A fun project, particularly for girls, although boys may enjoy it too, is sewing a basic quilt. My siblings and I grew up knowing how to sew because my mom was an excellent seamstress, but the art of sewing seems to be getting lost nowadays. Certainly there are plenty of people who still do, but it isn’t often taught to children anymore, and that’s a shame, because it can be fun and rewarding.

If you have a sewing machine, you can teach your kids the joy of making something on their own, if they’re old enough. If they enjoy it, maybe they’ll graduate to making clothing. But a basic quilt is a good place to start and is relatively simple.

basic quilt
Design the quilt

First, gather plenty of fabric. We always used clothing that we had outgrown or was so worn that it weren’t presentable anymore. One advantage to that is then your “memory” quilt is a keepsake, with the pajamas you wore when you were 8 and your favorite shirt in junior high. (If you buy new fabric, wash it first.)

Cut them into squares as large or small as you want. We usually make the squares approximately 4 to 6 inches because it’s easy to get several of those out of a garment and they are manageable for learners.

Lay them out on the floor, creating whatever pattern you desire. You could do one fabric all along the border or two fabrics alternating. (There will also be a small border made of the backing fabric if you follow the instructions below.) The next row could be another two fabrics or you could do it completely random. You could make a starburst pattern, a large monogram in the middle, whatever you like.

Sew together the top

Once you have them laid out, then start sewing. Take the first two squares along one edge and put them face to face, sewing along one edge with an approximately 1/4-inch seam.

Repeat this with the next two squares. Then sew the sets of two squares to each other as well until you have an entire row. Do the same to make a second row.

Before sewing the two rows together face to face, you need to open those seams so they will lie flat. Set up the ironing board and iron the seams open. Do the same on each successive row, and when you sew two rows together, the seams will all be nice and flat.

Keep going like that until you have the entire face of the quilt sewn together.

Add backing and batting

Now cut your backing fabric. Generally this is just one solid piece of fabric, often something nice and soft like flannel, and make sure it coordinates with the colors on the front. If you want a nice border that shows on the quilt top, make it two or three inches larger than the quilt top on all sides.

Lay the backing fabric face down on your work surface or on the floor. Place a piece of batting the size of the quilt top on the backing fabric. Then lay your top down, right side up. Make sure everything is nice and flat without bumps or wrinkles.

Now all that remains is to attach the three parts. To do that, first pin them together at regular intervals so they don’t shift, working from the middle out.

Then fold the backing fabric about half an inch and then fold it again over the top of the quilt and pin it down along all sides. You’ll have to pleat the corners.

Then stitch the top of the quilt along that border. These stitches will show, so try to keep it nice and straight. Older children should be able to do this step, but younger ones will need help, or you may prefer to do it for them.

Finishing touches

Next, you’ll need to make stitches in various places on the top so the batting stays in place between the two layers. This can be accomplished in several ways. One common way that would be good practice for children is to sew a button at the intersections of four pieces; not necessarily at every intersection but at intervals.

Or if your sewing machine has decorative stitching, you could run the whole quilt through the machine, doing the stitching either all over or at intervals. You could also do a series of tiny hand-sewn stitches if you don’t want or need the decoration of stitching or buttons. Another option is to thread some matching yarn through a large needle, put the needle down through the quilt, back up, and then tie off the yarn.

If this first project goes well and the child enjoys it, they could try something a little more ambitious the next time, such as making each square out of two triangles so as to have even more options in making an interesting pattern.

We have a silly tradition at our house—a Silly String tradition, to be exact. (It’s also known as Party String or Crazy String.)

My three nephews, who live 350 miles away, stay with us for two weeks each summer, and every year, shortly before they leave, we have a big Silly String fight. Uncle and Auntie each have a can, as do each of the kids.

Generally, we like to ambush the kids when they’re least expecting it, but we do show them right away where their cans are so they can take revenge. From there on, it’s every man for himself! Of course, they love covering us from head to toe with the stuff, since they’re far less concerned about getting it all in their hair than I am.

I recommend having the fight in the middle of the yard, not near vehicles, as it can be hard to wash off if it’s left to dry on the car or the deck (yes, we learned the hard way). If you hose it off right away it’s not bad. Fortunately, it can be picked out of the hair intact, although sometimes it takes a while! But that’s part of the fun. They love having the upper hand, since it’s 3 against 2.

I usually buy the Silly String at Wal-Mart, but it’s not cheap. If I can hit a sale where it’s a buck each, that’s great, but usually it’s $3 or $4. Because it’s a beloved tradition, I don’t mind paying that once a year (sometimes twice). However, I found a better deal here when you buy by the case, as here: 24 cans of Party String. (With shipping, it comes to about $1.70 per can.) Of course, you’ll want to ration it out so that it retains its appeal and doesn’t cost you a fortune. Twenty-four cans would last us four or five visits.

So if your kids are fighting because they’re bored and cranky, give them permission to have a Silly String fight instead! Feel free to steal our tradition and make it your own.

Here’s how to decorate a picture frame with rocks, shells, or small pieces of driftwood. Use your imagination to come up with other things to decorate with, such as pine cones, feathers, dried flowers, leaves, etc.

Buy a simple wooden or plastic picture frame with a wide, flat edge. I like to get these at secondhand stores because the condition of the surface of the frame doesn’t matter since it will be covered.

