Little Lanterns

Happy New Year!

Click the image to view or print this craft.

The History of the Magical History Tour

Celebrations connect us.  They connect us to our friends and family.  They connect us to our past.  Many of our holiday rituals have been passed on for generations.  We eat certain foods, decorate in a particular way, and participate in various activities because it’s part of the celebration.   Many times we have no idea why it’s part of the holiday, it just is, so we do it.

When I was a college student, I took several history courses.  The first was an art history and humanities class.  It connected art, literature, architecture, and music to the events of history.  It was an amazing class!  I was constantly thinking, “Why have I never heard this information?”  When I was in high school, history classes were about war and famous men who had founded, invented, and discovered everything.  The only thing I really knew about history was – it was boring!  The humanities class changed my view.  Now, I couldn’t get enough history.

Around the time my daughter started kindergarten, I started writing curriculum for reading and language arts, but I had another passion – history.  I felt like history, the human experience from beginning to present, should be a course that began in elementary school, but I didn’t even know where to start with that idea.  I talked to my mom because she’s super smart and was constantly reading and researching.  She said she’d think about it.  About a week after our conversation, she invited me over to discuss an idea she was working on.  When I walked into her house I saw 15 sheets of poster board arranged in sequence on her living room floor.  On each sheet, she had written a title and a date.  She photocopied pictures from various books and pasted the pictures onto the poster board rectangles.  In just a few months, she had created a poster timeline that would be the basis for our elementary school history program.

All of the curriculum I’ve worked on over the years has had one theme in mind: build a foundation for future learning.  I still believe in that theme.  I’ve met so many kids while working in various schools who are struggling because they never absorbed basic information and don’t have a process to place new information in their brains.  With our history program,  you introduce 13 distinct time periods in sequence, thereby creating 13 “file folders” in your students’ brains.  Once the students are familiar with how people lived and dressed and who the key players are in each time period, they will have a place to file future historical information.

I often think back on the standardized test my first graders took at the end of the school year.  One of the questions was, “Which of these illustrations is of Christopher Columbus?”  The test page had four portraits:  A. Abraham Lincoln, B. George Washington, C. Christopher Columbus, and D. Julius Caesar.  The first time I gave the test, I noticed about a fourth of the class chose Caesar.  The following year, I made sure to make a big deal over Columbus’s tights, cloak, and triangular hat.  But even with that information, there were still a few kids who chose Caesar.    I remember thinking, these kids have no connection to ancient Rome.  If they did, they’d be able to eliminate Caesar as easily as they did Washington and Lincoln.  The following year, I included a unit on ancient Rome.  That spring, 100% of my students identified Columbus on the standardized test.

History is a collection of great stories; the stories of our past.  Like celebrations, history connects us.

Another year has come to an end.  Most of us celebrated with lights, candles, and fireworks.  Lighting the winter in anticipation of spring is something that is celebrated in almost every culture.  My final craftivity is called “LITTLE LANTERNS.”   Click the link to get the template.  Light up the new year!

My blogs in 2017 will focus on history.  In the coming months, I will post a cut and paste craft, fun facts, and important vocabulary for each historical period.  Also, I plan to connect each history page on my website to the best videos, projects, and information on the web.  Get ready for the Magical History Tour!


Click the image to view or print the template and instructions for this craft.


Being at school before the Christmas holiday was always so magical; the songs, the crafts, the holiday themed worksheets and bulletin boards.  It just blew my mind and jazzed my imagination to a point where reality and wishful thinking merged into a North Pole dream world.  In my kindergarten year on the day before Christmas break, Santa came into each classroom and handed each child a candy cane.  He was jolly and sparkling with magic.  I could hear the reindeer hooves on the roof of my classroom.  I knew his sleigh was up there and his reindeer were there too, waiting to fly him back to the North Pole so he could make his final Christmas preparations.

I walked home from school that day, clutching my peppermint gift from Santa in my mitten covered hand.  I couldn’t wait to tell my mom and dad about my magical day at school.   By the time I walked through the front door of my house, the story just busted out of my lips  This is basically the story I told my mom, “Santa came to my school in his sleigh.  All the kids got to go up on the roof to pet his reindeer.  Santa let some of the kids give carrots to his reindeer.  I got chosen to give Rudolph a carrot.  Santa was so impressed with how good I was with the reindeer that he gave me this candy cane and told me he’d be bringing me a really special present for Christmas.”  My mom said something like, “Wow, that’s a great story.”

