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Random Acts of Kindness

Valentine’s Day often finds us expressing our love for family and friends by presenting cards and gifts, and that’s a lovely tradition. When I was in elementary school, the idea was to exchange Valentines with our classmates, and the rule was that each child had to bring a Valentine for each and everyone in the class. No exceptions. Likely that’s why old fashioned Valentines came in cellophane wrapped boxes of more than enough for a class full of kiddos. I recall complaining about having to give cards to everyone, even those I was sure I did not like and definitely would not want “to be my Valentine.” My mother, of course, agreed with the teacher and made sure I had a Valentine for every classmate.

That was an early lesson in being kind. Did you know that Random Acts of Kindness Week begins on Valentine’s Day? That strikes me as perfect timing. What better day to launch a week – that hopefully begins a life time – of practicing acts of kindness? What better time to talk to our children about kindness and how being kind makes our world a better one for all of us?

Let’s explore with our children what being kind means and how we can be warm hearted, friendly, and generous-spirited, considerate, and sympathetic to the needs of others. A smile, a greeting, a compliment, pausing to hold the door for someone are all acts of kindness easily incorporated into our busy lives.

Talk with your children and together decide what acts of kindness each of you can do, then go out and “walk the talk.” Later gather for dinner and share your adventures of walking in kindness. The discussion will likely be lively, and everyone will likely agree that a day practicing random acts of kindness feels so much better than a day spent being grumpy and rude.

We’d like to hear your stories. Let us know your experiences in sharing Random Acts of Kindness Week with your family.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Feed the Birds – One Way or Another

Relatives can be treasure troves of information and ideas. Recently I was spending a winter week with my 90 year old mother in Virginia. Among my daily duties there is feeding the animals: putting out a cob of dried corn for the squirrels, and filling a trough of cracked corn for the deer, a feeding box of black oil sunflower seeds for the squirrels, and a trio of bird feeders – black oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and thistle seeds. The yard is a flutter with birds: from the reddest cardinals – seven on one occasion – to the biggest crows. Acrobatic squirrels “fly,” and when they’re willing to take a chance of being seen, deer, from last spring’s fawns to bucks with impressive racks, wander up from the woods into the clearing with its promise of food.

Whereas my mother also has suet feeders, a favorite among the woodpeckers, hanging on a line, her younger sister Theresa prefers hanging peanut butter treats from her trees. Both my mother and my aunt are troubled by severe arthritis and must constantly figure out ways to adapt what they enjoy doing to circumvent their limitations. When her fingers began cramping too much to allow her to fill the spaces in a pinecone, my aunt switched to a dried corn cob. What a brilliant adaptation and  one that makes sense for young children too.

She spreads crunchy peanut butter on a dried corn cob and rolls the cob in seeds. That is easier on her hands than filling the spaces in a pinecone. She and her son David figured out how to form a holder from a wire coat hanger, and each morning he stops by the house and hangs out a new cob. How lucky the seed eating birds flying into her yard are and how delighted she is to have these feathered friends to entertain her.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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It’s Cold Outside – Feed the Birds

If “the weather outside is frightening” think of the birds and how low temperatures and wind, ice and snow make foraging for food hard. Think too about how cabin fever has you aching for a diversion. Then collect what you need, gather the family, and get busy making pinecone bird feeders.

At the top of the list of ingredients is pinecones. The best ones are fully open. You’ll need twine, string or monofilament for hanging the feeder. Attaching this at the beginning of the project is easier than after you’ve filled the spaces. Tie the string around the pinecone, allowing three feet or more for hanging. Some folks like to tie around the wider stem end of the pinecone; others prefer tying nearer the top, between the third and fourth rows. Do you like the look of upside down or right side up? Decide which way makes more sense to you.

If squirrels share your yard, using monofilament might keep the squirrels at bay. Personally, I doubt anything is foolproof, but watching the squirrels do their best to get to the bird feeder provides entertainment aplenty.

Peanut butter is the easiest filling for the spaces of the pinecone; however, less expensive alternatives are vegetable shortening, lard, or suet mixed with corn meal or oatmeal. One-half cup of shortening and one-half cup of corn meal or oatmeal well blended makes enough mix for one large pinecone.

Carefully spread the peanut butter between the layers of the pinecone, on the bottom and around the edges. Smooth peanut butter is easier to spread, but chunky peanut butter gives nut eating birds an added treat.

Next pour wild bird seeds into a pie pan or on a cookie sheet. Different birds prefer different seeds, but most seed eating birds flock to black oil sunflower seeds. If you plan to offer black oil sunflower seeds regularly, use hulled seeds. Yes, they are more expensive, but they do not create the mess of hulls piling up beneath the feeder.

Safflower seeds are small white powerhouses of fat and protein, and squirrels typically dislike their bitter taste. Among seed eaters are woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches as well as goldfinches, finches, chickadees, and northern cardinals.

