Back to Basics-The Simple Pleasures are the most memorable!      

By Sharon Merkel Prudhomme ~

For most of us Boomers, we grew up in simpler times. Many moms didn’t work and kids were “allowed” to be a kid. Exploring their neighborhood, making up games, feeding their imagination and playing outdoors was the everyday summertime fun. We were lucky enough to live on a dead-end with a pond, woods and a brook to play in. We could ride our bikes into Watchung Reservation and play all day at/in Surprise Lake. Back then our moms would give us a dollar-boy did we think it hot stuff to hold a buck in our little dirty hands to spend as we wished! THAT little bill bought us a whole day of fun! 50 cents for ½ day rowboat rental, 15 cents for a burger, 5 or 10 cents for soda, the rest spent on fries & dessert! Oh, and no bike helmets, no life jackets, no parents hovering overhead….we were adventurous, able minded kids with no fear of trying anything we felt was fun. Our days were spent catching frogs & tadpoles, salamanders, snakes, turtles, fishing, kick the can, SPUD, Red Rover, Jacks, Pick-up Sticks, magnifying glasses, tree forts, building dams, spillways and riding bikes. Phew, no wonder we all went to bed around dark and slept till we popped out of bed to do it all again!

Our big world is out there for all to relish, observe, learn & explore. And…..the cool part is….it doesn’t have to cost a fortune! The following are but a few pretty neat ideas that are sure-fire winners to draw an interest and perhaps lead the way to a hobby! Oh, that’s something all kids had once upon a time in a simpler world.

*Feathers collect feathers, make a display: 1. Stick feathers into a floral block (dollar store) by summer’s end it may well be filled but can add all year. Block can be covered in floral moss if choose to. 2. Mount feathers in a photo album- draw & color picture of the bird who dropped the feather.  3. Buy a paperback bird book-encourage reading as the child looks for each bird, learns feeding habits, migration, etc.  4. When enough feathers are collected, create an art piece by arranging all together-use dabs of Elmer’s glue to place onto poster board, paper plate, cardboard, etc. 5. For readers & writers-keep a journal of the birds they’ve sighted. 6. Introduce eBird: visit this site! Coolest ever. Once in, type in the area you are living in or visiting. Here the kids can become little scientists and add their sightings and read of others’. 7. Learn the state bird, discover the different sate birds! Make a booklet of state birds-draw the picture, color mount onto construction paper. The old-fashioned way! 8. Locate the nearest Wildlife Center and visit. Native birds and more on display. Many have trails and blinds to observe from. A day trip to any wildlife area becomes an adventure 9. Join a bird watching club…start your own! 10. Make a bird feeder!

*Bugs- collect various bugs: 1. Recycle a plastic container to make a bug “observation” station. Using any plastic container-cottage cheese, potato salad, cole slaw, to go salad container, etc. For non-clear plastics, as kids, we’d cut out squares on a side and tape plastic wrap from inside to create a window. By poking holes in the top to allow air flow, placing a stick and/or leaves, pinch of soil we created a tiny environment. Be sure to remind children that after observations all bugs should be returned to the area found-overnight or a day or two then release. 2. Buy a bug identification book-encourage reading skills all summer! 3. Keep a journal of all bugs found-draw a picture of each, learn their official names. 4. Bugs and birds-learn what bugs are eaten by birds and which bugs have a natural defense.

*Animal footprints! This was one of my personal childhood activities! If you live near woods or not this is pretty neat. 1. Using a bucket, add dirt and water, mix with a painters stick or stick from outside until thick but pourable. Find a place away from pets, people. Pour out onto ground in a wide thick circle. Place food scrap (bait) in center. I’d do this in late afternoon and return in the morning to find animal tracks in the mud. Using an old butter knife or such, cut around the print in a larger square. These can be dried and saved or….mix up plaster of Paris and pour gently into to print. Allow drying time and pop out. Label and save. 2. Locate an animal book (yes, looking up on the net is fast and easy, but often the magic of a book can still beat the pushing of a button) to look at the paw prints. Draw the prints or, using tracing paper, trace a print, place in scrap-book, write about the animal, draw a picture to go with each page. 3. Local wildlife centers and museums are loaded with fun related info!

