Our Favorite Family Games To Play At The Table

We play a lot of games together as a family. A LOT. Board games, card games, dice games, video games… games for fun and educational games. We are just a gamer family (shrug). I mean we taught my daughter Uno when she was 3. I’m not even sure she knew all her numbers at that point, but we played Uno together as a family quite a bit because that’s what she could play! Now she’s 7 and my son is going on 19 – our game collection (both tabletop and video) is EXTENSIVE.

So believe me when I say we know games.

Now, you might be thinking of all the “traditional” games like Monopoly or Battleship or even Risk and Scrabble… and yes we have those too. But those are by far NOT our favorite games to play. We like games that are little more… involved? A little less “see-who-gets-to-the-last square-first” and a little more unique.

In no particular order, I present to you – Our Favorite Family Games!

1) Dominion

I know I said these weren’t in any particular order, but Dominion IS probably our favorite game out of all of our games. It is a MASSIVE card based game with over 12 expansions. At one point we owned every expansion that existed but I believe we are short 1 or 2 as of this post writing. This game is different every single time you play, with more expansions providing even more play strategies and variations. You don’t NEED any expansions to enjoy this game but I guarantee you’ll WANT them after you get the hang of how to play.

Our daughter does not yet play this game as it involves quite a bit of reading – each card has a different “function”, and actions you can take within the game, printed ON the cards – and some advanced strategy. This game plays well as a 2 player game but I find it to be the most fun with 3 or more. It can be a lengthy play, some of our playthroughs have taken 2-3 hours or more – depending on how complex we’ve chosen to make it with the various cards in play. A simple, straight forward, no-frills, game setup could probably be played through in 45 minutes or so.

Our favorite expansions:
Hubby’s pick: Prosperity, for the higher value money and point cards introduced
My pick: Seaside, for the duration effect cards introduced

NOTE: I highly recommend getting the BIG BOX set if you are looking to invest in the game, as it comes with the Intrigue expansion which adds a lot of playability from the get-go and you CAN NOT get this expansion as a stand-alone set anymore!

2) Alhambra

Alhambra is a tile based, city-building game and plays well as a 2 player game. It accommodates up to 6 players – adding more players tends to change the strategy of the game a bit and significantly increases the speed of the game play. 2 players could play through this game in roughly an hour, whereas 4 to 6 players could finish in under and hour.

We recently taught our 7 year old this game and I love it for it’s education value regarding money management. Part of the strategy of this game is collecting enough money of a certain color to hopefully purchase the tile piece you need to add on to your city. Critical thinking and spatial orientation skills are exercised in determining just how to structure your city.

Advanced players will enjoy the strategy of purchasing pieces that will help you get more points than your opponent(s) or force your opponents into taking a less desirable piece. This game includes just enough random chance to be satisfactorily re-playable, balanced with strategic play that is easy to repeat.

3) Sushi Go party

Sushi Go Party is a stand-alone expanded version of the card game, Sushi Go! Sushi Go Party includes all the same mechanics of the fast paced Sushi Go! with the added benefits of more variety, and the ability to have up to 8 players (versus 5 players max for the original Sushi Go!). This game plays best with 3 or more players and the difficulty level can be tailored up or down for younger or advanced players.

The game consists of 3 rounds and can be played through in 20-30 minutes. It’s a cute game and is fairly strategy-light when using the basic cards. We picked this game up when K was 5 or 6 and it was really easy for her to learn! We often play this at family get-togethers too. Overall this is an adorable, lighthearted game for all ages!

4) Ticket to Ride – Europe

This is a game based on collecting colored “tickets” to complete legs of various train routes, in order complete “trips” and earn points. You’ve probably even seen this game in big box retail stores as it’s gained in popularity over the last ten years.

There a SEVERAL versions of this game including the original version, which is based on a map of the continental US, as well as versions for Nordic countries, Japan, India, and a “first journey” edition aimed at younger kids. The Europe edition is our favorite as it is slightly more complex than the original version with added game mechanics.

