Look Up! It’s The Perseid Meteor Shower

You might see a lot or you might not see many, but if you stay in the house, you won’t see any. — EarthSky Magazine

 

The annual Perseid meteor shower is coming our way. Anyone who lives in the Northern Hemisphere may be in for a good old-fashioned sky show, just by looking up.

The Perseids are debris from a wandering comet that appears as shooting stars each August. (Records of this light show go back to 36 A.D., though the Swift-Tuttle Comet was discovered much later.) They often provide one of the best shows of the year, if the skies are clear and the moon is not full. Because the Perseids follow the full moon by only two days this year, the show may be less spectacular than usual.  :(

The peak of of the show will be Tuesday, August 12 around 3 am local time. Sometimes meteors can be seen up to a week before and after a shower’s peak. Astronomers are predicting as many as 70 meteors an hour for those who are able to see the Perseids. (That said, we always see fewer meteors than these predicted numbers, so don’t be disappointed. One fantastic shooting star blazing through the sky can produce lifelong memories and awe.)

You won’t need any special equipment to see the Perseids. The naked eye is actually best. Just be sure to give your eyes some time to adjust to the dark. And hope for a good show! Here are more tips for viewing the Perseids.

The San Francisco Chronicle offers more information about the Perseids, along with some good viewing tips and a sky map.

If you like, you can even be a citizen scientist and help NASA count meteors! Download a free app for iphones and androids and join the meteor count. (Here are more citizen science projects you might be interested in.)

Some of my family’s most relaxed and memorable moments have occurred while gazing at the stars together. You can’t help but be infused with a sense of wonder, history and mystery while contemplating the cosmos. It’s natural to share those feelings with those around us, as we use the stars to try to look back through distance and time.

My family remembers one especially wonderful August, when we went to the top of our nearest mountain to see the Perseid meteor shower. Lying in the grass in the dark, we could hear choruses of “oohs” and “aahs” coming from all around the mountain,

Top 10 Ways to Learn in Your Own Backyard

Many parents worry about summer slide, the learning loss that can occur while school is out for the summer. Great news: There is a hotbed of learning right in your own backyard. Science, math, art, history, and early literacy can come alive through the kinds of rich, hands-on, project-based experiences that make learning meaningful, all while you’re having fun exploring outdoors.

(Read on for info about Galileo Camp and Natural Nester DIY Camp.)

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Grow a Habitat Garden and Experience Citizen Science

Small creatures like birds and butterflies are always fun to watch. There are lots of ways to encourage them to visit your garden and linger a while, many of which provide fun and fascinating projects while benefiting your local habitat, your garden and the greater ecosystem of the Earth. You don’t need a large yard to have a habitat garden. Apartment balconies, window ledges, school gardens, and decks can all host local habitat.

Backyard creatures essentially need four things: Food, water, shelter and places to lay eggs and care for their young. Learn more and find resources about habitat gardening. Welcoming wildlife needn’t be complicated. One very easy way to start is by making a bird feeder.

Want to take it a step farther? The Great Sunflower Project is just one of many opportunities for kids to experience citizen science close to home. Citizen scientists are ordinary people of all ages who help scientists and organizations track the count and behaviors of birds, butterflies, bees and others. After all, researchers can’t be everywhere, and many of us have habitats in our backyards and neighborhoods that can help them gain important information about nature. If you have 15 minutes, you can count bees, which are vital for the Earth’s ecosystem, for The Great Sunflower Project. Other projects available year-round allow you to track birds, bats, butterflies, fireflies, wildflowers, meteors and snow, learning about each in the process. See a list of citizen science projects.

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Have Some Gardening Fun

Pizza Garden

You can grow just about everything needed for a pizza right in your own yard and then harvest and eat all the items baked in a pizza. All you’ll need to add is the dough and cheese! Pizza gardens teach design, planning, growing, harvesting, cooking and nutrition. Determine the shape of your pizza garden and decide what you’d like to grown and how you want to divide the space. Round pizza gardens, for instance, can be divided into four, six, or eight spokes, to resemble pizza slices. Mark off areas with string or rocks. Make sure to give plants like tomatoes plenty of room. In addition to tomatoes, try zucchini, eggplant, peppers, spinach, basil, oregano, onions, or garlic. Or grow flowers – red flowers to represent tomato sauce, yellow flowers to represent cheese, pink flowers for pepperoni, and some green leafy plants for spinach or peppers.

Seed Race

Why not make gardening into a game, and create a science experiment at the same time, with a seed race? Choose two or more types of seeds.
Plant them at the same time, in the same conditions, near each other in the ground or in similar containers, indoors or out. (Or plant the same seeds and vary one or more conditions as an experiment.) Water and watch which one emerges first and grows fastest. Stake them with a store-bought or homemade yardstick to measure their progress.

Growing Initials

Give your kids something they can claim as their own, and engage them in early literacy  at the same time by planting seeds in the shape of a child’s initials. Lay string in the shapes of the letters you like and dig a shallow furrow beside it. Plant your seeds – leafy greens work well for this project because they come up quickly and fill out nicely. These include lettuce, chives, radishes, cress, and various grasses. Most greens have fine seeds, which can be planted in a close, continuous line and thinned as needed.

Saving Seeds

What better way for kids to learn about the process of seeds becoming plants than to collect, save, plant and grow their own seeds? Seed saving is fascinating, rewarding, frugal and fun!

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Make a Wind Chime or Music Tree

Kids love to make music and noise. What better place for that than outdoors? Hang old or recycled pots, pans, tin cans, lids, muffin tins, silverware, measuring cups and other items from tree branches. Group lighter items close together to create wind chimes, or place them farther apart to let kids make music with wooden spoons to experiment with different sounds or learn about the effects of wind.

Have Fun with Water

Outdoor time calls for water play, which allows even the youngest children to learn about the properties of water, as it allows things to float, sink, fill, empty, change textures and temperatures, and move at various speeds. Young children will enjoy a mud play area and lots of old cups and kitchen items for filling, scooping and dumping. Others may enjoy filling cups with water and making “magic potions” with food coloring, glitter and small found objects. Or fill a tub of water and make a fine sea-worthy vessel to play with.

