Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent Wreath Helps Prepare Mind and Heart for Christmas Season

Prepare for Christmas With Advent Wreath - Photo by Andrea Schaufler at Wikimedia Commons
Observing Advent can help draw one's mind and spirit toward keeping Jesus Christ at the center of the Advent and Christmas seasons. In the Christian church, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas Day and continues the approximately four weeks before Christmas. Observing Advent through the use of an Advent wreath may be done in the church, home, or other setting and might include very simple to quite elaborate pieces.

Advent Calendar with Candles © Katrena
Advent Colors and Candles

I recall being so excited to see the purple, or violet, liturgical colors up front during Advent at my church. After all, purple was my favorite color when I was a kid! Each liturgical season features a color to help focus one's mind and recall symbols handed down for many years.

It is interesting to note that purple in the Christian church often denotes penitence and mourning while also symbolizing royalty. Some churches use blue during part or all of the Advent season. Learning more of the history and meaning of this season can deepen one's knowledge of the Scriptures and continue a tradition begun many years before.

One Advent tradition at churches I have attended is the lighting of the Advent wreath, which often four purple purple candles placed in a circle, often placed with greenery to make a wreath. Some churches and individuals may use other colors for the candles. One popular choice is to have a pink third candle. Blue, white, gold, or red candles have also been used in Advent wreaths for the outer candles.

Advent wreaths may include a white Christ candle, located in the center. This candle might be larger or taller than the four candles surrounding it. The wreath may be placed on a pedestal, suspended, or put on a table or altar.

One candle is lit on the first Sunday in Advent. On the second Sunday of Advent, the first candle and another candle is lit. On the third Sunday of Advent, the third candle, which is pink if used, is lit in addition to the other two, and all four outer candles are lit on the fourth Sunday of the Advent season. All candles, including the center Christ candle are lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Advent Wreath May be Elaborate or Simple - Photo by Immanuel Giel at Wikimedia Commons
Advent Symbols and Scriptures

Scriptures or reflections are typically read as candles are lit each Sunday during Advent. Sometimes people in the congregation are invited to participate in the lighting of the Advent wreath, and families might coordinate this into an activity that involves everyone as well.

Advent is typically a season in which people focus on the theme of return or arrival. Many churches recall the Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the Messiah and New Testament scripture verses about the birth, or arrival, of Jesus. Advent also focuses on preparations for the predicted second coming of Christ.

The wreath itself tends to be green, which typically symbolizes life. The circle shape often is used to represent no beginning and no end, something that continues, such as a love that continues despite all circumstances.

I have seen a variety of themes used for the four Advent candles, the most common focusing on themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. The candles might simply represent Christ as the light of the world. Other themes focus on prophecy, Bethlehem, shepherds, and angels as each candle is lit.

ChristianYear.net offers a detailed history of the Advent wreath with examples of scriptures and prayers for each week. The PCUSA offers children's readings for the lighting of the Advent wreath.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Unexpected Blessings of Adopting a Shelter Dog

Benefits of Adopting a Shelter Dog ©Katrena
Adopting a shelter dog was something I had considered, and decided against, for many years. My kids and I have asthma and multiple allergies. I kept thinking of my previous pets, two loving and loved guinea pigs that my allergist encouraged me over and over again to move to a different home because I would break out in hives every time I held the furry little guys. I kept picturing my kids' faces if we got a dog and then had to find a new home for the dog if everyone's allergies and asthma flared.

I grew up with a sweet little dog named Benji. He was an outdoor dog and full of a sweet and loving personality. Benji loved to go out for walks with me and hated baths as much as I did. My pet duck terrorized the poor guy, and the neighbor's cat would sashay just out of reach of Benji's chain...until the day his chain broke. You never saw a cat move faster or a dog look prouder as Benji did when he finally treed the furry feline!

My kids' health was my top priority, but the girls had been begging for a dog for weeks, actually years. I finally decided to look...just look. The Humane Society adopts animals from the shelter and prepares them for adoption in my county. We looked there first, but I think they were afraid the dogs available would not be a great fit with the allergy and asthma history at our home.