Our 7 year old can play this game and although she hasn’t quite grasped the larger strategy of the game yet, she’s getting there. From a homeschooling perspective, I love these games to introduce/reinforce some World/US geography.

The game accommodates up to 5 players (depending on version) and can be played through in roughly an hour, give or take. As a 2 player game, it provides an easy relaxing night of fun – with more players things can get a bit more competitive as critical routes become more highly sought after. This is one of our “go to” games!

5) Quiddler

This word-building game was first introduced to me by my bestie and her family during a summer trip to Pennsylvania. I ordered it from Amazon before I even got home so that it would be waiting for me, I was that excited to share it with my family. Actually, my husband is the only one in our home, to date, to actually play it with me as our daughter is not yet spelling-advanced enough to do so and our son is living states away.

Scrabble-esque, this game requires you to make words with drawn letter cards, starting with a 3 card hand and working up in rounds to a 10 card hand. In Scrabble style, more common letters are worth fewer points while letters like W, X, or Q are worth 10, 12, or 15 points (respectively).

This is probably my favorite TWO PLAYER game simply for it’s ease of set-up, duration of play, and medium-level of strategy required (hubby and I often play this game before bed). However, it accommodates up to 10 players. Play through can take anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour, depending on how many players, how quickly you draw the letters you need, and how much you fish for those higher point value cards!

We have SO MANY other games that we love, that my list was growing too long to include reviews of them all in one blog post (LOL)! So I’ve simply linked the rest below so you can check them out (though I’ll likely return to review some of these in another post 😉 ).

What are some of your family’s favorite games? Let me know in the comments! We are always on the hunt for new games to add to our collection 🙂

xo,
Rissa

ADDItional games we recommend:

Homeschool Resources for Struggling Readers with A Multi-Sensory Approach

My daughter is 7 and has been homeschooled her entire life (we started when she was 3). She struggles to read – has always struggled. Part of that is due to a visual processing delay, part of that is due to very low frustration tolerance, and part is due to lack of focus and other aspects of autism that affect her learning.

Over the last year, we decided to focus ONLY on language arts and math, pushing phonics and reading skills more than anything else to help her get caught up. The beauty of homeschooling is the ability to slow down or speed up learning, based on your child’s needs, and tailoring their lessons to their skill level.

In our homeschool we use an arsenal of resources including games, workbooks, media, manipulatives, etc. which I have SCOURED the internet (ok let’s be real… I scoured Amazon) to find.

If you have a struggling reader at home, check out these resources! We use a combination of these daily and have seen a LOT of improvement in her reading ability!

180 days of spelling & word study

These workbooks are fantastic! We’ve worked through grade 1 and are on track to finish it in time to begin grade 2 this fall. I credit this workbook with the majority of progress we have seen this year. It is very logically orgnanized, and provides a one page daily exercise to strengthen vocabulary, spelling, and reading. This workbook focuses on phonics to create weekly word groups, explores changing verbs to past and present tense, provides sentence context and sentence building practice, and more. I already the grade 2 workbook in my Amazon cart and will be clicking that buy button within the next few weeks.

Handwriting Practice Paper

Every week we use the vocab list for the 180 days book and I have K write the words one or two times each. I got really tired of trying to use spiral bound notebooks or loose leaf paper for this – the notebooks I had on hand were all college ruled and I honestly hated the thought of buying a wide ruled notebook. I wanted lines with the dotted middle line for her and I wanted to be able to use the same notebook for the whole year. This book of 100 pages (it comes in a 200 page option too) fits the bill! We use it for ALL of our writing practice, from handwriting practice to sentence building. It’s easy to recognize too, as opposed to non-descript school notebooks that tend to get lost in the shuffle more often than you’d think.

BOB BOOKS

I LOVE these little books. Each short story focuses on a handful of key letters/sounds, which build on each other as you progress through the set. We’ve worked through 2 sets of these, are currently in the middle of set 3, and I fully anticipate buying future sets as K progresses further. I also really love that the illustrations are simple and use only 1 or 2 colors throughout the whole book. For kids with visual overwhelm (or a visual processing delay) reducing the amount of “noise” on the page is VERY helpful! There are also Bob Book Workbooks that have accompanying activities for extra practice/immersion.