Cork Rafts and Sailboats

You’ll need:
Corks
School or craft glue
Flat toothpicks
Construction or other paper
Ruler
Markers, crayons, or colored pencils
Scissors

Raft: Arrange corks in a square or rectangle, with long sides touching each other. Glue the sides of the corks together. Draw a small rectangle (approximately 1 x 4”) on the paper with the ruler and cut it out. Fold the paper in half, so that you have two rectangles approximately 1 x 2”. Draw your country’s flag, or flags from your imagination, on each outer side of the paper. Glue the toothpick into the inner fold on the back side between the two flags, and let the glue dry. Glue the two halves of the paper together to secure the flag. Affix the toothpick flags into one cork or several corks and set the raft in water.

Sailboat: Glue corks together, following the instructions for the raft, or simply use a single cork. Draw a triangular sail shape on the paper (approximately 1” long on the side that will be glued to the toothpick. Decorate your sail, if desired. Glue the sail to the toothpick on its 1” side and let the glue dry. Affix the toothpick sail into the cork or cork base and set sail!

Elementary and older children will enjoy making a paper boat and sailing it in a nearby body of water, alone or in a race with others.

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Create Garden Art

Artists and craftspeople have long been inspired by the garden. Just getting outside with art and craft materials can open a world of wonder and observation. Gardens, in all their color, variety and changing light, offer great subjects, as well as a place to clear the artist’s head. In addition, they often provide a place where one can get messier than inside a house. Bring tempera or finger paints and paper outside, for plein air painting, paint a flower pot that you can plant in, or make a pretty beaded spider web.

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Blow Bubbles

Bubble blowing may be one of life’s perfect activities. While providing endless possibilities and inexpensive fun, bubbles also illustrate properties of science. Each one is a thin skin of liquid surrounding a gas. The water molecules on their surfaces bond tightly together, because each is made up of two sticky hydrogen atoms and one oxygen one – H2O. More bubble science is explained here. Bubbles can be made using ingredients you have around the house. When the weather’s nice, I often make a bucket of bubble solution and leave it outside with wands and other fun equipment so my daughter and friends can make bubbles whenever they like. It’s always fun and magical to create bubbles and watch them trail in the breeze. Here’s a recipe for giant homemade bubbles and some fun bubble activities.

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Play Web of Life

This is a powerful group game that teaches older children about the interconnectedness of living things. We encountered it on a school field trip to a vibrant marsh and have never forgotten it.

You’ll need:
A ball of string, yarn, or twine

Players form a circle. The leader asks them to name a plant or animal that lives in the area. When someone names a plant or animal, he or she is handed the end of the ball of string. When someone names another plant or animal, the string is unraveled and handed to that person. The game continues this way until everyone is holding the same piece of string. It can be very dramatic for everyone to realize that they are webbed together. Choose one of the players to illustrate what happens when there is change, such as when a tree burns down or an animal is eaten. Have that person pull his or her piece of string to see its effect on all the others.

Slow Tip: If people get stuck on what to say next, go backward or forward in the food and shelter chain. The bird eats a frog, the frog eats an ant, the ant crawls under a tree, the tree provides oxygen for the deer, and so on.

Cook with the Sun

Box ovens employ one of the oldest energy sources of all, solar power. But while people have dried food in the sun for centuries, it was French-Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure who harnessed it for cooking. He used glass to trap heat and create convection while his 1700s peers were still burning mirrors. Anything that can be cooked in a regular oven can be cooked in a box oven, though it’s best to stick with recipes that don’t require raw meat or eggs, until you’re proficient.

You’ll need:
Large sturdy cardboard box, with four sides and a bottom (no top or lids), such as a 10-ream paper box
Heavy-duty aluminum foil
Duct tape
Cookie sheet or large cake pan
4 tin cans, filled with water to weight them
Charcoal briquettes and fire starter
Disposable foil tray or pie tins
Small stone
Recipe and cooking items
Bucket of water for fire safety

Choose a hot day with full sun. Completely line the box inside and out with foil, shiny side out. Tape only on the outside of the box (to avoid fumes getting in the food.) Choose a flat surface away from flammable objects. Line it with foil. Use the tin cans as “feet” to hold the cookie sheet or cake pan, which serves as the oven tray. Fill the foil tray or pie tins with briquettes, approx. one for every 40 degrees of desired oven temperature, and start. Place the item to be cooked on the oven tray (ideas follow). Slide the briquettes under the oven tray when ready (white). Place the box oven down over the items, using a small rock on the least windy side to lift part of the box off the ground for ventilation.

Follow the directions for your recipe. Cupcakes, biscuits, English muffin pizzas, and other items that don’t require long cooking times all work well in box ovens. Try one of our favorites:

Box Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake

You’ll need:
2 boxes yellow cake mix, prepared
1 ounce butter or margarine
1 8-ounce can of pineapples
½ cup brown sugar
Dutch oven or large cake pan
Second pan or cookie sheet

Place butter or margarine in the Dutch oven or pan and melt it in the box oven. Stir brown sugar and pineapples into the melted butter. Pour prepared cake mix over the pineapple mixture. Bake for 25 minutes or more, until the cake is golden brown. Remove from the box oven and invert onto a second pan or cookie sheet.

Slow Tip: Want to try some super easy sun cooking? Make sun tea by filling a container with water, adding tea bags, and letting the container steep in the sun.

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Enjoy the Night Sky

Backyard fun needn’t only happen during the daytime. Nighttime offers lots of opportunities to explore constellations of stars; meteor showers, like August’s Perseids; or phases of the moon. You can’t help but be infused with a sense of wonder, awe, history and mystery while contemplating the cosmos, as countless people, back to the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and others have done before us.

Get to Know the Constellations

With 88 constellations and numerous other stars, the night sky can seem a bit overwhelming. Begin to get to know it by locating a few key constellations and orienting to those. After all, the constellations were themselves created to help the ancients better understand the night sky.