I unwrapped the candy cane and ate it.  I was thinking about my encounter with Santa as peppermint saliva coated my throat and brought back even more memories about my day at school.  By the time my dad got home, I remembered that Santa had let the kids ride around the sky in his sleigh.  My dad listened to the story then asked me to tell the REAL story.  So I said, “I could even see our neighborhood from the sleigh.”  My dad gave me one more chance to tell the REAL story or I would have to go to my room and I’d forfeit dinner.  I didn’t know what he was getting at.  I thought my story was pretty good, but I added another part, “Santa unhitched Rudolph from the sleigh and I got to fly back to school on Ruldolph’s back.”  Dad just shook his head, pointed to the staircase and said, “Go to your room!  No dinner!”

I can still remember sitting in my room wondering why my dad was so mad about the story.  I knew I was making it up, but I wanted it to be real, so much, that it seemed real.  And to a little kid, it was a plausible story.  Years later, my dad confessed that my imagination infuriated him because it reminded him of himself as a child.  Apparently, he also made up stories and got in trouble for it.  Because of this incident, when it comes to kids and stories, I am always willing to let their imagination tell the story.  When the story is over, I say, “Wow, that’s a great story.”


This little house ornament is perfect for hanging from a tree. The kids can get creative drawing windows, shutters, doors, and plants on the house before coloring it. Or they can decorate the house with sequins and other craft items. Click HANGING HOUSE ORNAMENT for the craftivity template and instructions.  Let your imagination do the decorating.



Click to view or print this craft page.


In our family, Thanksgiving is a ritual that has never changed.  We turn on the TV first thing in the morning to watch the parade and it stays on all day through both football games.  The table is beautiful.  The menu is a collection of my mom’s delicious recipes.  This was the ritual when I was growing up and it has remained that way for my kids.  The only thing that varies is the number of people sitting around the table.

When we were kids, my dad would call us to dinner with a loud whistle.  He didn’t need an actual whistle.  He put his thumb and pointer finger between his lips.  The sound could be heard for miles.  If we didn’t hear it, some other kid did.  “Hey, your dad is calling you for dinner.”  But he never had to whistle on Thanksgiving, because we were already home.  My dad was usually in a pretty good mood.  He’d call us to dinner by shouting our nicknames, “T-Bird, Turkey Tracks, Foo Magoo.  Time for dinner!”  We’d all come running.

His nicknames were ridiculous and didn’t seem to have any link to our actual names or personalities.  He just came up with a weird name to call each kid and once he chose it, it stuck.  His creativity waned over the years.  By the time my youngest sister, Meg, was born, the best Dad could come up with was, “Meg the Peg.”

I swore I would never give my kids stupid nicknames.  But once they were born, the nicknames soon followed.  Baby Alyssa loved to chew on teething beads.  So naturally, we started calling her, “Beady.”  That later became “Sweety Beady.”  Which somehow morphed into, “Sweety Petey.”  Which, lazily, became just-plain-old, “Pete.”  I still, sometimes, call my adult daughter, “Pete.”  My dad called her, “Big Al the Bully,” because in daycare, at 18 months old, she decked a kid who was notorious for biting helpless toddlers.  He should have called her “Big Al the Hero.”

When Jack was a baby, he wore a lot of outfits from Old Navy.  Plaid pants and baseball caps that made him look like a character who, in my mind, would be named, “Buddy Wudderton.”  That later became, “Bud Wud.”  And finally, “Bud.”

If I could ask my dad about the crazy nicknames, he probably had a reason for inventing each one.  He’s no longer here to share Thanksgiving with us, but the goofball character who gave us stupid nicknames, danced a Lucky Charms jig, and finger whistled to call us to dinner, is always at our Thanksgiving table in our memories and stories.


I created the turkey tube napkin holder for Thanksgiving because I am the one he called Turkey Tracks.  And it now seems like an honor to have been given a ridiculous nickname.  You can print the craft page on several different colors of paper and have your students cut the turkey parts from different sheets of paper. Or you can print it on white and have them color the parts. It makes a cute Thanksgiving napkin holder. Click “TURKEY TUBE to get the template and instructions for this craftivity.