Big Box of Sentence Building

This was a recent addition to our reading toolkit. It’s admittedly a little overwhelming with how MANY words are included in this box. BUT, we took the opportunity to sort the words into various parts-of-speech. So now we have sandwich baggies of “verbs”, “nouns”, “prepositions”, “pronouns”, etc. If you get this, I HIGHLY recommend sorting the words in this way, because it is MUCH easier to find the words you need when practicing sentence building.

We use these tiles to build silly sentences, or to use her words of the week from her 180 days workbook in sentences. Or I will build a sentence and have her read it for practice. There are a myriad of ways to use this resource!

my first bananagrams

This is a version of the classic bananagrams that is geared toward younger kids and early readers. Letter tiles are bigger and differently colored, with vowels standing out in yellow among red, blue, and green consonants. Some double letter tiles are included like “oo”, “th”, “wh”, “at”, “ea”, etc. It does come with instructions for game play, but we tend to use these as manipulatives to practice spelling “by ear” (given a word, find and arrange the correct letter tiles to make the spoken word), or to practice word families.

learning palette

There are also SO many packs that can be used with the palette base, not just reading based packs. There are packs for addition and other math concepts too! I like to select one “sheet” from the packs we have and use this as a warm up activity. It requires a little visual scanning, critical thinking, and fine motor skills. This palette is a great addition to a multi-sensory approach to reading and best of all, it is self-correcting (answers on the back). Once you buy a kit with the base, you can simply search for the stand alone packs, like this one, to add on as needed and there are various grade levels to choose from!

my first reading library

From Usborne Books comes this FIFTY book, phonics-focused, library for emerging readers. Starting with the green level, kids and adults take turns reading, gradually increasing the amount of words and pages the child reads as you progress through the set. Pages meant for adults to read aloud are in smaller text, while pages meant for children to read aloud are in larger text. The stories are short and cute, and the books include reading comprehension questions/activities at the end of each story. We do one of these about every other week, as the reading skill needed increases with each book, at a more rapid pace than the Bob Books, and the illustrations tend to be a bit distracting with lots of color and detail.



In addition to the above resources, we also utilize media like Teach Your Monster To Read and Education.com. I also have a WISHLIST of items from Amazon that I’d like to add to our arsenal. Some of the items on this list are:

Teaching your child to read, especially when they have special needs associated with autism or ADHD or visual processing delay, can be frustrating and difficult at the best of times. I know there are have been so many days I have literally cried feeling as if I am failing at this homeschooling thing. But, over time I HAVE seen definite improvements, and each week seems a little less difficult than the last. I credit the tools and resources we are using. Some kids just need a different approach. For us, a multi-sensory approach works best and we love mixing and matching games, media, and workbooks for our language arts and early literacy lessons.

Please leave a comment and let me know if you have tried any of the resources listed and how they’ve worked for your family!

xo,
Rissa

Planning Our Year-Round Homeschool

This is the year – the year we get organized with homeschooling, make a plan, follow a curriculum, etc. etc.

We’ve been pretty much unschooling since K was born, but this year we are planning a big move to a state with more homeschool “rules” so we have to make some adjustments and I figured it’s better to get into the groove now rather than later. Plus, K was diagnosed with autism earlier this year and really needs more consistent structure and routine in order to retain what we learn. So, this weekend, I spent a good chunk of time planning out our homeschool year.

If you’ve never planned out your homeschool lessons, it can be pretty daunting and overwhelming. So I’m sharing with you how we are structuring our months, weeks, and days!

First thing’s first, you need a GOOD PLANNER! I’ve looked and looked and most planners either just don’t provide enough space or they are for teachers in public schools. But I finally found THIS ONE that I just LOVE! It works well for one child OR multiple children. (Bonus Points for being under $10.)

