Leave a Trace

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It may be the middle of summer now, but fall is just around the corner, and I’m already thinking ahead to when Travis will start pre-K in September. One of the skills that pre-K teachers emphasize is tracing, great for learning pen control and pre-writing. How to make that fun in the summertime? Use the sun!

Set a large piece of poster board or craft paper in a sunny spot, and arrange your child’s toys on the paper. For beginning tracers, keep shapes simple.  Building blocks are great, in rectangles, squares, and triangles. Older kids might enjoy the challenge of tracing around complicated objects, like animal figures, cars, or dinosaurs.

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Encourage your child to follow the lines of shadow that the sun casts on the paper. This was tricky for Travis and he didn’t have the patience for it that I hoped on this particular morning, but we got in a little practice!

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If your kids are into it, try coming back to the activity over the course of the day; the shadows will shift (shortest at noon), which is a neat little lesson on the Earth’s rotation.


Color Wheel Gecko

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This project requires a bit more adult set-up usual, but is so worth the effort for the learning and beautiful final product! It’s a fun way to introduce the concept of primary and secondary colors to kids and has a fun animal theme thrown in.

Geckos or chameleons are the perfect creature to illustrate the color wheel because they can camouflage, or change their color to reflect their surroundings. If you want, start off this project with a read of Leo Lionni’s A Color of His Own – then get crafting!

As mentioned, a lot of the set-up here will be for grown-ups only, unless your kids are 1st grade or above. But Travis pretended he was a teacher giving a lesson on geckos while I worked!

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First, trace a circle onto watercolor paper using a paper plate as a guide. Cut out.

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Place the circle over a second piece of watercolor paper, leaving a bit of the circle hanging off the edge (this is the handle that kids will spin later on). Use a pencil to mark where the center of the circle is on the circle itself and on the background paper. If you hold the paper up to the light, you can mark the back as well. Trust me, you’ll want this point as a guide later!

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Cut out the gecko template, and trace onto the background paper, making sure he doesn’t cover that center mark you’ve made.

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Now you need to cut out the traced gecko. Grown ups can pierce a hole with scissors and cut out, but if your kids want to do this step themselves, it may be easier to cut in half along the gecko, cut him out, and then tape the paper back together with painter’s tape. See this link for a full demo.

Now it was time to paint! Grab your circle and a set of watercolors. Travis watched as I divided the wheel into six segments and we discussed the primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. Meanwhile, he couldn’t want to start painting his own scene, talking about what colors he chose.

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As I filled in each secondary color on the wheel, I had him guess what we’d make first. “If I have red and add yellow, we get…” “Orange!” he predicted.

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Looks like those art classes are paying off! You can mix up your own version of each secondary color on a paper plate, or just cheat and use watercolors from your set – I won’t tell!

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While Travis continued to paint watercolor masterpieces on blank paper, I painted a background scene for our gecko, a little tree with green leaves, blue sky, and a bit of peachy sunset (on Travis’s request). We left our watercolors to dry overnight.

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In the morning, poke a paper fastener through the color wheel and your background page, so the ends of the fastener are on the back. Fold over to secure.

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Travis was so excited by the way the colors could spin and how he could watch his little gecko change color. “Now he’s blue! Now he’s green!”

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This project was an absolute delight.

Garden Rock

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A beach near us has great big rocks scattered all over the sand – not just your typical beach pebble finds, but large heavy ones to collect and take home. We decided they would make the perfect final addition to our little patio garden as decorative labels.

Note: If you can’t collect large rocks near you, check your local gardening store.

Travis was thrilled with the size of our rock canvas. I painted one rock with a garden scene (sun and flowers, although the colors later bled together; I also attempted to paint on the word Garden.

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Meanwhile, he had fun swirling colors all over another.

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I loved watching his concentration as he worked!

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So much fun that he needed to paint a second rock.

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We left them to dry overnight, then settled them among our pots on the patio the next morning, taking care to find each rock the perfect spot.

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Create Your Own Constellation

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Late summer nights are the perfect chance to star gaze, look for shooting stars, and teach your kids a little about the constellations (although my own knowledge pretty much ends at the Big Dipper and Orion!).

We took the fun inside the next day with this cute idea from High Five magazine, using some recent rocks from a day of collecting at the beach. Wash and dry your rocks before beginning.