The Big Dipper, which is part of a larger constellation, is a great starting point, as it has an identifiable shape and is usually visible over much of the Northern Hemisphere. It appears like a ladle (bowl) and handle. Seeking the North Star, or Polaris? Extend an imaginary line up from the top corner of the ladle that is furthest from the handle. Polaris is in turn on the handle of the Little Dipper, which appears upside down and facing the opposite direction from the Big Dipper. Continue on from the North Star, away from the Big Dipper, for about the same distance and you will reach Casseopeia (the mythical Queen of Ethiopia), another famous constellation. In the Northern Hemisphere, Cassiopeia is shaped like an “M” in the Summer and a “W” in the Winter.

Consult a star map and continue to find relationships to these constellations.

Slow Snippet: What makes stars twinkle? What we see as twinkling is really the light from the star bending as it moves through layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. That trip takes billions of years, so that what we see is a snapshot of a time in the cosmos that is long past.

Keep a Moon Diary

Taking note of the moon’s phases and rhythms, as it moves through its cycle, is a great way to feel the rhythms of our lives and of nature. Observing the moon and keeping a moon diary can help younger children understand how long a month is.

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Have a Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger hunts are a great way to get everyone exploring and observing in nature.

You’ll need:
Pencils and paper

Create a list in advance or have players contribute to one list of 10-20 things they might find in the backyard or park. A list might include an oak tree, a pond, a red bird, a dandelion, a wildflower, a nest, a feather, an acorn or a hollow log. You or the hunters could also list more subjective items, such as something rough, something orange, something unexpected, or a heart-shaped rock. Teams or players go off to seek the items on the list and cross each off when they see it. One point is awarded for each item found. The person or team with the most points wins.

Make a Nature Bracelet

This is a fun and easy way to get kids to look around them and observe small items in their own backyards.

You’ll need:
1″ or wider Masking Tape, enough to go around each child’s wrist

Tear off a piece of masking tape, slightly larger than the child’s wrist. Place it around the wrist with the sticky side out. Go for a walk or hunt and look for small items in nature that can be stuck to the masking tape, such as leaves, twigs, seeds, acorns and pods. (Generally things that have already fallen on the ground are safe to pick. If in doubt, leave something.) Fill the bracelet by sticking the items onto it and wear it proudly.

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These activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more fun family activities.

Want to take it further? Create your own backyard DIY summer camp with eight weeks of ideas from A Natural Nester and many others.

San Francisco Bay Area parents, want to find a camp that inspires summer learning and fun? Check out Galileo Camps, with over 40 Bay Area locations. Use code: 2014INNOVATION for $30 off.

This post is part of the School’s Out Top 10 Summer Learning series. Be sure to read all the other great Top 10 lists!

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Thanks to our sponsor, Galileo Learning.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Kids Growing Strong (pizza garden), Public Domain (night sky), Pass the Cereal (nature bracelet)

Pollinator Week: Have Fun Attracting and Helping Bees, Birds and Butterflies

June 16-22 is National Pollinator Week. It’s a week to celebrate and educate about pollinating animals, such as bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles and others, which are extremely vital to our ecosystem. Pollinators support much of our wildlife, lands and watersheds. Nearly 80% 0f the 1,400 crop plants grown around the world that produce all of our food and plant-based industrial products require pollination by animals.

There are so many simple ways to welcome pollinators into our home gardens and other outdoor spaces. In addition to helping the earth’s ecosystem and food supply, you’ll also experience the fascination and wonder that comes from observing the animals you attract. Here are a few ways to get more involved:

Find or add an event through Pollinator Partnership, a wonderful resource about pollinators year-round.

Garden for wildlife with tons of tips and guides from the National Wildlife Federation, which offers a Certified Backyard Habitat Program.

Check out NWF gardeners’ favorite plants for attracting pollinators.

Find more information about gardening for wildlife from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Join the Great Sunflower Project and many other citizen science projects that allow you to help researchers right from your own backyard or a local park.

Spring at the Bird Cafe and bird feeder activity.

Make a quick and easy bird feeder to attract and observe birds.

Enjoy beautiful nature during Pollinator Week and throughout the year!

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Public Domain

Personalize Your Baking with Fun Cookie Cutters

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I love anything that let’s you customize your projects, so when I saw these special cookie cutters from Chicago Metallic, I immediately bought the set. They are so much fun to use!

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There are three generous cookie shapes with grooves to fit the letters, which follow the same principle of old printing presses – letters get placed into the grooves backward, in order to print the messages in the right direction.

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There was more than enough of every letter. In addition, the set comes with some ready-made strips of common phrases, like Happy, Birthday, Congrats, Holiday, Welcome, From and Love You.

I had been wanting to send my college-age daughter a last care package for the year, so I celebrated the end of the school year and the beginning of summer in cookies. I used the recipe that came with the cutters, and it  made a simple, thick, buttery sugar cookie that stood up to shipping. I’m sure I’ll experiment with other recipes and sayings, because this was so much fun – and most appreciated. I think they’d make terrific cookies for holidays or any occasion. For children’s birthday parties, you could surprise guests with personalized cookies, as a simple party favor (that will surely be appreciated). For an older group, cookies could serve as placeholders.

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Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Restoration Hardware’s 17-Pound Mailing Goes Back Where it Belongs

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Back to Restoration Hardware they go:

Seventeen pounds in 13 double-plastic-wrapped books
Bound and shipped and trucked around the globe
Doorstops, dropped as if by drones on unsuspecting doorsteps
Each the weight of a small child, the pages of former forests
Such waste, under the ruse of “carbon neutrality”

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And inside?