It took a bit of math to figure out how to get 180 days to split up evenly through the year for our year-round schedule, but it actually works out really well!

To do year-round homeschooling, and get a full 180 days in, you can plan lessons for 3 months and take every 4th month off. For us that means we start school in September, and take December, April, and August off. So our last month of lessons for any grade level/specific curriculum is July.

This leaves roughly 15 extra “floating” no school days to scatter throughout the year for:

  • Holidays that don’t fall on weekends
  • Birthdays (K gets her whole birthday week off)
  • Vacations that don’t fall within the off months
  • Sick Days

The benefit of homeschooling here is, if you need to make up any school days, you can always do lessons on the weekend or planned off months.

Once I had the year schedule planned out, it was time to move on to planning our weekly flow. In order to do that I had to decide which subjects we would do on which days. You COULD do every subject every day, but I feel like that’s a bit much at her age and that it would cause definite overwhelm for us both.

Here’s what our weekly schedule looks like:

Daily: Since K struggles most with reading, I decided that we would focus on language arts (including spelling, phonics, writing, reading, and reading comprehension) every day – and this makes up the bulk of the daily work. I also planned one page a day from the 180 Days of Geography and 180 Days of Social Studies for First Grade workbooks, as well as ASL practice.

Mondays Only: I planned Mondays to be “slow start” days, so we do less language arts, but add in Piano and Art. This is also the day we learn new signs for ASL, which we will practice throughout the week.

Tuesday/Thursday: In addition to the daily work, we will do Math these days, with new concepts being introduced on Tuesdays and reviewed on Thursdays.

Wednesday/Friday: In addition to the daily work, we will do Science these days, with new concepts explored via videos and books on Wednesdays and lab on Fridays.

The curriculum I’m using for each subject is sequential, so we will just start at the beginning and work through to the next lesson each week. The workbooks for Geography/Social Studies are 1 page a day, and to work through the entire Math workbook, we’ll do 2 pages a week. There’s 1 ASL lesson per week, 1 new piano lesson per week, 1 Science concept per week, 1 Math concept per week… Easy Peasy!

As far as day to day flow goes, we start around 10am, take a full hour break for lunch around noon, and finish around 2pm. That allows everyone wake up at their own pace, have breakfast, and settle in. It also allows for PLENTY of frustration/meltdown time, breaks, and rabbit holes.

And there you have it! If you missed it, check out what curriculum we’re using this year HERE.

xo,

Marissa

How We’re Homeschooling First Grade in 2020-2021

People all over the US are currently deciding whether to send their kids back to public school, enroll in virtual/distance learning programs provided by their school districts, or just cut the cord with public school altogether and dive into homeschooling.

I do not envy them – these are difficult times and difficult choices to have to make.

Fortunately for my family, we knew we wanted to homeschool even before our daughter was born. For the past 6 years I have been actively creating a lifestyle that supports our decision to homeschool (and I know I am privileged to be able to do so). My daughter has never been to public school and I do not ever intend to enroll her. We’ve been “unschooling” her since birth.

Though we technically school “year round” and started first grade work last year, in February 2021 she will reach the compulsory school age (which is 7 in our state) so we will be stepping up our structured learning even more. We’re still doing most things on a 1st grade level, as my daughter has autism and benefits from extended processing times for new material.

Here’s what we’ll be using this year!


Blossom and Root Grade 1 Full Curriculum

We started working with the Blossom and Root curriculum around this time last year and while I LOVE the curriculum, it was a little challenging for my daughter at the time. The curriculum includes a lot of reading together time, requiring the student to listen and develop story re-telling skills, which was a challenge for my daughter. In addition there is copywork and other writing required materials, which my daughter also struggled with.

This is in NO WAY a reflection on the curriculum, but rather highlighted some issues related to her autism (which was undiagnosed at the time). SO we shelved the material, pursued an autism diagnosis and have been working with her in other capacities on reading and math skills.

However, I do think this curriculum is AMAZING. It is well thought out, engaging, and has elements of both Waldorf and Charlotte Mason methodologies. It is STEM inclusive, secular, and nature based. We will be returning to this curriculum this year, albeit at a slower pace.

