Fun Stuff for Kids

Family Activity – Camping Adventure

There is something very appealing about unplugging, spending time in the fresh air and sunshine, cooking over an open fire, and relaxing with family.  What better way to do that than to go camping?  I grew up with a family that camped.  When I was younger, we would pitch our massive tent at the lake.  We spent our summers swimming, reading, relaxing, enjoying times with family and friends, and sleeping in that old tent.  Then Mom and Dad purchased a pop-up camper.  We took many a family trip with that camper exploring Indiana and staying at many of the state parks.  I was a typical child that went through phases with liking to camp and not wanting to camp at all.  However, as I get older, I look back on all of the memories of family campouts, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Now as an adult, I enjoy the weekends where I can get away with my own family and leave everything behind for a camping trip. In fact, I like almost everything about camping.  I like being outdoors, not having a schedule, the food, and the memories made around a campfire.  Sure, it is a lot of work to plan and pack, but once camp is set, it is a very enjoyable time.  In fact, every August we go camping with a group of friends to Ouabache State Park in Bluffton.  This year, my parents and brother Bryan will be joining us, so we are taking both the camper and tent to accommodate our family.  Hank is soooo excited that we are taking the tent.  It will be his first experience with tent camping.  Or like my brother Scott likes to say, “Real Camping.”  Scott doesn’t believe that taking a camper (equipped with a refrigerator, stove, bathroom, and air conditioning) qualifies as camping.  However, with the crazy warm weather we have had the past couple of years and the time-saving convenience, I gladly disagree with him and love taking a camper.

Want to go camping, but don’t have equipment?  No problem!  Have a camping adventure around your home.

  • Sleep “under the stars” in the living room
  • Go on a bear hunt throughout the backyard or neighborhood
  • Read stories by flashlight on the couch
  • Fix camp food in the convenience of your own kitchen

Here are some of the menu items and activities we are planning to do on this year’s campout.  You can adapt them for your own campout as well.

Have a Great Week!





Camping foods:



For Each S’more:

  • Marshmallow roasting stick
  • 1 large marshmallow
  • 1 graham cracker
  • 1 (1.5 oz) chocolate bar


  1. Heat the marshmallow over an open flame until it begins to brown and melt.
  2. Break the graham cracker in half. Sandwich the chocolate between the cracker and the hot marshmallow. Allow the marshmallow to cool a moment before eating.


Pudgie Pies

For Each Pie:

  • Pie iron
  • 2 Slices bread
  • Butter
  • Canned pie filling; apple, cherry, peach, blueberry, etc.

Basic Directions

  1. Place slice of bread, butter side down, on lower half of cooker. Spoon fruit filling on center of bread.
  2. Place second slice of bread, butter side up, on top of fillings. Latch the pie iron; trim off excess bread if necessary.
  3. Toast over campfire, fireplace or fire pit until golden brown on both sides. A delicious snack in 4 – 6 minutes.


Tacos in a Bag

For Each Bag:

  • Taco Meat
  • 1 (2.5 ounce) package corn chips or Doritos
  • Taco toppings:  shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, chopped green onions, chopped avocado, sliced black olives, shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream


  1. Heat your favorite taco meat.  I usually do this in the microwave in the camper, but it can be done over the fire if needed.  Note: I like to make and freeze the taco meat ahead of our camping trip.  Then when it’s time for camping, I let it thaw in the cooler or in the camper’s refrigerator.
  2. With the bags unopened, gently crush the corn chips. Snip the corners off the bags with scissors and slit open the bags along the side edge. Spoon in toppings. Serve in the bag and eat, using a fork.


Camping Crafts:



  • Mailing tube
  • Nails
  • Child-Size hammer
  • Duct tape
  1. Hammer many nails into the cardboard mailing tube. (I put dots on the tube with a marker where the nails would go to make it easier for Hank to see.)
  2. Fill the tube with river stones, pipe cleaner pieces, and rice.  (I put the materials that Hank was going to put in the tube into an empty water bottle.  That way, when it was time to pour it in we didn’t have to use a funnel.)
  3. Decorate with Duct Tape.  (I found some great duct tape decorated with leaves and pinecones on it to go along with the camping theme.)


Bubble Creature

  • 1 empty green plastic bottle (such as Mt. Dew)
  • Scissors
  • 1 sock
  • 1 rubber band
  • 2 Google eyes
  • 1 piece of green foam
  • Hot glue gun
  • Bubble solution
  1. Cut the bottom off plastic bottle with scissors.
  2. Place the cut end of the bottle into the sock and pulled it tightly onto the bottle.
  3. Place a rubber band around the sock to keep it in place and then fold the sock back over the rubber band.
  4. Glue the eyes in place.
  5. Cut 3 triangles out of the green foam for the back decoration and glue to snake.