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Paint the rocks black, and let dry completely.

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Once dry, we painted on white stars. Although Travis didn’t quite master the shape of a star, it was fun to teach him how to draw one.

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We let the white paint dry, then added a layer of glow-in-the-dark puffy paint.

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Leave your rocks in the sun to activate the paint.

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At night, move your rocks to the darkest spot in your house (that meant our bathroom, away from any windows!) to see them glow. I encouraged Travis to arrange them in fun shapes and make his own constellation.

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A cute new way to “star gaze.”

Summer Bucket List Part II

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About a month ago, we came up with a bucket list of activities to enjoy before summer ended. Turns out it didn’t take us long to tick through the whole list – we already have ideas for next summer! But before I get ahead of myself, here’s a run-down of the fun we had.

June 4 – Catch a Minor League Sports Game

Thanks to discount tickets through our local library, we were quickly motivated to check this one off the list, taking in a minor league baseball game. The game didn’t start until 7 p.m., meaning this was a treat to stay up late, drink lemonade, and watch some ball while the sun set!

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June 6 – Dye Your Hair with Kool-Aid

The final week of nursery school featured “crazy hair day”, so how could we not try out the kool-aid method? We followed the instructions from Down Home Inspiration, which unfortunately didn’t work quite as well on short boy hair as on long hair.

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But we got a hint of dark color that lasted just long enough for the school day, and Travis got a kick out of it!

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June 9 – Go Berry Picking

Travis was officially out of school for the summer, and we celebrated with berry picking at a local organic farm.

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Since we picked blueberries last year, this year was all about strawberries!

June 9 – Eat Dinner al Fresco

We capped off a busy summer day (see berry picking above) with food and drinks on the patio. Eating al fresco for kids always feels slightly taboo, slightly invigorating, and definitely full of summer.

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June 16 – Spot Shapes in the Clouds

One of our favorite words from the recently-published Big Words for Little Geniuses is nephelococcygia or “finding familiar shapes in clouds,” so we were psyched to spot shapes over a weekend vacation with big cousins. Some of the kids thought this was a man o’ war or a fish.

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We even spotted a T for Travis!

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June 16 – Temporary Tattoos

Having the whole family together meant everyone got a temporary tattoo – moms, uncles, aunts, and kids included!

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June 19 – Play Hopscotch

When I first pulled out the chalk, Travis wanted to do his own thing, drawing buildings and then spritzing them with water.

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Meanwhile I drew us a hopscotch board. I finally coaxed him into tossing little tokens and jumping his way to them, at which point he declared, “I didn’t think I’d like this game, but now I do.”

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He got a kick out of watching mom jump, too!

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June 30 – Visit a Local Farm

For us, a farm has to mean a sanctuary, the perfect way to show vegan kids (or any kids!) that animals can live out their natural lives under human care. We’re lucky enough to have one just 15 minutes up the road. He loved the turkeys best.

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June 30 – Catch Fireflies

The suggestion to go backyard camping from Ranger Rick Jr. was a perfect excuse to cross another item off our list – fireflies! We didn’t catch any that night, but we loved watching them from the tent, and I even managed to catch a spark on film.

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Wouldn’t you know, a few weeks later we had a firefly in the house, and got a chance to observe it before sending it back outside.

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July 3 – Enjoy an Outdoor Concert

Check your town’s local listings; there is almost certain to be music or kids’ entertainment somewhere in a park near you before the summer is over. We had a magical evening at a local park, including a fun performance from a Grammy-winning kids’ song writer, Italian ice, and warm summer breezes.

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July 8 – Paddle a Canoe

Alas, this one was not a hit. We canoed across a beautiful lake in New Hampshire, and here’s Travis excited before we began!

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Soon, though, he was terrified, so it turned into paddling across as fast as we possibly could.

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July 8 – Skip Rocks

Better than that darn canoe was skipping rocks once we reached the pebbly beach at the lake’s other side! A moment of peace with Daddy and one of life’s simpler pleasures.

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July 13 – Plant Something and Watch It Grow

The final notch in our summer belt was to do some planting. We love ladybugs (and are firm believers that they bring good luck) so thought these ladybug seed bombs would be perfect on our patio.