Oppressive and interminable grey, black, beige, brown
Andalusian cabinets fit for a dungeon
Bleak monastic tables in stark basement chic
Busts and urns, columns and finials for the delusional home museum
Fake archeological treasures and kills from the consumerist hunt

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Oversized chandeliers, bar carts and mirrors (the better to view one’s fabulousness)
Seating for giants, cribs for royal Goth babies
The nightmare realm of grim fairy tales

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Cloches and anvils; looking glasses, vices and maritime lights
Corbels, casements, cornices and plinths
Reproduction “treasures” from diminishing coral reefs
Curiosities for the uncurious

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Reliving the coup? Recline on a Napoleonic tufted couch or deconstructed Napoleonic chair, feet resting on an antiqued Napoleonic ottoman, while gazing upon your Napoleonic bust
Is it leather you seek? They’ve Brompton, Berkshire, Burnham; Antiqued, Distressed, Destroyed
The salvaged, “vintage”, weathered, replicated
Instant heirloom, purchased pedigree

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Steamer trunks from the Titanic (first class)
British surveyor’s tripods for nostalgic Colonials
Maps to chart 18th century world domination
Scales of justice (no comment)

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Wish fulfillment for the one percent
Driven home in the form of 13 monotonous and tiresome books
I don’t want your paeans to unimaginative excess

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Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Restoration Hardware

 

 

10 Timeless Games to Celebrate Backyard Games Week

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The week before Memorial Day is Backyard Games Week, and there’s no time like the present to learn some tried-and-true games, some of which you or your parents may have played during childhood. So gather a few friends or simple supplies and go out and play!

(Got an idea for your own game? See the end of the post to learn about the CLIF Kid Backyard Game of the Year Contest.)

Marbles (Ringer)

They can be called Plainsees, Peewees, Bumblebees, Clouds, Swirlies, Cat’s Eyes, or Beach Balls. They can be made of glass, clay, agate, or steel. Marbles have been used for game play since ancient times in Pakistan, Egypt and Rome, and people of all ages play and compete today. The U.S. National Marbles Tournament has been held on the New Jersey shore since 1922. The British and World Marbles Championship, played annually on Good Friday, goes all the way back to 1588, when two young men duked it out with marbles to determine who would win the hand of a local milkmaiden. While there are many marbles games, Ringer is the classic.

You’ll need:

13 standard-sized marbles and one larger shooter marble for each player
A flat surface
Sidewalk chalk or string and tape

Draw a chalk circle at least 3 feet (and as large as 10 feet) in diameter on a sidewalk or driveway, or tape a string circle in place on a carpet. The larger the circle, the more challenging the game. Place the 13 smaller marbles in the center of the circle, in the shape of an X, or scatter them randomly. The first player sits just outside the circle and shoots his or her large marble (or shooter) into the circle, aiming at one or more smaller marbles, with the intent of knocking the smaller marbles outside of the circle, while leaving the shooter inside the circle. To shoot, place one or more knuckles on the ground and flick the shooter marble with a thumb. If one or more marbles are successfully knocked out of the circle, with the shooter left inside, the player collects the marbles he or she shot outside the circle and shoots again from the place where the shooter landed. If the shooter lands outside the circle as well, the next player is up. The second and subsequent players do the same. Shooter marbles stay where they landed during each round. Players can also choose to shoot the shooter marbles of others further away from the circle, so that that player will have a more challenging place to shoot from during the next round. Play continues until all the marbles have been knocked out of the circle. Players count their marbles to determine a winner.

Slow Tip: You can make your own marbles, the ancient way, using polymer clay. Roll solid or multi-colored pieces of clay into the shapes of marbles and bake according to package directions. Don’t forget to make a few larger shooter marbles.

Jacks

This classic game never goes out of style and, while it can be challenging at first, players do get better with practice. Sets of jacks can be found in many markets.

You’ll need:

10 metal jacks and a bouncy ball (usually sold in a set)
A hard level surface, like a patio or driveway

Scatter the jacks onto the hard surface. Throw the ball up (approximately 6 inches, though this will vary) near the jacks with your dominant hand. While the ball is in the air, scoop up one jack along with the ball, which has now bounced. Put the jack aside. Repeat, this time picking up two jacks. Keep increasing the amount of jacks you pick up. If the ball bounces more than once on that turn, the play moves to the next person. When there are no more jacks left on the playing surface, players count their jacks to determine a winner.

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Pick-Up Sticks

It’s called Spillikans in Canada, Plockepinn in Sweden, Mikado throughout Europe, and Kau Cim in China, where the sticks were used as a fortune-telling device. Canisters of pick-up sticks can usually be found in toy and variety stores – or make your own from twigs!

You’ll need:

A set of pick-up sticks, or approx. 41 sticks
A flat surface

Hold the pick-up sticks in a bundle, then release them so that they land in a pile. Players take turns trying to remove one stick at a time, without disturbing any other sticks. When a stick from the pile is disturbed, the next player takes a turn. Some players use a designated stick to remove other sticks. Commercial sets of sticks are often color-coded, so that some sticks have higher point values. When all the sticks have been removed from the pile, players total either their number of sticks or the values of the sticks based on their colors, according to package directions.

Red Rover

Because it’s a game of strength, Red Rover should be played with a few precautions, which are noted. One benefit of the sometime-controversial game, is that the game ends when everyone ends up on the same side, so there are no winners or losers.

Divide into two teams. Each team forms a line, approximately 30 feet from the other. Team members all hold hands.
The first team decides who they are going to call over. They then call out, “Red Rover, Red Rover, Let ___ come over.”

The person named breaks from his or her line and runs as fast as possible in between any two players on the opposing team, in an effort to break through those team members’ arms.

If the runner breaks through, causing those opposing players’ hands to drop, he or she chooses one person for the opposing team to join his team, and they both go back and join in that team’s line.

If the runner fails to break through, he or she joins the opposing team’s line.

Each team alternates calling people over until all the players end up on one side.

 Note: To prevent injury, players should join hands, and not arms, so that they can easily unlink, and keep their hands at waist level. Players should be roughly the same size.

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Duck Duck Goose

South Asians know it as Kho Kho, Ghanaians as Antoakyire. German children play a version called Plumpsack, which involves dropping a handkerchief at one player’s spot. Young children play this timeless game around the world.