X-ray Magic (Thaumatrope Toy)

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Halloween Costumes

Picking out a Halloween costume was pretty simple when I was a kid.  In mid-October the stores would fill a few shelves with costumes in cardboard boxes.  You could see the mask peeking out through the plastic covered lid.  The side of the box had a picture of the entire ensemble.  I always knew exactly who I wanted to be – Spiderman, but my mom always had another idea – homemade costumes.  Lots of kids made their own costumes; mostly ghosts, hobos, and witches.  I was usually a witch.  Witches had powers like superheroes, so I was okay with that.

When my daughter, Alyssa, was little and I would ask her what she wanted to be for Halloween, it was never a costume that could be quickly purchased at a store.  Her ideas were super specific…  “I want to be a Halloween mermaid.”  “I want to be a girl skeleton.”  “I want to be the painting called “The Scream.””  She’d make a drawing of her idea.  Then I’d have to figure out how to make the costume.  Her costumes were always really unique and she liked it that way.  She wanted to be different from everyone else.  So, naturally, my dad would always pretend he was making the exact same costume for himself.  He made the claim every year and she always fell for it and argued that he needed to come up with his own idea.  I can only imagine what my dad would have looked like as a Halloween mermaid or a girl skeleton.

Little Jack never cared what his costume was.  I’d usually buy a costume at the store and change it a bit to make it unique.  But when Jack was five, his  buddy told him he was dressing up as a superhero he’d invented called, Dino Boy.  He said his mom was going to help him make the costume.  Jack loved that idea!  Jack had also created a superhero.  His guy was called, Pickleman.  Pickleman looked like a pickle and dissolved into pickle juice whenever he needed to make a quick getaway.  I tried to imagine my child walking into his kindergarten classroom dressed as a giant pickle in a red cape.  I just couldn’t put him through that humiliation.  Some of the kids in his class were really mean.  I talked him into being his favorite TV superhero, Teen Titans’ Robin.  It was the most difficult costume I ever made.  Green leggings were impossible to find.   I think I found a pair of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajamas that had green pants.  Robin wore black high-tops.  I could only find red, but several Sharpie markers later, they were black.  I sewed the black and yellow cape; made the logo and the mask.  I bought black hair gel to give Jack the spiky dark look of Robin’s hair.   Jack felt so cool in that costume.  It was totally worth the effort!

It doesn’t really matter if the costumes are store-bought or homemade, simple or complicated, standard or unique.  It’s always fun to put on a costume and become someone else for a few hours.



This craftivity is inspired by a toy from the 1800s.  It’s called a thaumatrope.  It’s an optical illusion toy.  You make a disc with a picture on each side.  Then attach the disc to a stick and spin it between your palms to see a flicker movie effect.  Click “X-ray Magic” to get the template and instructions for this craft.

Optical Illusion Toy

Fortune Face

Click the image to view or print the template and instructions for this craft.

The Fortune Teller

When my daughter, Alyssa, was in fourth grade, she asked if she could have a Halloween party.  My answer was, “YESSSSS!”  The last Halloween party I had hosted was years before, for my little sister, Meg, who was probably in fourth grade.  That party included homemade orange and black construction paper decorations, balloons, streamers, and games like, “Pin the Nose on the Pumpkin.”  It was a very traditional party.

Now, years later, my little sister and I would host a not-so-traditional Halloween party for my daughter.   Meg, probably the most creative person on the planet, was staying with us while attending a nearby college.  When I’d told her about Alyssa’s Halloween party, she couldn’t wait to get started.  The process of brainstorming party ideas lasted well into the night.  When Meg returned from her classes the next day, I had already made a lot of the props we had discussed the night before.  Meg grabbed a paintbrush and got right to work.

One of the first props we created was a paper-mâché head.  It was painted green and had ping-pong ball eyes and moss hair.  The head was attached to a turntable so it would spin.  It was so ridiculous, I’m still laughing thinking about it!  Meg made a poster-sized painting based on the “Adam’s Family” character, Gomez.  She poked two holes in Gomez’s eyes and placed light bulbs in them.  Totally cheesy!  Then we made a  sarcophagus out of an old shoebox and a masking tape cat mummy to go inside it.  A mad scientist’s lab was created using old containers and tubes.  We used florescent paints on all of the objects so we could display them under a black light in my super-small guest room.  We made information cards, so the kids could read about each object on display.  Finally, cobwebs were strung over everything; and spiders, bats, and skeletons were added to all of the empty spaces.  This was our, “Museum of Frights,” and every time we looked at it, we busted out laughing.  It was super corny.  Nothing could make it seem scary.

