Author Archives: madunn

Family Staycations During Social Distancing

May 30 – June 2

Whether vacation plans for the summer were cancelled by quarantine, or a family vacation was never in the budget to begin with, it’s still important to set aside a time to to exchange the same old routine for some fun and relaxation.

Every vacation takes planning. A staycation is no different. If you can’t get away this summer, or even if you can but quarantine has you in the doldrums for now: it’s time to plan a staycation. If you have a child with developmental differences, you may want to prepare for these changes with social stories or visual schedules, since changing a routine in a familiar setting may be especially confusing without some preparation.

Begin by finding out what’s important about vacation to your family. A change of scene? A change in routine? Freedom from daily chores and meal planning? Make a list with your family and start thinking about how you can create opportunities at home. Read more about planning a staycation for your family.

Engage your children as much as possible in these activities for physically transforming your home into a vacation destination. For example, do your folding with the kids a few days in advance and set the towels and napkins aside until the vacation begins. And remember, if it feels too much like work, it’s NOT a staycation. If it’s fun, fold a towel like a swan. But it could feel just as special to roll your towels up and put them in a basket.

An Inn in Your Home. If the novelty of sleeping in a new place is a named as a reason your family loves vacation, make your home extra, extra special for a week. Kids might find that rearranging their bedrooms gives them a feeling of waking up in a new space. Or would they like to sleep in a different room? Maybe swap rooms with a sibling, or sleep in a cardboard “fort” (see May 27 post). Turn your bathroom into a hotel bathroom with flowers, guest soaps, and specially folded towels. And don’t forget to fold that little triangle at the end of your toilet paper roll!

Dining Out Dining In. Probably dining out will be mentioned as a favorite vacation experience. It may be that it works for your family to visit some local restaurants. If so, to create the novelty of vacation, try some restaurants you haven’t been to before. But if weather, budget, or health concerns mean you prefer to eat at home, you can still make it new. This article on turning your dining room into a restaurant offers some great ideas. Here are a few more:

  • Rearrange your eating area or move it to another part of the house.
  • Fold your napkins like the pros. Here are a video and a set of written step-by step instructions with photos.
  • Change up your place setting.
  • And try some recipes you’ve never prepared before, or order from a new restaurant.

Backyard Destinations. Of course, there’s more to vacation than sleeping and eating. There is. Really! Mini golf is usually a vacation favorite, so why not set up a golf course in your backyard? You can make it as simple or complicated as you want. This video tells how to make a hole with a cardboard box and a cup, but you can also dig tin cans into the ground. Put some big toys near your holes to create a theme. No clubs and golf balls? Improvise with sticks and small balls. After a few rounds of golf, you’ll be hot, so you might want to visit a water park next.

What’s your favorite destination? Try entering the destination with the phrase “Turn your backyard into a …” or “turn your house into a …” Some hits will be off topic, but you’ll get some cool ideas, too. Next week-end, we’ll share some day trips that are open in Central Virginia.

Forts, Shelters, and Cardboard Cities

May 27-29

What could say constructive, creative out-of-school time better than cardboard and sofa cushions? Such simple materials can absorb a child’s attention for hours. And older children (adults too) can get just as caught up in constructive play if you exchange the cardboard and cushions for sticks and branches.

How Do You Build a Fort? Describes 7 types of forts, from something as simple as a sofa cushion fort, to a tree house contraption that could rival a treetop adventure park.

Cardboard constructions of all kinds, by no means just forts, are featured in a playideas.com blog on cardboard forts. Cars, castles, entire cities are included. Preschoolers are featured on the blog but really these constructions could be appropriate for any age, especially if incorporated into a theater activity.


As our attention shifts from lost school and after school time to the summer programs many children will be missing, it’s a good idea to be thinking about awesome outdoors activities.

There is no one, no one, too old for stick forts and shelters. I’ve seen an entire middle school art curriculum built (pun intended) around stick shelters, and adults use them for survival shelters. The can be built like giant Lincoln Log houses. They can be built with long branches and leaves. Make sure you and your children can identify poison ivy and other poisonous foliage in your yard, and be alert for insects and snakes.

Celebrating Memorial Day During the Pandemic

How will you spend Memorial Day Week-end with pools and parks closed, and social distancing guidelines still in place? A Texas website has a blog post on this question. Most of the suggestions work anywhere, but a few are specific to Texas, so if you’re looking to safely get out of the house here in Charlottesville/Albemarle, The Rivanna Trails , Claudius Crozet Park and Ivy Creek Natural Area grounds are among just a few local natural areas reopening. George Washington and Jefferson are opening some trail-heads today. If you do go out, plan for restrooms and other facilities, such as play areas to be closed.