Players sit in a circle, facing each other. Choose a player to be It. That person walks around the outside of the circle. As they walk around, they tap each person on the head and say, for the first few or many, “duck”, “duck”, “duck”. Finally, It taps a person on the head and says, “goose” and begins to run around the outside of the circle. The person who is tapped as a goose gets up and chases It around the circle. If the goose is able to tap It before he or she sits down in the goose’s spot, then It goes into the center of the circle. If the goose does not tag It, then the goose is the next It and the last It returns to the circle. Players can only come out of the middle once a new player gets tagged and goes in.

Red Light, Green Light

Another game played around the world, Red Light Green Light has many variations. In the Czech Republic, it’s called, “Cukr, káva, limonáda, čaj, rum, bum!” (“Sugar, coffee, lemonade, tea, rum, boom!”)

One player is chosen to be the Stoplight. That person turns their back to the group, which forms a line approx. 10-30 yards away (depending on ages of players.) The Stoplight calls out “Green Light” and the players advance toward it as quickly as they can. When he or she wishes, the Stoplight calls out “Red Light”, at the same time turning around to see the runners. The runners must stop immediately. Any player caught moving after a call of “Red Light” has to go back to the starting line. Green lights/red lights are repeated until the first player reaches and tags the Stoplight and is declared the winner. If all the players are out before they reach the Stoplight then the Stoplight wins that round. The winner becomes the new Stoplight.

Slow Snippet: Many cultures count 1-2-3 in their language and then shout a particular word instead of saying “Red Light”. In Mexico, it’s “calabaza” (pumpkin), Israel “herring”, Italy “estrella” (star), and France “soleil” (sun).

Mother/Father May I

This game has both random and whimsical aspects that speak to small children, in addition to requiring some creativity in thinking up and executing new steps.

One player is chosen to be the Mother. The other players form a line approx. 10-30 yards away (depending on ages of players.) The first player calls out, “Mother may I take _____ (number) _______ (type) of steps?” Mother answers either “Yes, you may” or “No, you may not,” and the player advances or stays where they are. (Some people play that Mother can offer an alternative number and type of step.) Players continue to inquire and take various steps. The first one to reach Mother wins and is the new Mother.

Steps can include:

  • Baby Steps – As small as possible
  • Newborn Baby Steps – Crawling
  • Giant Steps – As big as possible
  • Backward Steps – With back toward Mother
  • Bunny Steps – Hops on two feet
  • Scissor Steps – Feet cross or uncross on each step
  • Robot Steps – Stiff and robotic
  • Cinderella or Princess Steps – Ballet twirls
  • Umbrella Steps – starting by standing with legs apart and facing the side of the field instead of the front, each step begins with the back leg and makes a 180-degree arc so that the player moves forward and faces the opposite direction on each step

Capture the Flag

Another game from many of our childhoods, this one works in a backyard, field or neighborhood street.

You’ll need: 2 flags or bandannas. The games works best in an area with varied terrain, such as trees or other landforms.

Divide into two teams. Mark a line in the center of the play area. Each team’s territory, or base, is one either side of the line. Each team also picks a spot for its Jail, usually far from the flag. Determine a time period (5-10 minutes) during which each team hides its flag within its own territory, usually in the part farthest from the opponent. Once flags have been hidden, the teams meet in the middle. Each player tries to enter the other team’s territory and find its flag. In addition, the player has to bring the flag back into his or her own team’s area without getting tagged by an opponent. Tagged players go to Jail and sit out the game until tagged by a teammate, at which time they can rejoin the play by walking back into their own territory first. Players can only be tagged within the enemy’s base. If a player is tagged while transporting the flag, the flag is dropped at that spot. The game is won when an opposing flag is successfully captured and brought to the home base.

Kick the Can

My husband, Michael, has fond memories of epic Kick the Can games in his Pennsylvania neighborhood growing up. They’d continue for hours, as good games often do, with kids hiding behind trees in the conjoined backyards, strategizing and running, sometimes long after dark, on leisurely summer nights.

You’ll need:

A large can or bucket
Flashlight, optional

Place a can on the ground and designate an area near it as a jail. Choose an It, who counts to a high number (usually between 50 and 100) while the other players hide. When the number is reached, It moves away from the base and starts to look for the other players, who in turn are attempting to return to the can to kick it. If It sees player, It calls out that person’s name, (while shining a flashlight on them, if at night) and tries to kick the can first. If that happens, the player goes to jail. If the player reaches the can first and kicks it, then that player can hide again and any jailed players are freed. The game ends when everyone except It is in jail.

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Tag and its Variations

Based on the simple premise of chasing and catching, Tag is one of the most common and enjoyable games around the world. It’s great for giving players an opportunity to run around. There are tons of creative and cultural variations to Tag, which may be known as Tip, Tig, Dobby and Chasey. To play, simply choose an “It”, who counts to a set number before chasing others. When It tags a player, that person becomes the new It. Some play with a safe, tag-free Base.

Try these variations of Tag:

Freeze Tag

Once players are tagged by It, they are frozen and must stay perfectly still. They become unfrozen when another player runs up to them and tags them. If a frozen player moves before being unfrozen, and is seen and called by It, that player is out of the round.

Statue Tag

On offshoot of Freeze Tag – When tagged, players freeze in an especially dramatic pose, like a statue, and stay there until tagged again to be free.

Blob Tag

Once a player is tagged by It, the two join arms and become a blob, which chases players together to try to tag them. Other players who are tagged also join arms and become part of the blob. Some play that when the blob reaches four people, one splits off to become a new blob. The last person standing alone becomes the new It.

Octopus Tag

You’ll need: a soft ball or rolled-up pair of socks, optional, a playing area marked with two ends

Players all start at one end of the playing area. It, in the middle, calls, “Fishes, come swim in my ocean!” Players try to run toward the other side without being tagged or having a ball successfully thrown at them by It. Once tagged, players become tentacles, who stand in the spot where they are tagged, but stretch their arms in an effort to help tag others. Players who reach one side can be “safe” or can proceed back to the other side. The last person standing becomes the new It.

Slow Tip: Try Octopus Tag in a swimming pool.