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We also planted a few flower bulbs into recently decorated pots, and Travis sported his new kid-sized gardening gloves. Our patio has never looked prettier!

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Clay Animals

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After a recent snacktime story in High Five magazine about clay animals, Travis couldn’t wait to make our own. “Let’s do it right now!” he begged – good thing I had colored clay on hand!

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We started out copying the animals from the story – a yellow chick, red crab, and green frog.

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But soon Travis was off and running with his own ideas, proudly holding them up for me. A snail!

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A starfish!

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We used clay that won’t dry out since we weren’t concerned about keeping our creatures, but do use air-dry clay if your kids will want things a bit more permanent.

To add some fun, you can snip pieces of pipe cleaner to attach heads to bodies, as well as arms and legs. We tried out this method on a little bunny.

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Mushing colors together made… a robot!

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Toothpicks are great for adding details like mouths and eyes, or even chick feathers.

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Travis soon decided the toothpick was a mosquito biting the animals, so then we needed clay band-aids.

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Great fun on a rainy day!


Jeweled Garden Sticks

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We’re proud of the little garden we’ve managed to create on our patio this summer (a goal from our Bucket List!), with everything from chalkboard planters to little coiled snakes as decorative guests. Now we wanted to make sure pests stayed away, and I read a tip online that shiny items act as a deterrent.

Travis was a pure imp putting this project together, but luckily I had our work surface well covered! First, cover jumbo craft sticks with glue.

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Add sequins or any other shiny items (such as beads or buttons) from your craft bin. I thought Travis might want to place pieces on deliberately or in a pattern, but no… dumping the bag of sequins was much more fun!

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This method worked surprisingly well. When we shook off the excess, we had shiny jeweled sticks left over.

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Let dry completely before heading outside to put in the dirt near any plants you want to protect.

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We’ll see if it works!

DIY Chalkboard Planters

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Chalkboard paint is practically like magic – paint a coat over just about anything, and soon you have a chalkboard surface.

We had plans to plant flowers and herbs in pots on our back patio, so it was the perfect excuse to break out the chalkboard paint!

You could either make a big stripe to be the label…

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…or do as Travis did and paint the whole pot.

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We decided this large surface would be great for drawing in pictures of the plants with chalk, in addition to simply writing their names.

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Let dry overnight, then use chalk to write in the name of whatever will be in your pots. Happy planting!

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Sun-Melted Crayons

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You probably know that you can melt old crayons in the oven – but in the summer, you can also let the sun do the work!

This craft is the perfect use for all those old or broken crayons in your house. Remove the paper liners and place the crayons in a zip-top bag. Smash into pieces with a hammer.

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Travis couldn’t believe he got to use the grown-up hammer!

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Select cookie cutters and place on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Fill with the crayon pieces to about 1/2-inch deep.

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Place in a sunny spot for at least 6 hours, or until melted.

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Although our crayons got very soft, they never did melt together all the way (we ought to have taken advantage of last week’s 95 degree heat wave, instead of our 85 degrees today!) so we ultimately popped them in the oven to finish the process. This only took 5 minutes (at 170 degrees F) since they were already so soft.

Let cool before popping out of the cookie cutters.

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Cardboard Tube Coiled Snakes

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This is a fun craft to put together, and the adorable final product can be used either to play with or to occupy a cute space in your garden!

First, paint toilet paper tubes with paint on the insides and out. We liked selecting fun bright colors for this project!

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If you intend to set the snakes outside in the garden, be sure to use acrylic paint. Painting the inside was a bit tricky for Travis, so I did that part and neatened up the outside of his blue one. Let dry completely.

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Cut each tube into a coil shape. I confess that I found this step tricky, so our snakes only have about 4 loops each. I saw others online that were cut into very thin little spirals – by all means go ahead if it doesn’t hurt your wrists as it hurt mine!

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Coil your snakes around a longer tube (like an old paper towel roll) to hold them steady and add colorful dots using the handle of a paintbrush rather than the bristles – a novelty!

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Let one side dry completely before you flip the tubes and dot the other side.

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For a final touch, we glued on triangle “tongues” made from red paper and two googly eyes.

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Travis was so excited by the way the snakes stretched out! Great for imaginative games.

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When it’s time to find your snake a place in the rainforest (er, I mean garden), choose a cozy spot and nestle them in.