Travel down a gravel road past the Humane Society into what seems the middle of nowhere and you'll find the animal shelter in our county. The area was fenced with a phone number posted on the door in case someone needed to speak with a worker, so I walked around the perimeter and saw the faces of many potential forever friends. I won't elaborate, but I will say that it can give one a sense of gratitude to realize that you might make a world of difference to an animal. The need outweighs the resources by a long shot.

Dogs don't usually look particularly appealing in the rain, and one white dog that seemed to be a poodle mix looked especially pitiful at the dog pound. I had read from several different sources that white dogs with some poodle in them might be a good choice for people with allergies and asthma because they do not tend to shed as much. This young dog seemed playful, sweet, and healthy, so I called the number on the shelter door so that I could pay the fee and adopt our new addition to the family. She shook like a leaf all the way to her new home.

Kids and Dog Having Fun in the Snow Together ©Katrena
Dogs Can Make a Person More Humble

I will readily admit that I knew almost nothing about caring for a house dog. My childhood dog had lived outside, and I had no idea that dogs that live in the house might wake a person in the middle of the night just like a child. There's nothing like being in a deep sleep only to be jarred out of it by frenzied barking or having one's toes licked. I don't think I will ever understand why neither the dog nor the alarm ever awakens anyone in my house but me, but I also have seen some beautiful night sky displays with our pooch.

I also discovered that young dogs might enjoy chewing on anything and everything. Our newfound friend decided to chew off the hands and feet of nearly every baby doll in the house. Dog toys would be mangled in moments, and the dog quickly chewed through three leashes and three collars. Cords that connect computers and peripheral devices may also become tasty treats for a canine. I began to learn to look at the house from the dog's perspective and moved or hid items accordingly while attempting to teach our new pet to chew her more rugged toys. I also discovered that installing a baby gate and purchasing a kennel would be well worth the effort.

Apparently, our dog was not used to going into a kennel, and she would urinate all over herself if left in the kennel even for 15 minutes. I had read that dogs won't go to the bathroom if they are in a kennel. Don't believe everything you read. Things improved over time, but I quickly discovered that if it sounds better than expected, it just might be.

On quite a few occasions, I felt like simply leaving the mop out and poised in the kitchen. My youngest daughter was potty training, and when I didn't have a mess in the bathroom, I was scrubbing the carpet due to a dog deposit. I knew if I left the mop out that it would probably be shredded if I turned my back, but it was tempting. Eventually both the child and dog mastered that all-important milestone. Hurray!

After discovering that our dog had an ear infection, I thought that she would stop constantly scratching after treatment, but the veterinarian eventually determined that our dog has allergies. We bought special dog food and special soap. Whenever I made the announcement to the kids, my oldest got the biggest smile on her face and exclaimed, "Wow, even our dog has allergies...she's the perfect dog for us!" I didn't even consider that side of the coin. Amazingly, nobody's allergies or asthma was bothered by the dog, and we have had her for about two years now.

Humble pie is never a very tasty treat, but perhaps a dog can serve to strengthen the core, or at least encourage people to think of creative solutions.

Dog Adoption Success Story ©Katrena
Dogs May Serve as Great Alarm Systems

Many people pay for elaborate alarm systems to protect their homes and to alert people of visitors or prowlers on the property. Our dog quickly decided that one of her jobs would be to alert us to anything unusual that might be going on outside. If a visitor ever comes to our house, I don't think they would be able to sneak in because our furry friend loves to announce any movement on or near our property.

Our dog will gladly announce whenever someone returns to the house as well. This used to include times whenever a person might walk outside for about 30 seconds, but that time frame has increased a bit over time. According to our dog, visitors might also take the form of squirrels, cats, other dogs, leaves blowing in the wind, or anything else that might be moving outside!