In particular we will be using the Math in Arts and Science portions of the curriculum. I will likely adapt the Language Arts to include the reading together time, but cut back on some of the accompanying activities, which may be harder for my child, at her current ability level. (That’s the beauty of homeschooling: meeting your child where they are and adapting as they grow!)

Time 4 Learning – Online Program

When Blossom and Root was too much for us last year, I looked for an online program to help us stay on task with developing the foundational skills for literacy and math. Something we struggle with in our homeschool, is my daughter’s ability to take instruction, particularly from me, and her very low frustration tolerance. In other words, she does not like to be wrong and she does not like to be corrected.

Unfortunately, that is a BIG BIG part of learning. While we were beginning to address her learning hurdles, we needed a program that removed ME as the primary source of correction/instruction and made it less “personal” (so that I could instead focus on helping her navigate frustration at the lesson material rather than frustration at me personally). Time 4 Learning helps us achieve this beautifully. In addition the lessons are presented in video format, there are practice activities, and quizzes/assessments. I can adjust the pace of the material as needed, leave out certain activities or lessons altogether if desired, have her redo assessments if she doesn’t demonstrate competency, and have report printouts of the work done.

At the 1st grade level, the program includes language arts (reading/phonics), math, science, and social studies. I personally am not a fan of the quality of the material presented in the social studies and science portions, so we do not use those. I do however highly recommend the reading/phonics and math curricula, especially if your child is a visual learner. We will continue to use this program for those two subjects for the foreseeable future.

180 Days Series – Page A Day Workbooks

I’m introducing Social Studies this year, and since we aren’t using the Time 4 Learning lessons, I invested in a few easy workbooks to help guide our explorations. Blossom and Root does cover some world culture, but these workbooks cover civics, history, and geography. There are several of these books in various subjects and they are organized by grade level. You can find them on Amazon at the links below (Amazon affiliate links).

180 Days of Social Studies – 1st Grade

180 Days of Geography – 1st Grade

I bought the 180 Days of Spelling and Word Study – 1st Grade book as well to help bolster our language arts curriculum, as reading is my daughter’s biggest challenge area.

Other Resources

Above and beyond the basic curriculum above, I have a hoard of supplemental books and resources to help mix things up and keep us from getting bored.

Spectrum Math 1st grade – for additional practice as needed

Sprecturm Reading 1st grade – for additional structured practice

A whole slew of Usborne Books! I’ve put some of the ones we’ve purchased over the past year on a wishlist in case you want to check them out too! I’ll update the list as we go…

Electives

We don’t do these every day, in order to avoid overwhelm, but I do feel like it’s important to include non-core subjects. For us, that is American Sign Language, Music (piano), Spanish, and Herbalism.

For ASL we use SignIt! – a video based comprehensive sign language program from the creators of Signing Time. We used Signing Time a bit two years ago and were ready to progress to a more comprehensive program.

For Spanish, we use the Complete Book of Spanish Workbook for Kids. Both my husband and I speak Spanish if not fluently, competently, so I draw on my educational background and knowledge mostly for this and use the workbook for structure. If you do not speak Spanish, then I highly recommend an immersive, video based, program like https://www.foreignlanguagesforkids.com/. (We tried Muzzy and did not like it and I feel like Duolingo is both too difficult and abstract for young learners.)

For Music we use Piano for Kids, which I REALLY love because it uses a color coded system to teach hand positioning and melodies. K loves to use this book and have her nails painted in the various colors (to match them up to the correct keys). Kids can begin playing songs right away with this book, while learning other music skills like note duration and tempo. I picked this book especially for the visual aspect and its ASD friendliness.