Pizza Tag

Choose two players as It. The remaining players start at one end of the playing area and count off, in order, “Pepperoni”, “Mushrooms”, “Sausage”, “Olives” and “Cheese”. The two Its, or Pizza Makers, take turns calling a topping. Players who are that topping try to run past the pizza makers to the other side of the playing area, where they are safe. Once tagged, players sit or stand, and stretch their arms in an effort to help tag others. Players who reach one side can be “safe” or can proceed back to the other side. The last two people standing become the new pizza makers.

T.V. Tag

When players see It approaching, they must crouch down and say the name of a TV show to be safe. Show names can only be used once per round. If a player can’t think of a TV show in time, he or she is It. It must move once a player crouches down. You can also play with Girls’ names, Fruits, Animals, any category you’d like.

Everybody’s It

Everybody is It, meaning anyone can chase and tag anyone else. If a player is tagged, he or she “freezes” by bending over forward. Players can un-freeze the frozen by running through the hoops they make with their bodies. This game usually ends when everyone is tired.

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Looking for other fun backyard games and ideas? Check out the Backyard Games Series. I’m proud to be a participant with the following bloggers:

- See more at: http://www.pisforpreschooler.com/home/backyard-games-week-series#sthash.uwU1xYv2.dpuf

- See more at: http://www.pisforpreschooler.com/home/backyard-games-week-series#sthash.uwU1xYv2.dpuf

- See more at: http://www.pisforpreschooler.com/home/backyard-games-week-series#sthash.uwU1xYv2.dpuf

These activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more fun family activities.

Got your own fun and original idea for a backyard game? Enter the CLIF Kid Backyard Game of the Year Contest by July 3, for a chance to win a $10,000 scholarship or other prizes.

Backyard Games Week logo: Philanthropy in Motion

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, http://www.healthpostt.com/, wikimedia commons Rademenes777

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

It’s Time for Summer Backyard Family Fun
12 Fun Family Activities for Screen-Free Week
8 Fun Things to do While it’s Still Summer
Recess: Playground and Jump Rope Games
Slow Nature: Have a Cloud Race

 

All Aboard: Celebrate National Train Day

Hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S. are celebrating National Train Day with events, entertainment and exhibits at train stations and other locations. Find a train event near you.

Sunset Limited. Hiawatha. Empire Builder. Super Chief. I can’t hear the names of the great American train lines without finding myself completely smitten. The Romance of the Rails has gotten to me pretty much every time I’ve taken a train, even a lowly commute one. My first long-distance trip was on the Coast Starlight, a two-night journey (was it supposed to be one? I didn’t care) from San Francisco to Seattle. I highly recommend this, and other long-distance routes, for family travel.

My 7-year-old daughter and I boarded the train about midnight, when many of the passengers were already asleep. We were given warm chocolate chip cookies as we tiptoed to our sleeping car. We both stayed up most of the night, staring out the train window at the houses and yards as they passed by in slices, under a full moon, at just the right speed for contemplation. The train’s mournful whistle occasionally sounded onto the empty main streets. At rural stops, a passenger or two would come aboard, their drivers shuffling back to their hulking cars.

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In the morning, we ate on a table set with a white tablecloth, as the train circled a snow-covered Mt. Shasta. We’d later play games in the observation car, meet Europeans who talked politics and American father-son pairs touring the country’s ball parks, drink wine with a very knowledgeable and funny sommelier, watch movies in a beautiful, lower-level movie screening car, and continue staring out the window at the tiny logging towns, the green college towns, the gorge-filled Willamette Valley, and the fir-lined Cascade Mountains. We may have been a full day late getting into Seattle but, of course, we couldn’t have been happier.

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Richard Talmy, the sommelier, was indeed a trip highlight. He was encyclopedic about California wines and wine tasting, as well as train and Coast Starlight history, and he served all up with a great deal of verve, encouraging everyone to eat and drink up, to have fun, and to just acknowledge the fact that we’d “get on the train as passengers and leave as freight.”

Train Web writer and photographer Carl Morrison wrote a piece on parlor car wine tasting with Richard Talmy, where you can see the man in action and get a bit of the flavor of a tasting.

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Anna and her new train companions enjoying a meal.

I’ve learned since that first trip that the Coast Starlight is the only Amtrak route to feature a parlor car with wine tasting and a screening room. (And that the parlor car itself is a refurbished car from the historic El Capitan line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.) Even so, a few summers ago, I had the pleasure of taking the Washington D.C. – New York train (which bore the unromantic name, Acela) and, truly, just a window seat and a garden burger were enough to make my day. Dusk and sunset didn’t hurt the mood, either, as I took in every aluminum-sided diner (themselves former train cars), corner tavern, brick row house, backyard swing set, hilly main street, church steeple, and pane-windowed factory building as the train swung through Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and finally to its resting place in a tunnel beneath Penn Station. Only the vaulted Grand Central lobby would have made the trip more complete. I could have come with this placard of warning: Beware romantic, yearning West Coast person experiencing train rapture.

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Our car attendant on that first trip was named Douglas and, like Richard, he seems to be a character of lore among Coast Starlight riders. From the cookie on, we knew we were in good hands. A big man, I’ll never forget him cruising through the dining car, about mid-morning, calling out “Hungry Man Walking.” His humor (and our laughter) continued the whole trip.

We slept in a “roomette”, really a closet with beds that hinged out from the walls. (We since booked a family sleeping car, for a second trip on the Coast Starlight. It is roomy and sleeps four, but sacrifices views.) What we didn’t have, apparently, was the grand-era Pullman sleeper car service and room. (Note: I have just returned from a Los Angeles-Chicago train trip in a vintage Pullman car. More on that journey in a future blog.)

While George Pullman didn’t invent the sleeper car, it was he who realized there was a market in luxury, comfort and service, and he and his Pullman cars dominated the industry during its golden age, when everyone traveled by train. A key component of Pullman service was the Pullman porter. The porters were black men — the first ones were former slaves — and it is said that, even though some of the work could be demeaning, Pullman provided them with almost unequaled earning opportunity and job security for the times. During World War II, there were 12,000 Pullman porters. Their union was referred to as a Brotherhood. It’s shocking, then, that the last Pullman car would take a run on December 31, 1968, a victim of the plane and the car.