Dogs Can Make Great Friends ©Katrena
Dogs May Help Communication Skills

They say that listening is one of the best communication skills to learn. Having a dog to sit attentively and simply look at you with big brown eyes may serve to open doors that one could never predict. My second oldest daughter was five at the time we adopted the dog, and she would excitedly draw pictures for and read to the dog. She still loves to read.

My youngest was three at the time, and she did not speak very much. Her two older sisters readily spoke for her. After bringing our dog home, the youngest suddenly had so much to say! She would talk and talk and talk to the dog as she would drag the poor dog around by the collar from one room to the next.

I feel sure that our canine friend probably knows many things that I only wish I knew about my kids' lives. A dog that is a little too large for a lap can also make a great foot warmer for those who enjoy writing.

Pet Ownership Responsibilities ©Katrena
Dogs Can Help People to Learn More About Responsibility

Taking care of another living being can be an awesome learning experience for children, and a dog can teach people in the home a lot about caring for another. Fresh food, water, regular exercise, bathing, and brushing can all encourage consistency in learning responsibilities.

This is something to consider before adopting any pet. I recently read of a lady who had to sign a contract agreeing to take care of a dog before her parents agreed to bring one home, and she later began to rescue animals as an adult.

My kids have also learned more about animal behavior and how to read their cues after we adopted our dog.

Dogs Can Enrich Lives of Others ©Katrena
Dogs Can Provide Companionship

Having a dog can provide the wonderful gift of companionship. A dog might lick one's tears or simply sit in a lap or run with wagging tail to greet you when you can't even stand yourself at the moment. Dogs don't tend to hold grudges...a lesson few of us learn very well. For all the care they require, they readily give back above and beyond with an amazing capacity to come close and touch humanity at the heart.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hide and Seek – Variations for Fun Indoor Family Activities

Ready or Not...Here Comes a Fun Game of Hide & Seek! ©Katrena
Hide-and-seek, also called hide-and-go-seek, is a simple and free game that can make inside play time a world of fun together. This game has very simple directions, little or no necessary supplies, and can easily be tweaked for various age levels and may be played with small or large groups. Families and friends can find this to be a fun way to connect.

Variations of hide-and-seek may be helpful if you have kids of various ages or if the children want to play the game over and over. You may want to try some different themes and ways of playing the game to make it new and exciting again and to incorporate some educational skills; however, I have found that the tried and true basic game can be fun over and over again. My kids seem to never tire of playing hide and seek.

Step-by-step Guide for Playing Hide-and-Seek With Variations
How to Play Hide-and-Seek: the Basics
  1. Determine the limits and boundaries in which players may hide before beginning to play.
  2. Choose someone to be the seeker (a very young child might want to accompany the seeker each time).
  3. All other players are the hiders (little ones may need to be paired with a more experienced hider).
  4. The seeker goes to a designated room, also known as home or home base, closes the door, and counts to 10.
  5. The hiders hide in a chosen spot.
  6. When the seeker gets to 10, he shouts "Ready or not, here I come!"
  7. The seeker begins to look for the hiders until everyone is found.
  8. The last person to be found becomes the next seeker.
Hide-and-go-Seek Variations for Various Ages & Abilities
Fun Variations of Hide-and-Seek

Add more interest to hide-and-seek by letting all hiders have the ability to get back to home base before the seeker finds them. As the seeker begins to look, the hiders can sneak back to home base to become "safe." This works best when the home base is in a central location in the house.

The seeker may recruit help in one version of hide and seek as the found players may assist with finding other hiders. Eventually all players will be searching for a lone hider at the end.

Make hide-and-go-seek harder and quicker by placing a short time limit on each turn. As the seeker begins to look, he only has a designated number of minutes to find everyone. Another way to make the game go faster is to have all hiders to hide in the same place.

Another way to make hide-and-seek harder is to allow hiders to change hiding places while the seeker is searching. Hiders may even move to hide in home base.

Make hide-and-go-seek easier by having the seeker to say a word while the hiders respond with a word. For example, every time the hider says "Marco," the hiders must respond with "Polo." This variation can be made more difficult if the seeker is blindfolded.

