Star Gazing with Your Kids


What if we introduced our kids to a huge video screen that updates constantly, is infinitely beautiful and definitely educational? What if our kids got as excited by the real world as they do by the worlds on their iPad?  Star gazing with your kids is an opportunity to bond, to learn and to enjoy some peaceful “off the grid” time as a family.

Summer is the ideal time to explore the skies. You’re probably outdoors a lot anyway and the summer night sky is often clear and bright.  No fancy equipment is needed to star gaze. A telescope is ideal but not necessary. Binoculars can be helpful. But if all you have are curious kids and a clear sky, that will do.  The darker your location, the more you can see.  If you live in the city, a short drive to the country is in order.  Bring along reclining lawn chairs or a blanket for maximum viewing comfort.

Once you get comfortable, play dot-to-dot with the stars – creating pictures of your own.  Kids can name the newfound “constellations”.  They can also pick out particularly bright stars or patterns and name them after family members, distant or departed.  Each time you view the skies, you can look for your family member’s space in the sky.  Viewing the moon through binoculars or with the naked eye is very interesting.  Noting the change in phases of the moon over time can offer a good introduction to the workings of the universe.

Make an effort this summer to introduce your children to the beauty of the night sky. Who knows? You may have a budding astronaut or astrophysicist on your hands!  Check out this site for fun family activities related to the skies and this site to fascinate your kids with fun star facts.  Don’t forget to pick up a copy of The Adventures of Willy Nilly & Thumper:  Stella Star – the exciting adventure of a star who fell to earth.

June Backyard Adventure: A Mystery Drive

Willy Nilly & Thumper’s Backyard Adventure for June: A Mystery Drive

A big part of having an adventure is not knowing the outcome.  This month, our Backyard Adventure involves a Mystery Drive and the outcome is most definitely unknown. Plan the Mystery Drive for an evening when everyone can relax and no one is in a hurry. Prepare a picnic dinner or pick up a simple meal at a local restaurant. Give each child a coin (and a blindfold if you want to make things even more interesting).  Let the Mystery Drive begin!

  • The driver heads out with no particular destination in mind.
  • At random intersections, the adults in the car call out “Flip!”
  • The children in the car take turns flipping their coin.  If the coin lands on “heads”, the driver turns right. If the coin lands on “tails” the driver turns left.
  • After twelve (12) coin flips, the driver stops.  This is your Mystery Drive Destination and your adventurous spot for dining.

Maybe you’re lucky and have ended up at a park or other green space. Maybe not so lucky and you’re parked in front of the bus station. Regardless, make the best of the situation and bring out the food. Whether you eat in the car, on a blanket in the grass or on a bus stop bench, it will be a meal long remembered.  Making memories is the best part of adventure and of family!

Willy Nilly & Thumper have a treasure chest where they store a keepsake from each of their adventures. When you get home, put one of the coins in your own adventure treasure chest and begin collecting your own family adventure memories.


Keep Reading Time Fun!

Whether you are reading To Kill a Mockingbird or Where the Wild Things Are, settling in with a great book is one of life’s simple pleasures.  However, children are not always ready to “settle in” when reading time arrives.  If your little one is less than cooperative, try one of these ideas to keep reading time fun.

Involve Them – Children’s attention can drift. Asking questions about the story helps keep them focused.  How many teeth do you see in Charlie the Cross-Eyed Crocodile’s mouth?  What do think Willy Nilly & Thumper are eating for dinner?

Include Activity – If your children have a hard time settling down for reading time, suggest they build Mount Methuselah with blocks or color a picture of the treasure Willy Nilly & Thumper find in the cave while listening to you read.  Kids can listen and create at the same time!

Engage Imagination – Physically acting out parts of the book will help keep children engaged. When Willy Nilly & Thumper outrun the mudslide racing down Mount Methuselah, suggest your child run across the room, pretending they are alongside the book characters.  Or ask them to paddle the canoe with all their might while escaping Charlie the Cross-Eyed Crocodile.

Add to the Story – Ask your child to make sound effects to accompany your reading – jungle animal sounds as Willy Nilly & Thumper paddle down the river, feet stomping as they run away from Charlie, the croc’s moans after he falls from the tree.  Kids can even sing a happy tune at the end of the book when everything turns out OK.

Teaching your children that reading is a fun activity and part of everyday life is important. Having fun yourself is a bonus. Connect, explore and have fun with your kids. And make reading part of the fun!




May Backyard Adventure – Family Camp Out

Willy Nilly & Thumper’s Backyard Adventure for May: Family Camp Out

Why it’s great: Kids of all ages love to camp out. If you’re new to camping as a family, the backyard is a great place to hold a trial run. Removing electronic distractions (TV, video games, tablets) makes room for connection and family fun.