On the night of the party, Meg and I set up all of the activity areas.  Games, crafts, and food tables filled the house.  Meg was dressed like a gypsy.  She had planned to tell fortunes, but one of the parent volunteers took over that activity.  I looked at Meg like, ‘Is this okay?’  She nodded, smiled at me, and headed toward the “Museum of Frights.”

As soon as the majority of kids had arrived, I asked them to form groups of five or less.  I gave each group a list of the activity areas.  Each list had an activity circled to indicate the starting point for the group.   In no time at all, the house was noisy with giggles and talking and screaming.  The kids were enjoying all of the activities, but the thing they loved the most was the museum.  I had no clue what Meg, one of the all time great storytellers, was saying to the kids in that tiny guest room, but when they exited the room they’d say, “That was awesome!   So good!  So scary!  We have to do that one again!”

When the party was over, I walked into the “Museum,” looked around, and thought,  ‘It does look pretty cool all lit up, but not scary.’  Meg opened the door and walked in.  I asked, “How in the world did you manage to make this into Disney-level entertainment?”  Meg picked up a flashlight, shined it from Gomez, to the spinning head, to the cat mummy, then under her chin.  She spoke in a slow, deep voice, “These ancient artifacts have stories to tell, and through me, they speak.”  Then she fainted.  She opened one eye and looked at me.  And, once again, we busted out laughing!!!



The featured craft is called, “FORTUNE FACE.”  You can click the link to get the template and instructions.  This craft can be used as a paper fortune teller or a puppet who tells fortunes.  You can even flip it over and use it as a candy holder. Have the kids fold it. Then they can decorate it.

V-POP CARD (Pop-up Art)

Click to view or print the PDF file page for this craft.

First First Grade Class

It was two weeks until the school year would begin.  I was just out of college.  In just two weeks, I would have a classroom filled with first graders. I carried a large box of homemade decorations from the main school building to the smaller elementary school building.  Chickens were on either side of the sidewalk, pecking at grassy grains.  I felt like Laura Ingalls Wilder at my “Little House on the Prairie” school.  But this was no prairie in the 1880s.  It was a little town near the beach in the 1980s.  The school was a family owned business.  Most of the family members lived on the school grounds.  Some of their children were students at the school.  This was my first teaching job.

My empty classroom had 16 student desks, one teacher desk, a mostly empty bookshelf, and a giant chalkboard.  As I taped, stapled, and strung decorations to the walls of the classroom, a friendly woman poked her head in the door.  She introduced herself  as the upper-elementary grades teacher, activities coordinator, and bus driver.  She’d been at the school for ten years; since she got out of college.  She liked my classroom decorations.

On the first day of school, I met my students in the main school building.   Together, we walked to our new classroom.  I had planned several “getting to know you” activities.  But the kids didn’t need to get to know one another, all but one had been students at the school’s kindergarten.  The first day went well.  The kids were adorable!

In the first week, I realized that this group of first graders was very different from the kids in my student teaching internship.  I was planning to teach them how to read.  They already knew how.  I had put together a math activity center for beginning math skills.  They were beyond most of the activities.  I had created a cool handwriting program.  They gladly played along, but most already had good penmanship.  The kindergarten teacher had taught them well.  I had to adjust my game plan.  It took some time to figure out activities to accompany their level of learning.  Even the textbooks and workbooks were easy for most of these kids.  But they were hard workers and good students.

There was no arts program at the school.  I was the music teacher, art teacher, and P.E. coach.   In my classroom, music was mostly singing and dancing.  P.E. included exercise and competitive games.  I knew a lot about art and artists.  I often told an art related story before we did an art project.  These kids, like most kids, loved information.