Add some interest and a few school skills by having the seeker to count to ten backwards, in another language, or to skip count by 2s, 3s, 5s, 10s, etc. Fast counters might need to count to 20, 50, or 100. The game might be themed to a holiday as the seeker names reindeer or names ten items related to a holiday. Instead of counting, the seeker might have to name the books of the New Testament, identify states in a region on a map, or sing a song before looking for the others who are hiding.

Hide-and-seek after dark can loads of fun to this traditional and simple game. Turn out the lights and try the game in the dark. You may wish to turn on nightlights in a few select areas for safety purposes. The seeker may or may not carry a flashlight. Even very open places in the daytime might make great hiding places if they are in the shadows. Another option for after dark hide-and-seek is to hide glowing items, such as glow sticks, instead of people or to have each person to carry a glow stick.

Another variation of hide and seek in the dark is to give it a theme and encourage a bit of acting. I remember when my mom would pretend to be a witch and would cackle and say "Where are those little children?" in her best witchy voice. When she would scrape her fingernails along the heating ducts while searching, it would send shivers down the bravest spine!

Teach Life Skills With Hide-and-go-Seek ©Katrena
Simple Games That Encourage Learning Skills

It can be great fun to watch the kids develop their thinking skills and teamwork abilities as they grow older. They can go from giggling and saying "I'm here" to finding a hiding places that no one can readily find. Families who enjoy playing hide-and-go-seek may also like to try some scavenger hunts or find other great indoor activities. Check out the Wildflower Bouquets site map for all of my resources for enjoying life's simple pleasures – I add content on a regular basis, so visit my site again soon!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Veterans Day – A Special Occasion for Remembering & Honoring Vets

Veterans Day Quick Facts ©Katrena
Veterans Day, traditionally celebrated in the United States on November 11 at 11:00 a.m., is a special time to remember the veterans who have served the country. Armistice Day was first commemorated by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 in order to honor veterans of World War I. President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day in 1954 in order to broaden the scope of the special day to honor all American veterans who have served with honor during times of peace and war.

When is Veterans Day Celebrated in the United States?

Veterans Day has traditionally been celebrated on November 11 as a way to commemorate the start of an armistice, or halting of hostilities, between Allied Nations and Germany on November 11, 1918 at 11:00 a.m. Veterans Day was observed on the fourth Monday of October between 1971 and 1977 due to the Uniform Holidays Act. President Gerald Ford changed the official date back to November 11 beginning on 1978 due to the rich significance of that date in American history.

In case you have seen Veterans Day spelled other ways and are wondering which is correct, I decided to choose the spelling offered by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Learn more about Veterans on their FAQ page.

Flags for Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, MIA/POW ©Katrena
What are the Branches of the U.S. Military?

All branches of the United States military are honored at Veterans Day services around the country. The United States has the following military branches:
  • Air Force
  • Army
  • Coast Guard
  • Marine Corps
  • Navy
Each branch has a flag and emblem in addition to America's national flag, also known as the Stars and Stripes, Star Spangled Banner, or sometimes Old Glory. Congress first established an official flag on June 14, 1777, and many parts of the nation celebrate Flag Day each year on June 14.

American Flag and MIA/POW Flags ©Katrena
American Flag Basic Facts

The United States flag has changed over the years with the last change on July 4, 1960 with the addition of a fiftieth star in the union (blue upper left portion) to recognize Hawaii as the fiftieth state. See the VA Kids article The American Flag for more details about the national flag. Find the official flag code and learn more about the proper display of the American flag in Guidelines for Display of the Flag.

The black MIA/POW flag, designed to honor those Missing in Action or Prisoners of War, was first officially flown over the White House in 1982 and to date is the only flag, other than the national flag, to officially be flown over the White House.