Whether you visit a natural area or observe Memorial Day at home, Monday will be a beautiful day for a picnic. But it will be an even better day with farm fresh strawberries! Read about how local pick-your-own farms are adapting to social distancing. Due to the limited number of people allowed in farms at a time, it’s a good idea to check on the best time to arrive. You may also be interested in learning about curbside sales.


So what are you going to do with all those strawberries? You might try some of these kid friendly treats such as homemade fruit roll-ups and strawberry oatmeal bars.


Once you’ve acquired a taste for fresh strawberries, you’ll be pleased to know how easy they are to grow at home in containers. And even better news: there are varieties of strawberries that you can grow from spring into early fall. You’ll get the highest yield in a short time with June-bearing strawberries (they begin producing in May in Central Virginia.) Other varieties will keep you nibbling for months. Check with area garden stores about safe pick-ups for June-bearing, everbearing, and day-neutral strawberry plants.

Enrichment at home: It’s a Rap

May 20 – 21

Rap is basically spoken poetry with a strong emphasis on rhythm and rhyme. Below is an incredibly moving music video made by Carrie Underwood and Ludacris for the 2018 Super Bowl. Ludacris’s rap is embedded in the song. It’s a special kind of poem: an acrostic. Each line emphasizes one letter from the word “Champion”, so that reading the first letter of each of these words down a page of lyrics would spell the word,

Although the next video may be most suited to preschoolers, the truth is anyone would love this rap of Fox in Sox. And fortunately, it’s one of a series. Younger kids will love listening. Here’s a challenge for older kids: see if YOU can rap a rhyming children’s book. A great way to connect with younger cousins or other tots you are missing right now would be rap the a book by video chat or record a book for them.

As discussed, rap is essentially spoken word poetry with a strong instrumental beat. Not all poetry places the emphasis on rhyme and rhythm found in rap and other spoken word poetry. So what makes a poem a poem?

Next is a link to a video on how to rap that adults may want to view before before sharing. It is a clean video with excellent tips on rhyme and rhythm. This was chosen for it’s emphasis on language, however in contains sales pitches and refers viewers to other rappers families may not be comfortable with. Parents can look for other resources using the search terms “rap beginners kids.” For teens, drop “kids” but parents may especially want to screen for content. There are some wonderful videos on the poetics of rap, but they may contain violent language or other material that is not suitable.

Social Distancing Butterflies

May 18-19

Use materials from around the house to make a butterfly feeder. It might attract hummingbirds as well, although for hummingbirds you may need to position it differently. Craft foam is listed in the materials for the project, but we made ours without any. Use what you have on hand. That makes it YOUR project.

You’ll want to know who’s visiting your feeder, so try some of these identification activities, including the butterfly scavenger hunt.

All the butterflies you’ve been observing could serve as inspiration for some gorgeous art work. This Pinterest board is filled with butterfly themed arts and crafts activities suited to all ages.

Social Distancing Jam Sessions

May 15-17 This week-end’s blog post is dedicated to the community of roots musicians in and beyond Charlottesville/Albemarle who enrich the lives of everyone, young and old.

Have a jam session this weekend. Get your friends to join you on your favorite video chat app, or grab a mask and a measuring tape if you are starting to try a little physical distancing. Please do not share instruments.


This sistrum was made in one of our own workshops, using brass brackets and a coat hanger.

Of course, you’ll need some instruments. These instructions for ten instruments kids can make should get you started. You might not have the exact materials the instructions call for, so improvise. Try buttons for beads, two paper clips for bells. The ideas you come up with may be the best ones. Please see below for information on workshops with our frequent collaborators, Kim and Jimbo Cary.


You can jam with just about anything!!!!

While you’re working on your instruments, play a little roots music to get some inspiration. Some suggestions to look for when you stream music: Putumayo Kids, “American Folk Songs for Children” by Mike and Peggy Seeger, and “Classic Folk Songs for Kids,” Smithsonian Folkways Collection.


Carver Rec Center session with Kim and Jimbo.

When your instruments are finished, find a live stream concert and play along in your living room. Charlottesville’s Front Porch is streaming three times a week. The Atlanta Children’s Museum has Music Mondays. Or stream a video of a musician you like to play with and jump in. The Enrichment Alliance has had frequent collaborations with Kim and Jimbo Cary. For this post, they sent us a link to a video to a song Jimbo wrote for The Animal Rescue League.