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Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, and Olympic athlete Wilma Rudolph are just three famous offspring of Pullman porters.The last Pullman porters, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, are gathered for last year’s Train Day celebration at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.

National Train Day commemorates the “golden spike” that was driven into the final tie that joined the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railways, thus creating America’s first transcontinental railroad, on May 10, 1869. I salute Train Day, the Pullman porters and the grand era of rail travel, even if it comes in the form of a refurbished Parlor Car.

Hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S. are celebrating National Train Day with events, entertainment and exhibits at train stations and other locations. Visit the National Train Day web site for complete event information and other resources about train history.

I suggest this site to get lost in some wonderful train horn sounds.

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IACMusic.com

Pullman Photo Courtesy of A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum
Early 1900s: Waiter John Larvell Dorsey, left, on Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

Other Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

May is Bike to Work and School Month

May is an especially great month to be a biker. In the U.S., the weather generally cooperates. Now is a great time to dust off or tune up your bike and enjoy spring and summer riding.

Want to experience safety in numbers? National Safe Routes to Schools Bike to School Day is May 7. National Bike to Work Day is May 16. San Francisco cyclists enjoy Bike to Work Day May 8. Washington, D.C. and others have declared May 17 to be Bike to Work Day. Best yet, the League of American Bicyclists has declared the entire month of May Bike to Work Month. Their site lists tons of bike-related events and resources from Anchorage, Alaska, to Tallahassee, Florida, that should make it easy for almost anyone to ride alone or with a group, take a class, and enjoy other fun activities.

Here are just a few of the fun ways you can get involved:

National Safe Routes to Schools Bike to School Day is May 7. If you missed it, don’t worry! Safe Routes to Schools is offering a bicycle and helmet giveaway until May 31. They also offer suggestions for biking year-round.

Enjoy CycloFemme on Mother’s Day, May 11. CycloFemme is a global women’s cycling event to empower women riders and share the joy of biking, with 276 rides scheduled worldwide.

This is just a smattering of the many events offered in various cities nationwide. Find a bike event or class near you.

Pueblo, CO: Crusin’ Pueblo Ride, May 8.

Cedar Rapids, IA: Bicycle Scavenger Hunt, May 10.

Tampa Bay, FL: Bike with the Mayor, May 16.

Chico, CA: GRUB Garden Bike Tour, May 17.

Trenton, NJ: Trenton Bike Tour, May 17.

Honolulu, HI: Free admission for bikers to the Honolulu Zoo, May 18.

Radford, VA: Family Wilderness Road Ride, May 24.

Seattle, WA: Summer Streets Party, May 29.

Of course, anyone getting out biking wants to be safe. The League of American Bicyclists offers these tips for bike safety.

Another great resource for information about bike and pedestrian safety and school biking and walking programs is Safe Routes to Schools.

Enjoy biking to work and school and just for fun!

Photos: Top, my family in Acadia National Park, Maine. Above, three of the most inspirational bikers I know – my daughter Anna, a college freshman who has been a devoted bike commuter since the age of 10; my husband Lippy, who rides almost every day for exercise; and my good friend Victoria, who loves to ride more than anyone I know and organizes long, fun rides for herself and her friends.

Five Ways to Nourish and Renew Your Spirit + a Giveaway

I’m thrilled to offer you this guest post from Renée Peterson Trudeau. This article originally appeared in her book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family. In the spirit of retreat and renewal, Renée is also offering an exciting Year of Self-Care Mother’s Day Giveaway. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see how you can enjoy nourishment, relaxation, empowering coaching and inspiration for an entire year (a $2,700+ value)!

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It’s 1976, and my mom and dad are sitting quietly with their eyes closed, hands resting upward — thumb and index finger touching — while my younger siblings crawl on their backs and shoulders. My older two brothers and I sit nearby, holding our own meditation poses, bored, rolling our eyes and counting the minutes until this ritual will end.

At least once a week or whenever things got stressful, my parents would pull all five of their children — ranging in age from ten to one — into our library for a family meditation. As much as I complained, a part of me yearned for this spiritual practice.

Spiritual renewal is essential to our emotional well-being. It helps us nurture our essence, feel centered, build inner strength, live in integrity, and trust life. It allows us to experience a connection to a higher power, feel a sense of purpose, and experience meaning in our lives.

There are many different ways we explore and nurture our spiritual lives. For some this includes spending time in nature, yoga, prayer and meditation, or musical or artistic expression. Some of the daily practices that provide me spiritual nourishment include:

Creating Ritual

We all crave sacredness and ritual in our everyday lives — not just around birthdays and weddings. Rituals can be both carefully planned events and casual but regular remembrances such as voicing gratitude before a meal or creating dedicated space in your day for contemplation.

When we mark important transitions or milestones in our lives — whether it’s your daughter’s first period or your son starting kindergarten —  we connect to the sacredness of everyday life. We remember that life is mysterious and we’re more than our to-do lists!

Cultivating Stillness

Stillness, whether experienced through prayer, meditation, or reflection, is our time to be alone and connect to our inner wisdom or our higher power — what I call our internal GPS system. It’s essential for all of us to carve out time for quiet reflection each and every day.

One of the biggest gifts I’ve received from a daily meditation practice is theability to live more comfortably with what is–whether that’s my husband’s recent layoff or a car accident. Life is like the weather in Texas — constantly changing. Meditation has helped anchor me, so that despite this impermanence and turmoil, I’ve learned how to be still and find my center in the face of it all.

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Practicing Service to Others

Mother Teresa says, “The fruit of love is service.”

We are all interconnected. The more we reach out and are present to one another’s pain and suffering, the stronger we become and the easier it is to embrace the esoteric idea that we’re all one. I believe huge shifts in consciousness can occur when we reach out and help one another navigate this sometimes scary, often isolating and perplexing, but beautiful world. Sometime that might look like serving soup at your local homeless shelter and other times, it’s helping out your neighbor who just lost her husband.