Veteran of Three Wars (WWII, Korea, Vietnam) at 2001 Cleveland Christmas Parade ©Katrena
America has been involved in the following wars in recent years:
  • World War I (1917-1918)
  • World War II (1941-1945)
  • Korean War (1950-1953)
  • Vietnam War (1964-1975)
  • Gulf War (1990-1991)
  • War on Terror (2001-Present)
Patriotic Songs in the United States

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs article Military Songs Inspire Troops, Preserve Tradition, each service branch has a song or official tune:
  • Air Force – "The U.S. Air Force"
  • Army – "The Army Goes Rolling Along" also known as "The Caisson Song"
  • Coast Guard – "Semper Peratus" (meaning "always ready")
  • Marines – "Marines' Hymn"
  • Navy – "Anchors Aweigh"
Other popular patriotic songs in the United States include:
  • America
  • America the Beautiful
  • Eternal Father, Strong to Save (also known as the U.S. Navy Hymn)
  • God Bless America
  • God Bless the U.S.A.
  • Stars and Stripes Forever
  • Taps (often played at military funerals and traditionally played on a bugle – this web site offers more details on Taps with some audio and video footage)
  • The Battle Hymn of the Republic
  • The Star Spangled Banner
  • This Land is Your Land
  • You're a Grand Ole Flag
Memorials for Veterans - Program Where Purple Heart was Received Posthumously by Brother ©Katrena
Where are Veterans Day Programs Held?

Many memorials are located throughout the United States in order to honor veterans, and Veterans Day programs are often located near these memorials if possible. Some schools have Veterans Day programs on or near November 11. A local Chamber of Commerce, veterans organization, or town newspaper should be able to identify when and where a Veterans Day program is held in a particular community.

Arlington National Cemetery hosts a Veterans Day service on November 11 every year. This cemetery hosts The Tomb of the Unknowns, previously known as The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Tomb Guard Sentinels guard the area with precision 24 hours a day, seven days a week. See a video of the changing of "The Walk" at The Tomb of the Unknowns.

Thank You to Veterans 
Thank you, veterans, for your service. And thank you to family members of veterans who also gave up more than most of us will ever realize. May we always remember our veterans and their great sacrifice.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Katrena's Indoor Scavenger Hunt #1 – Free Clues, Directions and Answers

Katrena's Scavenger Hunt #1 - Find Free Clues, Directions & Answers

Scavenger hunts can be great fun and educational too. Kids can hone their reading skills, thinking skills, and also learn about rhyming if the clues incorporate words that rhyme.

With three kids, I am often challenged to think of fun indoor activities that all of my kids can enjoy. I have found that they all absolutely love scavenger hunts. My two oldest kids can read, but the youngest one cannot, so I have the readers to take turns reading the clues. They all collaborate to decide where they will find the next clue and the youngest gets to the the group to that chosen spot.

Directions for Katrena's Indoor Scavenger Hunt #1
  1. Have the kids go to a room that will not have a clue with strict directions not to peek!
  2. Keep clue #1.
  3. Hide clue #2 at the answer for clue #1.
  4. Hide clue #3 at the answer for clue #2.
  5. Hide clue #4 at the answer for clue #3.
  6. Hide clue #5 at the answer for clue #4.
  7. Hide clue #6 at the answer for clue #5.
  8. Hide clue #7 at the answer for clue #6.
  9. Hide clue #8 at the answer for clue #7.
  10. Hide clue #9 at the answer for clue #8.
  11. Hide clue #10 at the answer for clue #9.
  12. Place prize or congratulations certificate at the answer for clue #10.
  13. Give clue #1 to the person doing the scavenger hunt.
 Printable clues for Katrena's Indoor Scavenger Hunt #1
Indoor Scavenger Hunt #1 Printable Clues

These aren’t socks, but you put them on your feet.
They may be white, red, or blue.
They come in pairs…so
You will find your next clue if you peek in your _____!
It’s a rather large box.
It is something easy to see.
You might watch movies on it.
Why not look on the _____!
This thing has lots of numbers,
It makes some feel less alone.
Perhaps you talk to others on it…
Find the next clue on the _____!
It is rather chilly in here.
That’s good for you and me.
You’ll get hungry now or later…
Perhaps you’ll see the next clue in the ______!
Food makes you a little sleepy
Once you have been fed?
This item has blankets & pillows.
Look for the next clue on the _____!
Ready to give up…
Or do you want more?
Uh oh…I think someone is knocking…
Perhaps you should look on the ______!
No visitors today?
Couldn’t even see someone through the crack?
Guess you ought to start working on homework…
Just open your ______!