To blow bubbles, dip your sock end of snake into bubble solution to get the fabric wet, and then blow through the mouthpiece of the bottle. To add color to the bubbles, put drops of food coloring directly on the sock.

*Original idea from


Camping Fun:



Bocce Ball

Ladder Golf

Bike Riding – The park has a wonderful bike trail for hours of fun.



Scavenger Hunt (printable from Creative


Camping Games:

By now you know that my family plays games whenever we can, and camping is no exception.  We have accumulated a surprising number of outdoor-/camp-themed games that always seem to find their way on the packing list.  These come in very handy if there is inclement weather, or for late-night fun around the picnic table.


EcoFlux, by Loony Labs – In the wild, you must adapt to survive! Will you win by having your Bears Eat Fish? Or will some change the goal so that their Frogs and Insects can make Night Music? Play ecology-themed Actions and Rules like Scavenger or Composting, but watch out for Creeper cards, such as Forest Fire, that can hurt everyone! Discover a little about how things go together, with EcoFluxx – the nature game of ever-changing rules!

Scavengers, by Zombie State Games – Each year the Hamburger family escapes into the great outdoors for a little rest and relaxation. During their stay eager animals scavenge for food that has been left unattended to take home and make meals of their own.

Squarrels, by Home Lantern Games – If you enjoy playing card games, you will fall in love with S’Quarrels! S’Quarrels is an exciting (and addicting) card game built around the theme of squirrels collecting acorns before winter. Ambushing, Hoards, Quarrels, and Whirlwinds are all part of the fun. Get the Golden Acorn but watch out for the Rotten Acorn.

Hike, by Moosetache Games – Brave the Elements, Blaze the Trail in Hike! Go for a trek, get lost on a trail, ride out avalanches, and always remember to watch out for Poop! There’s no littering allowed in Hike: The Card Game!

Camp, by Education Outdoors – Camp is a game where both children and adults can play and learn fun facts about the great outdoors. The game is designed to grow with the player, starting at level one questions, which are primarily identification of animals. As the players increase in their knowledge about the outdoors, they grow into the higher level questions. A fun and educational game where parents and children can play against each other to get to camp first.

S’mores The Card Game, by Education Outdoors –  S’Mores the Card game is fun for the whole family. Be the first player to get all of the ingredients to make the perfect S’mores.

Hit The Trail, by Education Outdoors –  A unique, fast paced, nature-inspired family game that comes packaged in a handy mini backpack. Test your knowledge and have fun doing it, inspired by the great outdoors.

Bears, by Fireside Games – You and your friends are on a relaxing camping trip. But as you hammer in the last stake, you hear rustling. Bears are romping through the campsite. Who will survive the rampage? And who will be eaten by bears? Bears is a fast-playing, competitive game in which you score points by pairing dice. Shoot bears and run from tents for a few points, or take a risk and score big by sleeping through the attack. But watch out. If Bears are left at the end of the round, your sleeping campers are done for.


After Dark Fun:


Glow Toys – Instead of the usual glow sticks, this year I found some light up glow wands.  You press the button and the top of the wand (which looks like a pinwheel) starts spinning and changes all sorts of glow in the dark colors.  It runs on batteries so it can be used over and over again.


Catch The Firefly Game – The firefly carries a flashlight and silently counts to 10 as he walks away from the group. When the firefly reaches 10, he flashes the light once. Other players then count to 10 and take off to find the firefly, who tries to evade his pursuers. The firefly continuously counts to 10 and flashes the light at the end of each count. The first one to tag the firefly becomes the new firefly.


Campfire StoriesNo camping trip is complete without stories around a campfire. To make it easier to see, we read stories by flashlight. I know that typically you tell ghost stories, but since we have a 5-year-old and almost 2-year-old, ghost stories are a little too scary.

  • The Very Lonely Firefly, by Eric Carle
  • The Very Quiet Cricket, by Eric Carle
  • Let’s Have A Tree Party, by David Martin
  • We’re Going on a Nature Hunt, by Steve Metzger
  • Bear Feels Scared, by Karma Wilson
  • Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell
  • S Is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet, by Helen Foster James

Where did the time go?