First, gather pretty rocks, seashells, beach glass, or small pieces of driftwood—whatever you want to use. I used multicolored Lake Superior rocks in the frame pictured.

Make sure the frame is clean and dry before you begin. If it’s glossy, sand it lightly first so the rough surface will allow the glue to create a better bond.

Use craft glue to adhere your items to the frame. You could use hot glue, but I only recommend that for older children, and craft glue is really easier anyway. Make sure it’s the kind that dries clear, unless you’re sure the glue will be hidden. I like Aleene’s Original Tacky Glue.

You could dry-fit all the rocks or shells first, but it’s kind of challenging because you would have to be careful not to dislodge them while you’re working on it, so generally, my nephews and I just design as we go. It’s nice to mix large and small pieces to create a pleasing pattern.

For the photo frame above, I sprayed the rocks with Krylon clear gloss finish, but sometimes I leave them in their natural state.

Let it dry for at least 24 hours before hanging it. In fact, you might want to put your picture in the frame before you do the gluing so you don’t accidentally knock anything loose while you’re trying to put the picture in.

A good set of colored pencils is a staple that any mom or auntie should have on hand. Made for finer work than crayons, they also are more durable. And unlike crayons, they are useful to the adults in the house as well.

I like this set by RoseArt because there are 100 different colors, although to be honest, some are quite similar to each other. However, your little artist(s) won’t mind. Here’s what some of the reviewers of this set have said:


• I like these better than Crayola; they don’t break when sharpened
• Well worth the price
• Lightweight, durable, and blendable
• My granddaughters loved them
• Awesome colors, sharpen nicely
• Stay sharp for a very long time
• Display box is kinda cool
• Felt like I was a kid again with so many choices
• My 14-year-old niece is in the hospital; it really lifted her spirits


• The pencils are supposed to “pop” out; they didn’t until my 11-year-old took the thing apart
• Variation between some colors is barely noticeable
• I wish they showed where each color goes so you put them back in the right place

There can be nothing worse than being stuck in the house on a rainy day with a bunch of whiny, bored kids. Well, no more! Here are 10 fun but simple things to do indoors.

Here’s a very simple card trick that most ages could learn easily:

What happens when you put Ivory soap in the microwave? Something very cool:

How to make a cute fuzzy pipe cleaner puppy:

Designs with milk and soap:

Make an origami boomerang (yes, it actually comes back to you!):

How to make a Cheerios guitar for a very young child:

How to make a powered cardboard boat:

How to make a CD hovercraft:

How to make flubber:

How to make a popsicle stick “bomb” (in other words, a chain reaction):

There’s a game my dad played with us that we just loved, and we would beg and beg for him to play. It was sort of made up, so we didn’t have a name for it that I remember, but let’s call it the Finding Game. It’s best for approximately ages 3 to 10.

It doesn’t take a lot of effort on the parent’s part, so it works well if you’re cooking or cleaning or just want to sit and relax. (Who does that???) You can play this with them without stopping what you’re doing completely.

Here’s the basic gist. Dad would say, “Go to your room and bring back the smallest yellow thing you can find.” There were five of us, so we’d all fly off to our rooms and dive head-first into our toy boxes, surfacing only when we’d found something. Then we’d race back downstairs and present it to him. Whoever’s fit the description the best would win that round and get one point.

Then he’d say, “Find something green and shiny” and off we went again to rummage.

You wouldn’t have to use a point system; you could just say, “Find something that’s soft and pink,” and anybody who does find something soft and pink would “win.” Or you could give out more than one point per round, one for each child who finds something appropriate. And you could adjust this according to the children’s ages.

You could go up to 10 or 20 points, or if you don’t want to make it a competition, it could simply be for fun. Another option is to give the point to whoever’s fastest at bringing back their little something. However, going for speed could get out of control, and both the children and the house could suffer some injury. Play at your own risk. :)

Also, if your kids share bedrooms, ground rules would have to be laid before beginning in order to avoid clashes such as “She dug through MY toybox, that’s not fair!” What belongs to who and where you’re allowed to search should be established right off the bat.

However you do it, it can be educational, especially for younger children who are just learning their shapes and colors. Have fun with it!

Obstacle courses for kids

April 18, 2012

Building obstacle courses in the yard was a favorite activity of my siblings and me when we were young. We used all kinds of found materials and used our imagination to build the most challenging course we could. We then timed each other to see who could complete it the fastest, or we would just [...]

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How to play marbles

April 18, 2012

Another old-fashioned game that you don’t see much anymore is marbles, although there are still marble tournaments around the U.S. and the world. There are many different marble games that you could play. I’ll just talk about the variation we played as kids on the playground before and after school and during recess, every chance [...]

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How to play 500 Rummy

April 7, 2012

One card game that we always used to play as kids that you don’t hear much about anymore is 500 Rummy. I taught my nephews this and they just loved it. We play all the time now. The rules First, let me say that the rules below are the way we always played it, and [...]

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Useful fun product: Mini tripod for digital camera

April 6, 2012

A flexible desktop tripod is handy for many uses, but in the context of this site, it’s especially useful for kids who are making stop-motion videos. It helps them keep the digital camera steady so that each frame of their movie is taken from exactly the same perspective, making the finished product professional looking. Setting [...]

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