Have lots of paper in your backback?
Not all is for homework, I assume…
This paper is for something very different.
It comes on a roll in the ______!
You are pretty good at scavenger hunts.
What do you think?
Maybe you’re just as good at washing dishes…
Maybe you should look in the _____!
CLUE #10
Perhaps you should wear a cape…
Or are you not really a flyer?
This thing gives the clothes a whirly, twirly ride…
You’ll find the grand finale in the clothes ______!

Answers for Katrena's Indoor Scavenger Hunt #1









Bathroom (toilet paper)


Clothes Dryer
Katrena's Scavenger Hunt #1 Printable Prizes

The Indoor Scavenger Hunt #1 clues are designed to help kids with rhyming and will get them moving all around the house. Feel free to choose any of the printable prizes and save the others for future hunts, like my scavenger hunt #2. My kids had loads of fun with this one and I hope you have great results too!

Readers may also like to read:
Find more great ideas and additional printables on the Wildflower Bouquets site map.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Kids Can Learn a Lot About Life From Veterans

Flags for All Armed Services at Mocksville NC Veterans Memorial ©Katrena
November is one of my favorite months. The leaves in North Carolina are often quite beautiful this time of the year, and my mom's yard is usually filled with pecans for making great pecan pies or sweet potato casserole. I enjoy some relief from the hot summer months in the South, but the temperatures are usually still comfortable enough to enjoy yard work, walking with the kids, and Veterans Day programs.

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts Honor Veterans on Veterans Day ©Katrena
Although many of the stores and malls bypass November and head straight for Christmas by the time November rolls around, I rather like the holidays of November because there is not as much hype and commercialism. Two big November holidays for my family are Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.

Davie County High School JROTC Color Guard Honors Veterans on Veterans Day ©Katrena
Veterans Day, celebrated in the U.S. on November 11, is often a forgotten holiday, and veterans are often forgotten heroes. My dad was a Navy pilot who graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. My mom's dad also served in the Navy as a fireman, and many other of my relatives and friends have served or are serving today.

Fireworks Photo from Wikimedia Commons

I remember asking my Papaw to go to a 4th of July celebration when I was a kid. He kindly said he would stay at home. I didn't want to take no for an answer and kept pressing him to go and asked him why he didn't want to attend such a fun activity. Finally, he looked at me and said that every time he heard fireworks, he wanted to find a rock to hide behind because it reminded him of fighting in a war. That humbled me and helped me to see another side of my tough grandfather who could build houses and had more common sense that just about anyone alive.

Veterans From All Service Branches Honored in Community Veterans Day Program ©Katrena
I assumed the matter was settled, but was amazed when my Papaw later decided he would go to the 4th of July celebration, just for me. I didn't realize how much he had sacrificed and will never completely understand, but as an adult, it brings tears to my eyes to realize what an honor it was to stand with him and watch those bursts of color in the sky.

Kids Honor Veterans With Postors and Essays for Veterans Day Program ©Katrena
I want my kids to appreciate veterans and the many people who have advocated for freedoms that we all enjoy today in the United States. I want them to understand, to whatever extent they can, that veterans and their families give up so much, and we should be grateful. Very grateful and respectful. I also want them to learn how to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

Davie High School Plays Patriotic Songs at Veterans Day Program ©Katrena
We should know the name of the President and who represent us in Congress, our state, and our community. We should make informed decisions and vote when we are old enough. The veteran who struggles to rise from a wheelchair should not be the only one standing if the American flag goes by at a parade, and we should learn about the many symbols of our country. People of other countries who wish to become United States citizens must pass a test. Those of us who were born here should know even more about our nation and be a good example.

