of a project at home without having one of the kids help, whether it’s changing batteries in the smoke detector or the windshield wipers.

Free Time

Most importantly, summer is a time to decompress, bond with family and friends, and relax.  Try not to schedule too many engagements, even fun, social get-togethers and day trips, and instead allow for blocks of laid-back, unscheduled time.  Free time and even boredom lead to opportunities for creativity, self-discovery, and recharging. An afternoon at the pool or lake, digging in the sand, splashing in the water,  and giggling with friends is every bit as worthwhile as any worksheet or chore your child could ever do.  A stack of board games or playing cards can create precious memories, as can the opportunity to make your own jam, read to a baby cousin, or create a fairy castle out of old boxes, scraps of fabric, and paint.

Activities don’t have to be exhausting, costly, or time-consuming.  Simple, wholesome, sweet summer experiences make the best memories, and will give your kids something to share when asked to talk or write about “My Summer Vacation.”  Share your favorite downtime activities with our readers in the comments below.  Welcome, summer!

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