What you’ll need: A tent and sleeping bags are ideal. But if you don’t have those, no problem. String up a few blankets or sleep under the stars. Snacks are a must – one of the best parts of camping is the food! Involve your kids in the meal or snack prep. Some great kid-friendly camping recipes are here.  Other than sleeping arrangements and munchies, a backyard camp out is all about being together and creating your own adventure.

Setting up for Family Camp Out is half the fun. Kids will love hauling blankets, pillows and teddy bears from the house to the yard. Once everything is arranged for camping, encourage your children to really explore their backyard. No matter how large or small, your backyard is interesting.

  • Look closely in the grass for bugs and worms. How are they different from one another? Where do you think they are going?
  • Notice the birds flying overhead. Do they sound different or the same? Can you make up your own names for them based on their appearance and sound?
  • Are there flowers, bushes or trees in your yard? How are the leaves different? Do animals use any of these places as homes or resting places?
  • How many grown-up steps does it take to walk across the yard? How many kid steps? How many ways can you navigate across the yard? Running, skipping, hopping?

After dark, bring out the flashlights. Play “Chase the Light” with younger kids. Introduce older kids to “Shadow Puppets”. Hide a box somewhere in the yard (S’mores fixings?) and let the kids hunt for it after dark. Sing campfire songs, tell campfire stories.  Making memories and connecting with each other is the goal – backyard camping has no rules!



Stay Connected to Your Grandchildren

Whether you live in the same town or hundreds of miles away, kids and grandparents want to stay connected. One of the tricks to having fun with your grandchildren is to engage in activities that hold their attention. A little imagination and free-spirited fun go a long way!  These are a few ideas to create memories with your grandchildren.

If you live nearby your grandchildren:

Cook Together – Teenagers and toddlers alike will love spending time with you in the kitchen. Whether you’re teaching them your secret brownie recipe or you are both learning to prepare lobster, cooking together is sure to result in great memories and delicious food.

When You Learn, Teach – Passing on knowledge to your grandchildren will give you great satisfaction and will give them a new skill. Embroidery, car maintenance, woodworking, knitting and painting are all examples of teachable projects. Whatever your unique skill, pass it on!

From the “Olden Days” – Children are fascinated with the “way things used to be”. Share stories from your childhood, demonstrate your high school dance craze, your cheerleading moves or popular hair styles of the day. Let your grandchildren know that you were once just like them – boy (or girl) crazy, worried about grades and trying to make your parents proud.

If you live far away from your grandchildren:

Share Reading – Share books via Skype or even on the phone. For younger children, reading time is a great time to connect, even if you’re too far away to snuggle.  Start a private book club with older children. Take turns choosing a book and share your thoughts over the phone or email.

You’ve Got Mail – Create a traveling letter – write a short paragraph, mail to your grandchild. They write a paragraph and return. Who knows? This letter could go back and forth for years and become a treasured keepsake for both of you.

Become a Collector – Find a common interest with your grandchild and start a joint collection. Whether you start a physical collection (coins, books, unicorn shaped pillows) or something less storage-intense (photos of animals, funny quotes, NBA stats), this collection will give you something to talk about and share.

Staying connected with your grandchildren is important. A little imagination can make that connection strong and FUN!

Raise Kids Who Love Reading!

Reading skills are fundamental to a good education.  Helping your child to enjoy reading sets them up for a good education and enhances their quality of life. These are a few ways you can Raise Kids Who Love Reading!

  • Make reading part of everyday life – encourage your child to read billboards, signs, cereal boxes, posters.  This practice shows children that reading is a skill necessary to navigate the world.
  • Read to your child every day.  Parent/child reading time associates reading with happy, comfortable times.
  • As your child develops interests (cooking, bike riding, sports, movies), buy or check out books related to those topics.
  • Choose easy books initially.  Easy-to-read books give your child a sense of accomplishment.
  • Visit the library.  This is a great place to allow your child to explore different types of books on their own.  Attend story times and other library activities. The more varied the experience, the better.
  • Create an at-home library for your child.  A small bookcase and a comfortable chair or stack of pillows will work fine.  Fun ideas to display your child’s books.
  • Ask your child to read to you. Short on time? Create a tradition of listening to your child read while you prepare dinner each night or as you fold the laundry or sweep the floors.
  • Ask questions about the books your child reads.  What did you like best about this story?  How would you feel in the same situation?  This promotes higher level thinking and helps your child connect reading with his or her own world.
  • Praise your child’s efforts and improvement. Good experiences early on help develop a love of reading which will serve your child well throughout his life.