Flags for All Branches of Service Displayed in Front of Memorial ©Katrena
Veterans have so much to share, and I love to sit and listen to their stories, if they wish to talk. I can respect the ones who wish to remain silent as well. Some history cannot be found in books, videos, or anywhere else, and I hope that a piece of it might be transferred to the next generation by sitting and listening. Thankfully, some people are working to record that history for others. Many veterans would, without hesitation, serve again if needed and many veterans are serving today by providing military rights at funerals, encouraging fellow comrades, or helping buddies to get long overdue benefits.

Memorial for American Veterans ©Katrena
Some ways to help children to learn more about veterans and Veterans Day include:
  • Talk to veterans – if you do not personally know a veteran, many veterans in nursing homes would love to have visitors.
  • Read books about Veterans Day and American symbols, including proper flag etiquette. One of my good friends, retired Col. John Gray, wrote a book entitled Called to Honor: Memoirs of a Three-War Veteran. I highly recommend it for adults and older kids who want to get a first person account of three of our nation's wars.
  • Learn patriotic songs.
  • Attend a Veterans Day parade and program – this is yet another sacrifice that these men and women make.
  • Participate in service projects to honor and help veterans and write notes of thanks.
  • Learn about discounts and special offers for veterans in the area and ensure that veterans are aware of these programs.
Learn More About Sacrifice & Service by Visiting Veterans Memorial ©Katrena
Veterans Day is a time of reflection for many people. Saying thank you is the least we can do show appreciation for those who sacrificed more than we will ever truly know.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Enjoy Fall Activities With the Kids and Teach Life Skills

Enjoy Autumn Colors and Activities With Kids ©Katrena
Autumn provides a wealth of outdoor opportunities for families to get outside and enjoy quality time together, and these activities can combine necessary upkeep with ways to connect with the kids.

Fun and Educational Fall Family Activities

Many people associate autumn with a splash of color as the deciduous trees have the opportunity to show off before settling down for the winter. Some people only see this as more work with raking the leaves and such. In fact, one day as I was walking through the community, I noticed a man standing on his roof blowing the leaves off his tree! Although raking or blowing might be a good bit of work, the kids often look forward to the opportunity to jump right in and help...or at least jump in the piles of leaves.

Encourage Active Educational Outside Play in Autumn ©Katrena
Enjoying the beautiful leaves can be as simple as taking a walk in an area where trees line the walkways. This can be an excellent opportunity to learn more about tree identification. The Arbor Day Foundation has a nicely organized free tree identification guide to help those of us who are a bit tree name challenged. This can give the adult a nice opportunity to show the kids ways to research topics and learn practical information. I remember making a book with various leaves and researching them for a 4-H project.

Teach Kids About Fall Leaves and Flowers ©Katrena
Fall is a busy time of year for those of us who have flower gardens. Many of the autumn flowers are quite beautiful, and the kids may have a great time learning about planting bulbs or helping to get starts from some gardening friends. The kids may be able to help with preparing flower beds for colder weather. I have loads of flowers and many of them have come from family and friends. Giving the history of these plants is a big part of what makes my garden special to me. The Cooperative Extension Service offers a wealth of information about native plants for those who wish to learn more.

Kids Can Help and Learn to Winterize House

In addition to winterizing the yard, homeowners often need to prepare the house for cold weather. Fall cleaning is often a dreaded chore, but doing it together as a family may make the project seem a bit less daunting. Turn on some music to keep the moods lifted. Offering an incentive for a job well done and giving positive reinforcement might help the work move much faster with happier faces as well. My kids especially like to do fun family games like hide-and-go-seek in the dark or travel to places like a children's museum or check out a new playground as a reward rather than buying more toys.