Herbalism will be new/not new this year. Not new because I routinely work with herbs at home and we have done some casual learning together in the form of making various teas/tinctures. She loves smelling all my herb jars, asking me what each is good for, and picking her own blends to make “potions”. However, I intend to add some structure here as well, so the way we continue our herbalism studies will be new. For this I’m looking at these 3 books:

Walking the World in Wonder: A Children’s Herbal

A Kid’s Herb Book: For Children of All Ages

Herbal Adventures: Backyard Excursions and Kitchen Creations for Kids and Their Families

And there you have it! It sounds like a lot, but we spend maybe 2 hours a day on schoolwork (up to 3 or 4 depending on how invested/interested we are in hands on/exploration activities) and we only do core work 4 days a week.

If you’re just diving in, I hope this gave you some ideas and resources! Remember, homeschooling is NOT public school at home. You can adjust to your schedule, your child’s needs and understanding, your child’s interests, etc. Homeschooling is an evolving process and learning can be done anywhere – not everything is learned with pencil and paper alone. 😉

xo,

Marissa

April Holidays: Activity Ideas for Kids

Currently a large portion of the world is practicing “social distancing”. Many schools here in the US are closed, work places are closed, states are under shelter in place orders… it’s a crazy time! Lots of parents are home with their kids, trying to find ways to fill their time, keep little ones entertained, and keep from going completely stir crazy!

Fortunately, lots of organizations have stepped up to help provide activities and things to do, for free, to families impacted by shelter in place orders, or school/work closings. Other families who already work from home or homeschool, are providing countless resources to families who are suddenly faced with working from home and/or schooling their own children. It’s a scary and trying time for sure, but also kind of heart warming to see how people are pulling together to get through this pandemic.

In my facebook group, we are observing some unique holidays this month and I’ve put together some complementary activity ideas you can do at home! Check out the below list of holidays we will be observing and the associated suggestions for how to celebrate them at home.

And remember, even though we’re supposed to be social distancing, going outside IS OKAY (and likely necessary for your physical and mental health), just stay 6 feet away from others at all times and don’t play on any playground equipment!

Zoo Lovers Day April 8th

  • Check out a Zoo Cam!
  • Check out THESE Zoo Lovers Day Activities and Games
  • Choose 1 zoo animal to learn more about. Youtube and Pinterest are both great places to start!
  • Watch this video for kids about the job of a zookeeper
  • Reading zoo animal books! Check out THESE books from Usborne

Unicorn Day April 9th

Unicorn Popcorn Recipe

1) Pop a bag of plain or lightly salted popcorn in the microwave (or use a popcorn maker!)

2) Pour popcorn into a bowl

3) Melt 1 cup of white chocolate chips, or 1/2 package of white chocolate/vanilla candy coating. (Be careful not to overheat or the chocolate will seize up! Best done on stovetop, but you can do this in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring well after each interval until melted.)

4) Add 4-6 drops of your favorite Unicorn-colored food coloring to the melted chocolate/candy coating and mix until well incorporated. (optional)

5) Pour over popcorn and fold in gently until evenly distributed.

6) Salt popcorn, stir gently, taste and repeat until desired saltiness is achieved.

7) Add sprinkles (optional, but highly recommended)

8) Stick bowl in the fridge for 5-10 minutes, or until coating is hardened.

9) Gently break up popcorn into clusters/pieces and enjoy!

World Art Day April 15th

  • Check out some art activities and project ideas HERE
  • Pick a famous artist and learn about them today/recreate a masterpiece
  • Check out this BIG list of art activity books
  • Explore art images from around the world, modern or ancient – Every country/region of the world has a different artistic flair, from the ancient Aztecs to the modern manga styles from Japan.
  • Take a virtual tour of an art gallery

For more April Holiday celebration ideas – including Earth Day, Arbor Day, World Penguin Day, Tell a Story Day, etc. come join my Facebook Group (and enter our monthly contest to win a FREE BOOK from Usborne Books & More)!

xo,

Marissa

How We Are Celebrating Winter Solstice

This will be the second year our family has officially celebrated the winter solstice, aka Yule! I am loving the inclusion of our seasonal observances/holidays because they are untainted by commercialism and provide wonderful learning opportunities. They are also full of “hygge” (my new favorite word)!