April Backyard Adventure – Photo Scavenger Hunt

Willy Nilly & Thumper’s Backyard Adventure for April:  Photo Scavenger Hunt

Why it’s great:  This adventure teaches observation, camera skills and creative thinking.  This is a family activity that gets everyone out into nature.  It’s lots of fun for everyone!
What you’ll need:  Digital camera or phone with camera (disposable cameras may be best for small children); list of items to be found (see below); pen or pencil to check off items; small photo album or notebook (optional)

Give each child a camera and explain how it works. Let them take a couple of test photos.
Set out on an adventure in your neighborhood, a park or any outdoor space.
Encourage your children to take a photo of each of the items on the list.  If they don’t find them all, that’s OK.
Print the photos and display them in a small photo album or paste them in a notebook so everyone can admire the photography and remember the great day.

Scavenger List

  • Something that makes a noise
  • A piece of trash (pick it up and throw it away please!)
  • Something yellow
  • Something green
  • Something soft
  • Something with a good smell
  • Something with a sharp edge
  • Something with a bad smell
  • Something hard
  • Something heavy
  • Something light
  • Water
  • An animal
  • The prettiest thing you see
  • Something unexpected
  • The ickiest thing you see
  • A family have fun and enjoying nature




What types of books do young children like?

Exposing children to books early in life builds a great foundation for a love of reading.  What books are best for each age?

Infants 0-6 months

  • Books with simple, large pictures or designs
  • Books with bright colors
  • Stiff cardboard or fold out books that can set up on their own
  • Cloth or vinyl books with simple pictures

Infants 6-12 months

  • Boards books with photos of other babies
  • “Chunky” books in bright colors
  • Books with photos of familiar items like bottles and blankets
  • Plastic/vinyl books – great to use at bathtime
  • Washable cloth books that can be put in the mouth
  • Personal photo album of family and friends

Young Toddlers 12-24 months

  • Sturdy board books that can withstand rough treatment
  • Books with photos of children doing familiar things like eating and sleeping
  • Goodnight books for bedtime
  • Books about saying hello and good-bye
  • Books with only a few words on each page
  • Books with simple rhymes
  • Animal picture books

Toddlers 2-3 years

  • Books that tell simple stories
  • Simple rhyming books that can be memorized
  • Bedtime books
  • Books about counting, the alphabet, shapes and colors
  • Animal books

Make reading time fun by creating funny voices for the characters in the book. Ask questions while reading (what color is the doggie?) and personalize the story when possible (do you think that doggie is bigger than our doggie?).  Your child will learn from you that reading is fun!

Pointing to the words in the book and allowing your child to turn pages teach Early Literacy skills and will help your child transition into reading more easily.
There is no wrong way to read to your child.  Have fun and remember to read to them every day!



Early Literacy – Preparing to read and write

Early Literacy refers to the skills a child should learn before they reach the age where they begin reading and writing.  How can you create an environment where your children will gain the Early Literacy skills they need?  These are some ideas:

  • It’s not always possible to stop what you are doing and actively listen to your child talk to you but try to set aside times every day where you can listen attentively to your child.  Encourage them to tell you the story of their day.
  • Provide books and encourage your children to handle them. Practice turning pages, following words on the page and acting out the illustrations.
  • Create a home atmosphere that is fun and language rich.
  • Read often and make reading time enjoyable.  Small children may not sit for an entire book – that’s OK.   Even small doses of reading make a big impact.
    Don’t know what to read?  100 Books to Read Before Kindergarten
  • Read, sing, talk and play with your child.
  • Write and color with your child to help develop fine motor skills.
  • Attend age appropriate library programs and explore the library with your child.

For more ideas on ways to incorporate Early Literacy skills into your daily routine:  Building Literacy Every Day

Next time:
What books are most liked by children newborn to three years?

Early Literacy – Is it important for my child?

Early Literacy
What do young children know about reading and writing before they actually begin to read and write?  This is the focus of Early Literacy.  Preparing your child for a lifetime of reading enjoyment begins early in life.  Many studies have shown that children who develop Early Literacy skills early in life are more successful at learning to read and that early exposure to books and reading is an important part of literacy development.

Six Skills
Developing a good relationship with books and relating books to happy, fun times is important.  These are six skills important to Early Literacy:

  • Know the names and sounds of letters in different presentations (upper case, lower case, different fonts)
  • Be able to hear and recognize the small sounds that make up words
  • Ability to describe events and tell stories
  • Notice books, understand how to open a book and turn pages, understand how to follow words on a page
  • Be interested in books and enjoy looking at books
  • Know the names of common items in their world (baby, table, star, tree, etc.)

Next time:
What can you do to create an Early Literacy environment for your child?