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9 Tammuz 5766 - July 5, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Home and Family

Have a Fun and Free Vacation
by Dena Newman

Summertime is upon us and in all likelihood, someone — maybe everyone — in the family is clamoring for fun things to do. Unfortunately, most of those things cost money, some more, some less. The good news, for those of us who need (or like) to watch our budget, is that there are things to do that cost very little . . . some that really are totally free. To be perfectly honest, although these ideas may not cost much in dollars, euros or shekel, they will cost in time, and perhaps in patience. So if you have a lot of those, get ready and psych yourself up for fun!

Especially when your budget is tight, everything is in the presentation. Try to not mention money at all. Explain to your children that they are so lucky and will be in Mommy Camp this summer! Start out by getting a notebook (the one that your child used only three pages of during school can be perfect!) and work on setting up a calendar, together with your children.

First explain that it is only a 'suggestion-type' of calendar, and really success is up to Hashem. It could be a good time to talk about enjoying whatever we do, turning lemons into lemonade, and so forth. It is always better if everyone expects less and gets more, than the opposite.

Then start to collect ideas, and be prepared with some of your own (hopefully the ideas you see here will suit you or at least 'prime the pump' of your own imagination!). You can write down each suggestion without approving or disapproving. Expensive or inappropriate ideas can be responded to with a joke, or try to find a redeeming feature in them and get the submitter to modify.

For example, if you get a suggestion such as 'Let's go visit our cousins in Switzerland!' you can praise the child for being family oriented, and offer to send photos and letters back and forth. You can tell the kids you will have a Swiss evening — after you research what they eat, or any other touches to add. If the idea is really way out, a humorous response might work, such as "Great idea — and we can go skiing in Australia on the way home! That would be some trip! That would be something we would never forget!"

After you have collected ideas, tell the gang that you will review them and put a plan together. Meanwhile go on to setting up a daily schedule for most days. You may need more that one for varying ages. We have had schedules such as this:

8:30-9:00 breakfast, listen to a tape

9:00-9:30 davening, Tehillim, or review: aleph- bais etc.

9:30-10:00 game, such as match ups, bingo, checkers. Something with pieces.

10:00-10:15 clean up toys, bedroom, bathroom (something quick they can feel good about)

10:15-10:30 snack — my favorite is juice popsicles and popcorn

10:30-11:30 arts and crafts project — see ideas below, or ask friends!

11:30-12:00 cleanup from project, and help set up for lunch

12:00-1:00 lunch, free play

1:00-2:00 rest time — let non-nappers listen to a tape, and look at books

2:00-2:30 get up, put books away, snack time

2:30-4:00 swimming pool or minor trip — to park or a neighbor or a store or? (see below)

4:00-5:00 bath time/play with blocks or color while Mommy prepares dinner

5:00-6:00 dinner, begin bedtime routine (you'll be better off cleaning up after, depending on age of kids . . . )

6:00-7:00 bedtime routine — review the day with each child, find out what they enjoyed. Hear how they would like to have fun next time, if they have any ideas for improvement; but try as best as you can to emphasize the positive. Make notes in the notebook . . . it can be a really warm ending.

This may sound idyllic, but it is worth posting even if it works only one day! The kids like to hear about what is coming up, and can get some 'points' or treats for staying on schedule, etc. They can even have a chance to check off each thing done, and if you see it goes, make daily copies. If everything is written in the notebook you started out with, you'll have some great summer memories!

General cooperation ideas:

Every morning fill up a little cup of nosh, one for each child, for an afternoon snack. Put their name on it and explain that if one child bothers or hurts another, one of the snacks of the perpetrator will go over to the sufferer. It can be one pretzel or chip, just something to make it up to the injured party.

In the afternoon, each child enjoys their treats, hopefully by then having gotten over their small losses . . . If you find it very successful, and need it more, set up the next day's snack right away. Try to vary the treats; you can include sweet cereal, and different types of pretzels, chips, cookies, etc. Depending on your nosh outlook and what your family is used to, you may want to have some chocolate chips, hard candies or other such small treat. Many larger candies such as licorice can be cut up, so that more variety can be included. Remember that it is all in the presentation. Teach your kids to eat slowly, have candy races — where they each put a candy in their mouth and whoever finishes last, wins.

Use some type of point chart. Award points generously for every bit of cooperation! Intermittent spontaneous rewards can be very encouraging! On the last day of vacation, you can have a banquet/prize evening. Everyone can dress up, set a fancy table, make a special meal, and then either have a 'store' or run an 'auction' for the children to spend their points.

The menu itself can be part of the prize, as well — if the family as a whole earns a certain amount of points, they can get hot dogs, French fries, pareve ice cream for dessert! Be magnanimous, especially if you enjoyed a high level of cooperation. You can even make a speech! Review your notebook! Have quotes that you solicited from Zaidy and Bubby and other relatives, congratulating everyone . . . use your imagination! If the children are old enough, they can put on a show (which you helped them learn over the summer, or perhaps they arranged on their own as a surprise for you!)