Living in the Present

Many great spiritual teachers believe the answer to everything is to just “be here now,” and that our suffering and emotional distress would end if we simply stopped resisting the present moment.

One weekend as I sat on the couch with a full-body cold: a splitting headache, body chills and a nonstop runny nose, I thought about this principle. And, as I watched the things I was missing fly out the window — my friend’s birthday party, my son’s piano recital — I connected to my breath and felt myself arrive in the present moment. I sensed my resistance begin to dissipate and a feeling of peace slowly settled over me. I temporarily suspended my desire for things to be different and I embraced that on the couch, with a cold, was exactly where I was supposed to be.

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Choosing Happiness

Three of my immediate family members died unexpectedly between my twenty-sixth and thirty-fourth birthdays. For years I let those losses dictate how much and how often, I could experience joy. Anytime I started to feel light, free, or happy, the old feeling of “waiting for the other shoe to drop” would creep in.

Can you only be happy if things are going your way and all the stars are aligned in your favor?

I believe we’re born with the innate capacity to experience emotional well-being and joy; it’s our birthright to feel good. Happiness comes from within; we’re wired for it. We just have to remember to choose this moment to moment.

It’s easy to forget who we really are. To lose sight of what really matters. To fall asleep and not remember how interconnected we all are and that we’re fully human and, at the same time, divine.

A regular spiritual practice — whether that’s daily prayer or meditation, being in a spiritual community, or singing— serves to anchor us. It grounds us and helps us navigate the challenges we face from just being human. It helps us stay awake.

So ultimately, we can begin to let go, trust the rhythm and flow of life and relax into the beauty of our true nature.

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The preceding was based on the new book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family ©2013 Renée Peterson Trudeau.

Life balance coach/speaker Renée Peterson Trudeau is the author of the new book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family.  Thousands of women in ten countries are participating in Personal Renewal Groups based on her first book, the award-winning The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. Visit her online at www.ReneeTrudeau.com

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Enter Renée Trudeau’s Year of Self-Care Mother’s Day Giveaway and enjoy nourishment, relaxation, empowering coaching and inspiration for an entire year! This is a $2,700+ value that includes an all-expenses paid trip to Renée Trudeau and Deborah Kern’s Putting Yourself First: The Ultimate Self-Care Retreat for Women at Omega Institute , a RTA-Certified Facilitator Deluxe Starter Package to lead self-renewal groups/retreats, a personalized, high-level coaching session and much more.

Learn how to enter the giveaway. Entries close May 11.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Graphics: Renée Peterson Trudeau

12 Fun Family Activities for Screen-Free Week

When I speak to families about slowing down and enjoying family time, one of the things that comes up over and over is screen time. Screens dominate many of our lives, often to a greater degree than we wish. While many of us parents can attest to the addictive nature of technology, we struggle with ways to reduce it in our children’s lives.

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It is perhaps a bonus, then, that the wonderful Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has proclaimed May 5-11 to be Screen-Free Week. Sometimes this kind of added incentive is all we need to inspire us to action. More than once, parents have told me that their children’s favorite memories include episodes of family game nights by fire- or candlelight during power outages. You can create your own “power outage” by participating in Screen-Free Week. And, even if you don’t go completely screen-free, you might want to pledge an hour or so a day or night to have some good screen-free fun. Who knows? That fun might just become a habit or your own favorite family memory.

Here are 12 ways to celebrate Screen Free Week:

Make a Paper Boat and sail it in a creek, pond or bathtub.

Make a Bird Feeder. Our local birds have gone nuts for ours and we plan to make more.

Make easy Wreaths, Crowns and Baskets to celebrate May Day and spring.

Enjoy Loom and Finger Weaving. You can do this anywhere!

Keep a Moon Diary as a way of observing the night sky.

Slow your pace and have a Cloud Race.

Get a jump on summer by making S’Mores. Camp under the stars if it’s warm enough.

Start a Backyard Garden.

Bake your own Soft Pretzels. These are really easy and fun.

Play a different fun board game every night. We like Boggle, Sorry, Taboo, Pictionary, Scrabble, Mancala, Masterpiece, Monopoly and Hi-Ho Cherry O.

Discover The Joy of Quiet.

And, if you’re really missing your screen? Make your own Shoebox TV!

You’ll need:

Shoebox or a square-shaped box and lid
Cardboard tubes, from paper towels, foil or plastic wrap, or wooden dowels
4-10 pieces of printer paper (8 ½ x 11”)
Drawing materials
Scissors, craft knife and tape

Cut a large opening for the TV screen into the bottom of the box, leaving an even border of 1” or more all around.

Holding the box horizontally, cut two holes on the top, each about 2” the side and 2” back from the cut-out section. Your dowels or cardboard tubes should fit into the holes.

Cut two bottom holes that line up with the top ones.

Cut the cardboard tubes, if necessary, so that about ½ “ sticks out on the bottom and 1-2” on top.

Decide on a story you want to tell that primarily uses pictures.

Place the paper horizontally (cutting, if necessary, to fit the tube length) and draw one picture on each page, adding words, if desired. Leave at least 1” on each paper edge and at least 2” on the left edge of the first picture and the right edge of the last picture.

Lay the pictures out, left to right, in the order they will appear. Turn them over and, keeping the order, run a piece of tape down each back seam where two pictures come together.

Tape each end of the paper story scroll around a tube or dowel and roll on the back sides of the scroll, so that the paper image is at the front of the tubes and the paper is tight and sized to the box.

Place the tubes into the holes and place the lid on the back. Decorate the front of the TV, if desired.

Gently turn the tubes to make the pictures move.

Slow Tip: You can also use images from magazines or comic-books to create your story.

You can make multiple story scrolls and change them through the back of the box. In doing so, you’ll join nearly every ancient civilization in telling stories using scrolls, starting with the Egyptians, who created them on papyrus.

The Shoebox TV craft is adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more ways to enjoy screen-free family fun.

You might enjoy these related posts from Slow Family Online:

Eight Fun Things to Do While It’s Still Summer

Six Fun Family Activities to Enjoy This Weekend

Hooray for Low-Tech Toys

Graphic: Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

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