This year we will be bringing back some of the same activities we enjoyed last year: baking a sun cake, reading a story about winter solstice, decorating our tree… but we also started a new tradition!

This year our “elf on the shelf” has been bringing a book each night to read together the following day.

We don’t do the traditional elf on the shelf thing anyway – I just don’t like the idea of the fear-based tactic of the elf always watching and reporting to Santa. In years past, our elf has simply come to visit with us, sometimes getting herself into silly situations (like stuck in the sugar jar). But we have never read the Elf on the Shelf story in this house and we never will (in fact I gave the accompanying book away this year).

K has LOVED this new tradition! it’s brought us all together at bedtime and has added quite substantially to her bookshelf! I had to raid TWO local Goodwill stores to find all 25 books – new books would be lovely but, we’re all about that frugal living (I spent less than $20 on this!) and keeping things simple. Used books are just as good and I found some really fun reads by thrifting, rather than buying from a bookstore.

We will also be celebrating Christmas later this month. Since hubby and I both grew up in Christian homes and since Christmas is such a widely celebrated holiday anyway – and is honestly more secular in society’s portrayal of it – this is a holiday we can’t really get away from.

We keep it simple, Santa only brings 3 gifts and a modest stocking. My husband and I don’t exchange gifts as we prefer to spend the money on the kids. We spend the morning together drinking tea and opening gifts, then head to my in law’s for breakfast, my grandpa’s for lunch, and end the day at hubby’s grandpa’s for dinner. We visit my parents’ on Christmas Eve. My stepson joins us for at least one day. It’s a holiday full of food and family and I personally try very very hard to keep a spirit of giving, without falling prey to an obligation to spend X amount of money on X amount of people, buy plastic junk, etc.

Yule/ Solstice is different. There are no gifts – aside from the books our elf brings. We bake, we do crafts, we read together, and we light candles and give thanks for the warmth of the sun, the turning of the seasons, and all of our myriad blessings. We reflect on the past year and let go of it. We express our hopes for the new year and welcome back the sun and the lengthening of days. This year, we’ll get together with some of our friends and bake cookies/make crafts together before circling around the fire to give thanks and share a meal together. There is no rushing from place to place, there is no pressure to buy gifts, there is nothing but a cozy (if not chaotic from all the kids!) gathering and an honoring of the Earth and her cycles.

If you are new to the Wheel of the Year, and looking for some ideas on how to celebrate Yule – check out this post {updating soon}! For our Sun Cake recipe – click here!

And if you need more ideas – visit our Yule board on Pinterest 🙂

Blessed Yule, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Diwali…. whatever you are celebrating this winter season, I hope it is filled with lots of Love and Light!

BB

Easy Sun Cake Recipe

This sun cake is so easy and delicious! This cake is light and moist, and is topped with a orange cream cheese “glaze” – not a heavy frosting! Using a ROUND cake pan , yellow cake, and oranges, this cake represents the Sun and is perfect for celebrating winter solstice (return of the sun) or as a summer treat!

Ingredients:

  • 1 box yellow cake mix PLUS the needed ingredients listed on the box (eggs/oil)
  • 2-3 cups mandarin orange slices in juice or water (the canned kind)
  • 1 block of cream cheese
  • 1 cup of sugar

Cake Instructions:

  • Prepare cake batter as directed on box with eggs and oil, BUT DO NOT ADD WATER.
  • Blend 1 cup of canned mandarin oranges and add to cake batter.
  • Add batter to greased cake pan and bake as directed on box for pan size/type. (You may need to bake it longer, but check it at the time indicated for doneness). I use a ROUND cake pan.

Frosting Instructions:

  • In a microwave save bowl, melt 1 block of cream cheese in the microwave using 30 second intervals. Stir every 30 seconds until uniformly melted and creamy.
  • Add 1 cup of sugar to the bowl and combine thoroughly.
  • Blend 1/2 cup of canned mandarin oranges and add to cream cheese mixture. Combine thoroughly

Assembly:

  • Turn out cake onto a cake plate or other flat dish and allow to cool slightly. You don’t want it to be too hot, but it needs to be warm so the frosting will glaze a bit while still covering the surface evenly.
  • Poke a few holes in the cake and pour the cream cheese glaze over the cake, starting in the middle. Allow to drip over the sides.
  • Decorate the top of the cake with remaining orange slices and serve!