I still remember some of the wild conversations that transpired in that classroom.  One of the most memorable was a discussion about a Weekly Reader story in which a young boy had been severely injured and needed a prosthetic device to replace his leg.  It sparked a lot of imaginative dialog.  One student posed a question,  “If I accidentally lost my head while riding on my dad’s motorcycle and was only able to say hello with my hands and not my missing mouth, could I get a prosthetic head?”   This prompted one of the girls to share a long winded tale about riding on a rollercoaster that derailed.  In the story, several people in her family lost limbs as the rollercoaster took a wild journey through town.  The next time her family went on a rollercoaster, they made sure it was correctly attached to the tracks.  I smiled and said, “Wow, what an unbelievable adventure.”  She frowned and replied, “It’s not unbelievable.  It’s actually, totally, really true.”

I thought about my first year students as I was working on this V-POP card.  The card was inspired by my love of Henri Matisse.  I remember telling my students about his “Portrait of Madame Matisse,” also known as “Green Stripe.”  I explained that the artist painted with bold, unusual colors.  He used two different skin tones and painted a green stripe down the middle of his wife’s face.  Back then, the art critics called the painting a monstrosity, and said it looked like it had been painted by a wild beast.  That story inspired some pretty creative portraits which hung on the walls of my first first grade classroom.


This project is brought to you by the letter V. The V is upside down, but it is still a V. You will make the basic card with one sheet of paper. But your students will need paper scraps to make the shapes they’ll glue to the V. Click here to get the template and instructions for the “V-POP CARD.” I hope you have fun making it with your creative crew.

Web Frame

Click the image to view or print the WEB FRAME craft page.

Miss Jett

Everyone remembers their all-time favorite teacher.  Mine was Miss Jett.  I became a student in her third grade classroom in the middle of the school year when my dad changed jobs and we moved.  I can still remember the day my family walked into the school.  The principal took us to the fourth grade classroom to meet my brother’s teacher.  Then to the first grade classroom to meet my sister’s teacher.  The last stop was Miss Jett’s room.   She was super friendly and so welcoming.  She hugged me.  She looked at her students and said, “Good news class, we have a great kid joining our team.  This is Tracey.  Try to remember her name.  Tracey, these are your new friends.”  She laughed and said, “ Try to remember their names.”  She had them sound off, one at a time, “Hi Tracey.  My name is ____.”

On my second day in Miss Jett’s class, she asked me to come to the front of the room.  “Look class, it’s the new girl.  If you know her name, shout it out.”  They all shouted my name.  Miss Jett looked at me, “Now it’s your turn.  How many of these kids’ names do you know?”  She instructed her students to stand when they heard their name.  I started with Bob and Bill.  They were my neighbors.  Then I continued, “Brad, David, Sam, John, Mark…”  Miss Jett was laughing, “You only know the names of the boys?”  I was embarrassed, but I’ve always been good with names.  I looked at my new teacher and continued to speak, “Julie, Roxie, Sally, Kathy, Barb…”  By now, most of the students were standing.  Miss Jet was clearly impressed.

She was the first teacher who believed in me.  She treated me like I was special; like I mattered.  But that wasn’t the only reason she was my favorite teacher.  She was also the master of making learning fun.  She planned lessons that were hands-on.  She involved the class in her lectures – lectures that sometimes included food samples.  It was fun to go to school!

The back corner of Miss Jett’s classroom was a cool little hideaway.  We were allowed to go back there when our work was done.  The hideaway had bookshelf walls.  The shelves were filled with books and puzzles and games.  Miss Jett had created most of the games.  I loved the games!  There was also a box of colorful laminated story cards with comprehension questions.  Miss Jett challenged us to read as many of the story cards as we could.  She had a chart on the wall where we marked each card we’d read.  I didn’t really like to read, but I read a ton of those stories because I liked coloring in the squares on the chart.  The hideaway also had a globe, a world map, and a flashcard game about states and capitals.  There was a chalkboard so you could practice your writing.  The very best thing was the science area with an aquarium and a terrarium.  Because Miss Jett lived on a farm, we often had live animals in the classroom.  The animals weren’t always confined to the hideaway corner.  Once in awhile Miss Jett brought in a baby kitten that got to wander around the classroom.  We were allowed to pick it up and bring it to the hideaway when our seat work was completed.  On the days the kitten was in the room, I finished my seat work in record time!

By the end of the school year, Miss Jett knew me well.  When the baby snakes crawled out of the science lab terrarium and got stuck to the tape on the bulletin board, Miss Jett knew I was the snake-loving student who would gladly free them from their sticky nightmare and return them to their habitat.  She made a big deal of how well I completed the task.