Roll the peanut butter filled pinecone in the seeds. Pat the seeds in place. You can also press small bits of dried fruit or chopped nuts into the peanut butter.

Hang the feeder from a tree and watch as birds flock to the newest diner in their neighborhood. The birds will be grateful for the high-energy treat, and you will be in for a treat too. You may be hard pressed to know one bird from another, but you can enjoy watching and appreciate the beauty of our feathered friends.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Intergenerational Crafting – Pomanders

Think Yuletide decorations from nature and handcrafted gifts to welcome the New Year, then gather family and friends, adults and children alike, around a table, sip hot cider, and make pomanders. These clove-studded fruits, dating from medieval times, came to Europe from the Middle East.

Traditionally the surface of the fruit is tightly covered in cloves, and once dry, the pomanders last for years. That said, I have seen contemporary arrangements using partially clove studded oranges and even grapefruits. These are short-lived but attractive variations on an ancient craft.

You can use apples, lemons, limes, oranges, even tangerines if the skin is smooth and thin. Select small fruit, and inspect to insure it’s intact, with no bruises or nicks. Use a sturdy toothpick, a bamboo skewer, a large embroidery needle or a thin knitting needle to punch holes in the fruit and insert a whole clove in each hole. As you go along, you can weave metallic thread among the cloves or use narrow ribbon or braid to embellish the pomander, either inserting the cloves through the ribbon or placing cloves along the edges. Tie a bow at the top or make a loop for hanging, if you like.

For best results, plan to finish what you start before moving on to something else. I speak from experience. Last year I started a lemon, divided its surface vertically into quarters with an open weave gold braid and filled in the spaces with cloves. Next I added a row of cloves between the original rows. That’s when I ran out of time and set the project aside, not realizing the fruit would begin to dry and harden immediately, making coming back later and adding more cloves out of the question. The exposed skin turned brown as the lemon dried but my first pomander remains fragrant and firm after a year.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play


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Intergenerational Crafting – Wreaths from Nature

Wreaths have become year round decorations. And they are easy to make. Different places offer different natural materials suitable for wreath-making, and by getting outdoors and surveying the landscape, you’re sure to find bountiful provisions. Pinecones are an obvious choice for autumn and winter wreaths.

Start with an outing to gather pinecones and pine rosettes. The more, the better because projects have a way of morphing from one idea to another. While rosettes and small pinecones work best for wreaths, the larger ones make excellent bird feeders, and we’ll get to that another time. And believe me, our feathered friends will be delighted to find these hanging from trees providing precious sustenance in the depths of winter.

George Hosein, a four year old, and her mother Megana, made a wreath of pine rosettes using different shades of glitter glue to add color and sparkle to the otherwise natural rosettes. Megana chose tubes of glitter glue to minimize mess and waste. She also covered a rimmed cookie sheet with aluminum foil and used that to corral the rosettes. Covering the table with paper further reduced clean-up time.

After being decorated the rosettes were  left on the cookie sheet to dry overnight. Mother and daughter chose a round straw base for their wreath, and Megana, under the direction of her daughter, used a hot glue gun to attach the rosettes to the form.

Making this wreath was a multi-step project, from gathering the pine rosettes to carefully packing the finished product into a box for presenting as a special gift to a beloved grandmother. Planning, acquiring materials, carrying out “the plan,” and tidying up all provide valuable learning opportunities, invaluable parent and child interaction, and the delight of a job well done.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Cooperative Games = Family Fun

With Thanksgiving approaching fast, now is the best time to explore ways of bringing family members together to play. Fewer hours of daylight and dropping temperatures send us indoors. The challenge is to entice everyone to agree upon how to spend time interacting~doing something together for the sheer fun of sharing an activity. Question is, what will both children and adults enjoy doing together?

At PlayopolisToys, we suggest playing a board game, but not just any board game. Think cooperative games where everyone works together to achieve a common goal. Family Pastimes, a family owned and operated enterprise in Ontario, Canada, offers games to suit all ages and interests. Honestly they have something for everyone.

By laying aside competition and working cooperatively, non-readers and readers, preschoolers and high schoolers, parents and grandparents can play a game together and everyone come away with positive feelings. Everyone wins. No one leaves the game gloating or feeling like a loser.

Megana Hosein, the mother of three who introduced me to Family Pastimes is most enthusiastic about the value of cooperative board games. She writes, “I love how board games encourage interacting and thinking with children in a way that is rarely explored in our busy lives. It always amazes me to hear what they have to say about solving dilemmas within the game, and how this taps into greater topics of conversation that might otherwise have gone unrealized. Furthermore, new friends can easily be made over the commonality and cooperation in a board game, both with peers and with adults. Truly a gentle way to introduce social rules and simultaneously focus the active child while drawing out the shy one.”

Who could ask for more? What better time than Thanksgiving to gather family members and play together?

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play