Preparing the house for winter can also provide excellent opportunities to teach about safety, such as changing the batteries in the smoke detectors and reviewing the family fire escape plan. Kids can also learn valuable practical tips such as how to prevent frozen pipes and how to clean the stove. Teach about how to save money through simple maintenance such as changing the flapper in the toilet. This is a great opportunity to show the kids where water shut-off valves are located and how to change fuses or trip circuit breakers.

Teach Kids While Doing Fall Cleaning Projects ©Katrena
Clear the Clutter & Give Back in the Fall

Many of us tend to accumulate items throughout the year. Toys, books, clothes, or furniture items may get much more use and might help someone in need through donations to places like Goodwill. Ensuring that these items are clean and in good repair can teach a valuable lesson. Many long-term care facilities, or nursing homes, and assisted living facilities may not allow kids into the facility during the flu season, so this can be a good time to visit in person.

Families who wish to send items overseas for Christmas, such as through Samaritan's Purse or to the troops may need to begin planning in the fall. Sending thoughtful notes in the fall can be a welcome surprise to a family member or friend who does not live nearby, and kids can learn about how to address an envelope, practice writing and drawing skills, and perhaps even find a pen pal.

Teach Kids Generosity While Cleaning House ©Katrena

Make Fall Chores More Fun

Although autumn is often a bustle of activity, spending time together as a family may create a wealth of memories for everyone to enjoy during those colder winter months. This can also be a great time to search for opportunities to help around the neighborhood, perhaps by helping others in need or services or just a friend.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Playgrounds Can be Fun Free Way to Connect With Kids

Playgrounds Offer Free Outside Activities for the Kids © Katrena
Playgrounds abound in many areas...and they are often empty. Wow. My family has found that public playgrounds provide a wealth of opportunities to have fun, work on coordination, get exercise and a little sunshine and more. They are often those uncovered, free gyms of free entertainment that can provide a great way to connect with the kids.

How to Find Local Playgrounds

Many elementary schools have public playgrounds, so sometimes finding a playground is as easy as looking up the address of the area elementary schools. These playgrounds tend to be kept up well with safety in mind. You won't be able to use the facilities during school hours, but other times are often available for the public to enjoy.

Find Fun and Free Playgrounds © Katrena
Word of mouth is another popular way to find playgrounds, and many parents and caregivers may schedule regular play dates for the kids in the area. This can be a great way to interact with others and can provide a welcome relief from the humdrum home routine. My kids and I often head over to a playground on the way home from school. It provides a great way to release a little of that extra energy before starting on homework.

If your county has a parks and recreation department, they can often point you to several playgrounds in the area and might be able to provide you with inside information regarding what is available at each one. They may also give you added information about recreational opportunities in the county.

A Chamber of Commerce is another place that might offer insight into where to find playgrounds, and if you have a local Smart Start program, they might offer suggestions for playgrounds and may give added information with preschooler needs in mind.

Free Summer Activities for the Family © Katrena
Playground Etiquette

Public playgrounds are just that. Available to the public. Most of them cannot be reserved. People may have parties in public playgrounds, but expect others to enjoy the facilities there as well. Sometimes large groups may use these facilities, and sometimes they travel to these areas at a set time each week or day, so if you wish to avoid bumping elbows with a large group, feel free to check with the adults to see if they have a schedule.

Many playgrounds have rules posted, and some laws may apply to certain individuals with restrictions. It helps to explain to the kids that they should expect to share equipment and the adults should expect to share benches, etc. If a large group of kids, such as those in an afterschool program or preschool, is using the playground, sometimes it works better to choose another nearby playground, but many of the people supervising large groups are very gracious and ensure that the other kids have an opportunity to play on equipment as well.

As the children play, it helps if an adult that brought the children supervises carefully, not only for safety reasons but for behavior issues that might appear as well. Taking care of the equipment and facilities is a must. Weight limits should be observed to avoid breaking pieces, and using trash receptacles is important for the aesthetics as well as keeping the area safer for the kids. Many children tend to pick up everything they see on the ground, so it can be helpful to mention safety issues before entering the area.

Enjoy Free Family Entertainment - Critterville Playground in Richlands VA ©Katrena