On the very last day of school, Miss Jett told us how much she’d enjoyed having us as students.  She was so proud of us.  She wished she could be our teacher forever; or at least for another year.  Then Miss Jett said she had an announcement, “Guess what?  I’m moving.”  A big gasp of disappointment rose up from her devoted fans.  “Oh, let me finish that sentence.  I’m moving to fourth grade.  We’ll all be together again next year.”   “HURRAY!!!”


This web frame activity is something Miss Jett taught in a lesson about how to use a ruler.  She had us use our ruler to draw a capital L.  Then she asked us to mark every half inch on the L.  We had to connect the dots from the vertical line to the horizontal line.  It created a neat Op Art piece.  Click “WEB FRAME” to get the instructions and template for this craftivity.

Goofy Goggles

Click the image to view or print the pattern and instructions.

Jack’s Superlative

Jack’s third grade year was one of his favorites.  His teacher was really young, but she was one of those amazing people who had definitely chosen the right career.  She seemed like she’d been teaching third grade forever.  For the first time since preschool, Jack loved going to school.   Every afternoon, Jack would do his homework, eat a snack, and talk non-stop about what happened in his classroom.  Everything seemed to be coming together for him.  I could see his confidence rising.  What a difference a great teacher makes!

It was also in third grade that the school conducted an eye exam and Jack was flagged as “probably needs glasses.”  When his teacher gave Jack the note, he stuffed it in the bottom of his backpack, hoping it would go unnoticed.  Unfortunately, for him, I was the Room Mom, so I was often in his classroom.  When his teacher asked me if Jack had been to an eye doctor, I was caught off guard, “What happened to his eye?”  She told me about the exam.

When Jack got home, I pulled the crumpled note from his backpack and made an appointment with an optometrist.  Jack said it was a waste of time.  He insisted his eyes could see everything – perfectly.  The eye doctor did not agree with Jack’s self-diagnosis.  In fact, I was amazed watching him struggle to read the eye chart.  His eyesight was terrible.

Two weeks later, Jack walked into his third grade classroom, wearing his new glasses.  The kids all commented.  “What’s on your face?”  “Why do you want to be a nerd?”  But the teacher told him, “You look so handsome!”  And the kids, because they loved her, decided Jack’s glasses were alright.

Soon after he got the glasses, Jack was chosen for the lead in the class play.  It was “Arthur the Aardvark.”  (If you are not familiar with Marc Brown’s books, Arthur is a third grader who, among other things, wears glasses.)  Later that year, Jack was tested for and accepted into the school’s gifted program.

Toward the end of the school year, the teacher gave each student a list of superlatives:  Most athletic, most creative, most likely to be rich, smartest, funniest, handsomest, prettiest, kindest… You get the idea.  The students were asked to write a classmate’s name by each description.  The winner of each title would be announced on the last day of school.

On the last day, there was a breakfast celebration.  All of the parents were invited to attend.  At the end of the breakfast, the teacher gave out awards.  The final awards were based on the students’ votes.  I assumed Jack would get most artistic or fastest runner.  I nodded in agreement as the teacher announced and handed out each certificate.  Jack was one of the last kids to get one.  His superlative, “SMARTEST!”  It was hilarious!  This kid who struggled in school and was constantly being reminded that academics were not his thing, was just handed an award that proclaimed him the smartest kid in class.


The name of this craftivity is “GOOFY GOGGLES.”  Click the title to get the template and instructions for the craft.  Your students can decorate them to create an alter-ego. This craft is fun to make and fun to wear. The letter g is used for each side of the glasses. Your kids can use the pictures that begin with the letter g for inspiration. Or, they can make their own goggle design.


Click the image to view or print the JUNK-BOTS craft.


Journal entries from your first grader’s composition book are priceless collections of misspelled words and random thoughts that can lead to laughter for years to come.

As a first grader, Alyssa once wrote about our neighbor who had recently “dumped his perfictly nice feonsay for a dum Barbie doll girl.”  What prompted her to write this in her classroom journal?  The perfectly nice fiancée  was her substitute teacher that day.  Alyssa also wrote a passage about how much our family hates fat grams.  The following day’s entry was about how much our family loves bacon.