Let the kids earn a late night! This can be a big treat no matter what, but especially if you are usually punctual about bedtime, let the kids enjoy a change in routine. Of course it can be based on behavior, and it can be once a week or a one-time event. It will be more fun if there is an activity — such as a late night walk, or making popcorn and playing a game.

Explore new recipes, and ways of setting up the table. Let the gang participate according to their ability. Serve some foods that are new, special or just not what you usually indulge in. If applicable, let the kids prepare a menu or play restaurant, and let one child be the waiter/waitress. Use a white apron, give him/her a notepad . . . you can make a check off with pictures for those who cannot read yet. We did this with a falafel dinner, each child was able to pick how many balls, which vegetables, etc. They really enjoyed it!

Consider rearranging furniture or rooms. We found that the children really enjoy this. No matter how limited you may be, you can usually make some change, such as switching beds. Even if you have to resort to letting kids sleep on the couch . . . we once set up a (temporary) bed under the dining room table! Even a small change such as a different drawer or shelf can be fun.

Project ideas:

Play doh — although there are many recipes for this, the easiest I have seen is where you simply mix one cup of flour, cup water, 2 tablespoons salt, a few drops food coloring and a tablespoon of oil. Knead into dough; add more oil or flour if needed. Make a few colors, give your children rolling pins and cookie cutters and let them have fun. It can be stored in a bag for about a week; just refresh with a little bit of water. This can keep them busy for hours.

How about real dough? Cookie dough that is. Make some and give your children cookie-cutters, and perhaps chocolate chips, etc to decorate with. Or pizza dough. Any challah dough recipe will work, and the children can each get their own ball of dough to roll out, top with tomato sauce and cheese . . . you can actually microwave these in a little over a minute, or bake in a regular oven in a few minutes.

Coloring: kids love to color — set them up each time with something different. Color by number, tracing, geometric patterns, stencils, markers, paints, and colored pencils provide a variation on a basic idea. You can also color salt with chalk to make colored 'sand;' spread glue on a picture and fill it in with the sand. Similarly, you can give your little ones small amounts of clay and they can color with that — they squeeze and flatten the clay with their fingers and it makes quite a nice effect. Pictures can be sent to Zeidy and Bubby, or other interested people, collected in an album of some type, displayed at your banquet, or used as . . .

Succa decorations: now is a great time to get started on chains and all kinds of pictures. Chains can be made out of all kinds of papers — you can even cut up your local advertising magazine! Children love stapling, taping or gluing the chains together. Take care to have good storage, so that their works of art will look fresh and beautiful. If you have empty suitcases, they can be the perfect things. Just ensure that dust and dirt stay out and that nothing gets crushed.

Fish tank: put colored water in a bottle with glitter fish or some type of foil shapes. The children can cut up foil or pick which shapes to put in. Use super glue to seal the bottle and let them shake it up and watch the fishies swim.

Trace yourself and your children on shelving paper and let them color it in — another great time filler.

Make jewelry: you can use fishing line or some type of yarn. Use real beads or make some by cutting up plastic straws. You can even use some type of cheerio cereal.

Painting a room: 2 or 3 small bottles of acrylic paint, that cost about a dollar (five shekel) apiece, can be used to paint a room! It's done by watering them down, with about 4 or 5 times as much water as paint. Then you get a few sponges, dip, squeeze and paint! The result can be very artsy and freshen up a room for next to nothing. With throw sheets and good aprons, your children can help, and voila! It's an activity!

Miscellaneous ideas:

Having company and visiting neighbors can be a fun activity. You can contact a friend that you do not see often and invite her to come over for a visit one day. Assure her that you will return the favor! The kids will have fun playing with different toys or in a different park area, and you two can catch up on news or watch each other's kids!

Are there some shut-ins in your neighborhood? Bring some of the cookies you made with your children and plan a short visit. If you need to, bring a bag of toys!

Turn your home into an amusement park. This is a lot of fun, and just needs some imagination. Copy some camp ideas and have a blast. Have a taste test blindfolded, search for chocolate chips in beans or flour, ball up some socks and hit a target. Make a version of pin the tail on the donkey, or set a maze with furniture and have your children traverse it blindfolded. Use your play equipment for rides — dress up a wagon, stroller or bike and watch them have a great time. Mitzva fair: this is only for those who are really ambitious, and with older children. You can have a good time and make some money for tzedokoh as well. Include any of the above ideas, get some prizes donated, and sell some tickets. Depending on where you live, you can make a lot or a little, but for sure have a good time. Of course this takes a lot of planning; it can occupy your entire vacation time.

Lastly, make sure to brainstorm with creative friends, especially those with children older than yours. Most probably they have lots of ideas to share with you, but you have to ask. Just don't forget to begin each activity with a tefilloh to Hashem for hatzlochohh.

Enjoy your vacation!


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