*Leaves: Whether a weed or not, leaves are everywhere. All shapes, textures, colors waiting just for us. Remember old-fashioned wax paper?            1. Grab a roll at the Dollar Store and break out the crayons and an iron! Collect a few leaves-thinner stems work best here. Place a square of wax paper onto a sheet of cardboard (old pizza boxes work great!). Arrange your leaves to your liking. Remove paper label from crayons. Using a butter knife, “shave” bits of crayons around leaves. Place same sized sheet of wax paper over 1st, on low heat setting, begin to “iron” over both sheets. As crayons melt they create a cool “stained glass” effect. Make sure to iron over edges and entire areas as the wax sheets will seal together. These can be framed and or hung in windows! Kids can give as gifts too! 2. Using a plastic plant drip pan (Lowes, H.Depot, garden centers) mix Plaster of Paris, pour into drip pan (here larger m leaves are great), gently press the leaves, ferns into the plaster careful not to submerge the leaf. When almost dry, carefully lift the leaves out. The veins and pattern should be embedded. These can be painted when dry if wanting to add a bit of green to the “plaster leaves”.

*Seeds/pods: Dried seeds, nuts, beans: 1. Gather seeds, nuts & beans. Using poster board, cardboard, old wooden picture frame & glue, arrange collected bits to form patterns, mosaic designs with what was found! After flowers have faded, collect seeds and place in zip lock bags-label and plant next Spring.

*Trees: Locate a Tree Identification Book. Pick tree leaves, trace or mount between wax paper. Identify by shape. Create a Tree Book by punching holes through wax paper mounts. Using colored construction paper as the cover and back of the book. Yarn can be used in hole punches to bind the book.

*Create a Terrarium: using old clear glass jar, goldfish bowl, etc.( visit Dollar tree or Salvation Army for fun glass finds). 1. Gather moss, tiny plants around the yard or garden, visit garden shop and check out miniatures to use. Add small pebbles, piece of interesting wood, shells.

*Straw Hat Fun: *our mom would give us each a straw hat at summers’ start. Using Elmer’s glue and fishing line with a large blunt needle we would attach our “finds” from the beach! We’d take teeny crabs, horseshoe crabs and starfish to dry on a rock outside. Shells, fishing lures and other “artifacts” would adorn our unique “lids” which we would proudly don. If camping or playing at home on a Stay-cation, look around, there are plenty of items to find and add to a fun summer hat!

*Shadow Box: shadow box frames can be made or found ready to fill at Michael’s or any Arts & Crafts store. 1. Any of the above mentioned collections can be added to a Shadow Box. Shore Theme, Woods, feathers, etc. Create and have fun.

*Old Wooden Picture Frame Make Over: old frames lying around? Visit any Flea Market, Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc. to find many low-cost old frames. 2. Using glue gun (for older kids) or Elmer’s Glue, add seeds, pebbles, shells, wine corks, feathers, moss, etc. to the frame for a fun custom look.

*Clam, Mussel, Crab Shell Fun”: Having clams, crabs, etc. at home? Clean and keep all shells. Ask your waitress to please save the shells in a bag for you-they’re happy to please. 1. Scrape off mussel from shell, rinse crab shell inside and out. Place in a bowl or bucket with water and a cap of bleach. Allow to stand overnight. Drain and rinse-allow to dry.  2. Paint red, white and blue shells, when dry, spray with a clear seal coat. Also spray plain natural shells with seal coat for natural look and designs. Create a patriotic wreath-give as a gift. 3. Ask dad to drill (use masonry bit) holes thru’ shells. Create necklaces and ornaments. For holidays I spray gold and silver to attach to wreaths, swags and pine garlands. For summer look, attach to boating rope for fun garland. 4. Jazz up a flower-pot. Glue shells to the outside of flower pots for a fun patio addition.

*Dried Flowers: 1. Take a nature walk and collect various reeds, weeds, etc. for a dried arrangement. Add feathers found for added interest.

*Driftwood Art: collect small pieces to create fun art! Many fun shapes to play with. If you find a nice piece to use as base. Check craft stores for miniatures. Real looking bugs, frogs, seagulls, etc. Also dry mini crabs, moss, etc. to glue onto the wood. Display on windowsill, desk or shelf.

*Old boot garden: use an old boot to fill with potting soil and plant small slow-growing smalls such as Hen & chicks. *Glow in dark paint: 1. Purchase solar glow in dark paint-Lowes, H. Depot. Spread newspaper on outdoor table. Have kids paint rocks, pebbles, flower pots. When dry, place rocks along pathway or in small groups near plants tree bases, etc. to add intrigue at night.

These are but a few fun things to do outdoors for fun with all ages. Keep the kids busy “unplugged” & “unhooked”. Get back to basics, there’s a world of adventures out there.

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