Kim and Jimbo Cary collaborative concert.

Kim & Jimbo are available for online music workshops for children and families and also live  at-a-distance  performance/workshops for making and playing homemade instruments and more. Visit kimandjimbo.com or contact kimandjimbo@gmail.com


Now you’re ready for an old time jam Invite your friends to join you by way of a chat app, or jam with your family. Follow the social distancing guidelines. Finally, here’s one critical tip for jam sessions: they’re not supposed to be perfect; they’re supposed to be fun.

Quarantine Enrichment Ideas: Gardens in Bottles

May 13-14

It seems there’s an infinite number of ways to create gardens out of recycled soda bottles. I remember a project we did when I taught elementary school that involved two 2 liter bottles, cut and reassembled to create multiple layers, with an aquarium on the bottom and a terrarium at top. I could not find that exact set of instructions, but this Soda Bottle Ecosystem comes closest, the only real difference being that it uses 3 bottles. This will require some adult supervision, due to the use of an Exacto Knife.


A very similar method is used to create a Hydroponic Garden. Hydroponic gardens grow plants without soil. While the systems can be quite complex, involving special equipment, this is a simple system you can create at home. After looking over these materials, try entering “hydroponic”, “aquaponic,” and “soda bottle” in your search engine for some more ideas, including vertical gardens.”


This video shows how to grow a rain forest in a garden. You might want to add a little clear packing tape when you join the two pieces. What other ideas do you have for a soda bottle terrarium?


These are just three ideas from a multitude of possibilities. Have a look at this Pinterest Board for more ideas for reusing soda bottles to create magical gardens.

Covid-19 After School- Read Alouds

May 11-12. Read-alouds are for always.

There are numerous benefits of reading aloud to children, no matter what their age. Even when they are able to read independently, reading aloud can increase pleasure in and comprehension of reading. Reading together is such a valuable way to spend time with your children, and we have a list of suggested readings for that, but with children home while parents are working, it can be good to have some online resources to augment family reading time, so we have included two resources for online stories.

Storyline features children’s books read by celebrated actors, including Oprah Winfrey, Chris Pine, Kristen Bell, Rita Moreno, Viola Davis, Jaime Camil, Kevin Costner, Lily Tomlin, Sarah Silverman, Betty White, Wanda Sykes.

Stories in ASL has a similar catalog for young children, but also goes up beyond age eight. including classics for older children, such as Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and even some posts suitable for adults, such as “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Eveving.” Their website is updated weekly, so check often for new posts.

Read Aloud America is a list of books suitable for reading aloud to everyone from babies to adults. It’s updated annually and the latest update was posted this spring. If you are away from your children, grandchildren, or other significant kids in your life, pick a story and read it to them on ZOOM.

But if that’s not enough, did you ever consider reading to your dog? According to this article, reading to dogs benefits children. Presumable the dogs enjoy a good plot, too. Especially plot hounds.

Children’s Activities in Quarantine: Board Games Revisited

April 8-10 Are you bored with board games?

You don’t need to buy new games to play new games. The games you have around the house can be played with new rules.

Changing up checkers. Bashni is a crazy Russian variation of checkers that involves moving ever growing stacks of checkers around the board.

Scrambling Scrabble. If you have a set of Scrabble tiles at home, there’s almost no limit to the different kinds of games you can play with those tiles.

Monopoly Not Monotony. Ever notice the rules you play by don’t seem the same as the instructions? Ever play with a friend who has rules you never heard of? There are all sorts of ways to vary Monopoly. Maybe you can come up with some new ideas of your own.


These are only a few ideas. Look at the game you have at home and type the name of a game plus the word “variations” and you may get some helpful hits.

Gifts Children Can Make at Home

April 6-7

Bath Bombs. This is just so cool. Make bath bombs with household ingredients. Be creative about using items you have on hand if you can’t find the decorative silicon ice trays.

Pipe Cleaner and Yarn Trivets. Making these lovely trivets or coasters is a simple activity, but these instructions do require a glue gun. Try craft glue, tacky glue, or paste glue if you don’t have a glue gun and/or an adult to supervise.

Once you’ve made your gifts, you’ll need a card. Wouldn’t a pop-up card be especially fun?

And you’ll need some wrapping paper of course. You can make that with supplies on-hand. These instructions call for a sea sponge, but experiment with other materials.

Every great celebration involves food. Here’s a Fruit Salad that could be a side dish or a dessert. It’s a light, simple dish a child can prepare, with or without assistance depending on age and ability. Consider substituting low fat yogurt for the sour cream and/or pudding.