Easy Fall Leaf Print Art Project

Easy Fall Leaf Print Art Project

What’s a better way to learn about different trees / leaf patterns than this esay leaf print project?

All you need are leaves of various shapes and sizes, acrylic or tempura paunts, brushes, and a printable surface (we chose a small canvas, but you could also use t-shirts or tote bags!).

We gathered our leaves from our backyard, but you could gather them really anywhere during the fall! Special places or on a nature walk… Try gathering both deciduous and coniferous leaves! Just make sure you choose leaves that arent too brittle or they will break and crumble when you try to press them down.

Once you have your leaves, evenly paint the underneath side of the leaf to get all the vein patterns. You want a thin wet coat, no glops or it won’t show the print very well.

Position your leaf painted side down and lightly press/rub from the stem outward towards the tips, being caregul not to scoot the leaf across the surface of the canvas (or t-shirt, paper, etc.)

Then, gently peel the leaf upward from its stem and voila! You should have a leaf print!

Try painting patterns or multiple colors on a single leaf for more artsy prints. Also, don’t be afraid to let the prints overlap!

Experiment and have fun. Try to identify the trees each leaf came from, talk about the differences you see in the leaf patterns, etc.

Once we were done with our leaves, we let the re-painted and let the leaves dry, then ran them through oyr laminator. We cut out around their shapes and, with the help of Facebook and Google, identified each leaf’s tree and wrote its name on the unpainted side in Sharpie for my daughter’s nature collection (and educational purposes)!

Summer Solstice (Litha/Midsummer) Celebration Ideas for Families

It’s hard to believe that the year is nearly half over! Summer is basically here, at least weather wise, where I live, but it won’t be “officially” here until the summer solstice on June 21st.

I love summer and I am super excited to celebrate Litha this year with my husband and daughter. My son is also in town, but for him it’s just summer solstice. As a blended family, we only get 7 or 8 weeks of summer with E (our son). He’ll be 17 this year and be entering his senior year of high school (and graduating with only 1 semester of college left to do to get his associates). Soon he’ll be working or pursuing other passions and we won’t have the unhindered family summers with him that we have now.

On the other hand, my daughter just turned 5 and so is at the age now where she can really enjoy (and remember) doing special things with the family. So I feel this kind of pressure to make THIS summer memorable for all of us.

We’ve already planned a trip to Niagara falls in a couple weeks – which I am SUPER stoked about – and we made a summer bucket list 🙂

We’ll return from our family vacation just in time for Litha so I’ve already been planning out our celebration activities! Here’s some of the things I came up with:

summer solstice/Litha/Midsummer activities:

  • sunrise / sunset yoga
  • brew sun tea
  • make a sundial
  • make shadow art
  • make bird feeders out of orange peels
  • make energy bags with herbs & crystals
  • make cupcakes / cake pops decorated like suns
  • gather wildflowers and make sun catchers (place between clear contact paper/laminate and cut out shapes)
  • create “time capsule” envelopes. Write down things that are going on, hopes, dreams, resolutions, etc. and put them in envelopes to open next Litha.
  • build a fire and roast marshmallows
  • cookout/grill or make a “summery” meal together

We may not do ALL of these, but I like having at least an idea of what our day could look like. I know that we will for sure do the time capsule envelopes and I’ve planned a dinner of lemon-garlic chicken linguine tossed with summer squash, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil (yum! Just thinking about it makes me hungry!) Don’t worry I’ll post the recipe after Litha! 😉

I’ll be doing a few other things to celebrate on a personal level and connect spiritually with the abundance of the season, but I don’t require or request that my family do the same.

I hope that no matter how you bring in the new season, that it’s a time of family love and togetherness!

xo,
-M