In a journal entry about her grandparents, my husband’s parents, Alyssa wrote about how much fun it was to visit them.  Then to prove to her readers that it was the “funnest” trip ever, she described walking to the corner store with Gramma to get scratch off lotto tickets and coming back to the condo to scratch the tickets with Grampa while he drank Old Style beer.   Grant’s mom read the story.  She looked at me and laughed, “My goodness, her grandparents sound like real winners.”  And it was pretty funny, because during our visit we went so many places and did so many things, but to Alyssa, just spending time alone with her grandparents was the journal-worthy part of the trip.

Jack’s first grade journal entries were pretty funny, too.  One of my favorites started with the line, “Once when me and Bobby were digging to China…”  In the story Jack and his friend, Bobby, discover a rare species, but when someone tells them it’s a common grub worm, Bobby screams and crushes it.  Another great entry was a story about butterflies.  In the story Jack asks the question, “Where do they go when they fly away?”  Then he answers the question, “No putty knows.”  And, naturally, that became a catch phrase in our house. “Where are my tennis shoes?”  “No putty knows!”

Jack also wrote stories about Grant’s parent’s.  In one story he brags that Grampa gave him ten “dollers” to buy whatever he wanted at the store.  Jack doesn’t tell his readers that he used the money to buy pipe cleaners and pompons or that Grampa thought the purchase was a bit odd.   But when they returned to his house, Grandpa was impressed with Jack’s ingenuity and imagination.  Jack bent, twisted, curved, and folded pipe cleaners around pompons to create an assortment of creatures and characters that he played with for hours on end.  Grampa said, “I tried to talk him into buying a toy, and he kind of did.”


Jack’s creative purchase turned into an activity center at our house.  We filled a tabletop with pipe cleaners, pompons, washers, hex nuts, googly eyes, sequins, feathers, fun foam beads, and beverage straws.  Jack’s and his friends would use the pieces to create action figures we called junk-bots.  I have modified the craft by including a head and body box.  If you plan to make the craft with a child younger than 9, you’ll need to make the boxes for them.  Click on “JUNK-BOTS” to get the template and instructions for this craftivity.  Maybe your child will write a journal entry about it.

Sun Catchers

Click to view or print the pattern and instructions for this craft.


Growing up in the Midwest gave me an appreciation for blue skies in the summertime.  When I was a kid,  laying on my back and watching the clouds drift and shift to form pictures of people, animals, and imaginary creatures was something I could do for hours on end.  Often times my sister would lay on the grass next to me.  I’d point at a cloud and say, “Look at that dragon.”  And she’d reply, “I like the cute bear cub riding on the dragon’s back.  He’s waving at me.”  Then I’d say, “That cub better hold on to the dragon so he doesn’t fall.  There’s a dangerous lion right below them.”  She’d shudder, “I’m really worried for the bear!” It was like the sky was creating a movie just for us.

A few weeks ago my sister and I were talking about how we used to love looking up at the sky.  My sister not only remembered our cloud stories, she also recalled a time when our neighbor, who was a year younger than my sister, decided to look up at the clouds with us.  Apparently this girl listened to our cloud talk for a few minutes, started to cry, and ran to our house to tell on us.  Soon our dad was looking down at us, hands on his hips, and a stern look on his face.   He told us to, “Stop seeing things in the clouds.”  It was upsetting our neighbor.  We were kids.  We wanted to obey our dad, but, come on, how can you stop seeing what is right in front of you?

Now as an adult I look up at the clouds, but hardly ever see anything.  Where did my cloud movies go?  It’s like I had a magical power, but it’s gone.  I was describing this to my son, Jack.  “I used to be able to look up at the clouds and see a picture in every cloud formation.  Now I can’t see anything but clouds.  My imagination is really slipping.”  He said, “Yeah it is.  I can see something in every cloud.”  I was interested, “You can?  Tell me what you see.”  Jack pointed to three different clouds and said, “Chicken nugget.  Chicken nugget.  Chicken nugget.”  So now I am convinced, it’s not me…the sky doesn’t make movies anymore!


This summer craftivity is called “SUN CATCHER.”  Click the blue craft title to get the template and instructions.  Jack and I made one of these over ten years ago and I still have it.  The flower is now a dull golden-brown color, but it’s still preserved.