Like most parents, when I brought home my child home, it seemed like I had all the time in the world before I would send him to school.  Then one day I woke up and realized that preschool was already upon us, and that in just a few short years he would start going to school every day.  Now those years have also passed and at the end of the summer, my baby will officially be in kindergarten.  Looking back, I can only hope that I did enough to help prepare him and lay the foundation for his journey ahead.

In April we started the process of “officially transitioning” him to kindergarten by attending Kindergarten Round-up.  However, we really started the process when he started preschool by helping him to work towards independence and giving him experiences to enable him to be successful through the process. This summer is no different.  To help us keep up the momentum and continue towards the start of school, here are a couple of great resources I found to use.  You might want to check them out as well.

  • Transitioning to Kindergarten from NAEYC.  For families, Starting school can be scary and exciting for both you and your child. Effective kindergarten teachers know that children are individuals who each start kindergarten with a wide range of skills. You do not need to drill your child with letters, numbers, and facts, before school starts.  But there are some things you can do to prepare both you and your child for kindergarten.
  • Let’s get ready for Kindergarten from Chestnut Ridge School District.  I know this is for another state, but the activities are simple, quick, and easy to do over the summer to support your child’s development and growth of skills needed as he/she prepares to enter kindergarten. Completing these activities with your child will also help strengthen the bond between you and ensure quality time together on a daily basis. Reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills are essential throughout your child’s academic career. Social, emotional, and self-help skills are equally important. A combination of all of these skills will be touched on throughout this booklet. Along with these suggested activities, it is always a great idea to read to your child every day.
  • Reading Rockets has a 10 Weeks of Summer Reading Adventures for You and Your Kids.  Each week includes six or seven fun and easy ideas for practicing skills that fit right into your own summer adventures. Parents can also use the month of May to speak with their child’s preschool teacher about activities to do at home that will help keep learning alive over the summer. 



Get Ready To Read emphasizes that the year before kindergarten is the ideal time for parents to foster and build their child’s skills for a strong start in school.  To help you prepare your child for the future, they have developed parent resources that you can take advantage of today.

  • Skill Building Activities  – Use this set of activity cards for ideas to try at home. 

Looking back on how fast this time has come for our family, I realize that it is never too early to start the process.  Even though she is just beginning her journey into preschool this fall, now is the time to start laying the foundation for my daughter’s success in school.  I know from the past couple of years that the time will fly, and before I know it, she will be starting Kindergarten as well.


Have a Great Week!


123 – Duck! Duck! Fun!

My two-year old loves Rubber Ducks.  In fact, she has a basket filled with ducks of different shapes and sizes.  At least once a day she has them out to play with, spread out all over the floor.  We have a couple of games that our son likes to play with the ducks called, Duck! Duck! Go! and Duck! Duck! Safari! but Faith isn’t old enough to play them yet.  So, a couple of weeks ago I put together some early math activities using the ducks just for her.


One Duck, Two Ducks, Three Ducks, More

I love the Rubber Ducky Counting Mats that I found from Line Upon Line Learning.   We use the counting mats with her basket of ducks.   Don’t have rubber ducks? NO PROBLEM.  Use this Rubber Duck Printable.  Just print a couple of copies of the ducks and cut them out.  We spread out the counting mats on the floor and talk about what number is on the card.  Faith then puts a duck on top of each duck on the card.


How Many Ducks in the Pond?

I got this idea from a post I saw from .  I found a blue bowl for us to use as a pond, or you can use our Duck Pond Printable, a large dice, and our basket of ducks.  Then Faith rolls the dice, and we count the dots together.  Then she puts that number of ducks into the “pond.”


Find the Duck

Hide 5-10 rubber ducks in a room.  Have your child go find a duck and bring it back to the pond.  As your child brings back each duck, count how many ducks are in the pond.  Continue until all ducks have been returned to the pond.


Put the Ducks in a Row

I got this idea from a post I saw from  I use the same blue bowl from our Duck Pond activity as a pond, Duck Chart Printable, and 10 ducks numbered 1-10.  If you don’t have ducks, you can make a second copy of the duck chart and cut the ducks apart.  We put all the ducks in the pond and lay the chart in front of us.  Then Faith pulls the ducks out one at a time.  We talk about what number is printed on the bottom and then find the matching number on the Duck Chart.


Duck Race

I used this idea when I taught preschool.  You will need 2 ducks, a River Race Board Printable, and a quarter.   Put your ducks on start.  Take turns flipping the quarter.  If you get a heads up, move forward 2 spaces.  If you get a tails up, move forward 1 space.  Play until everyone gets to the end of the river.  As you swim down the river, talk about the numbers you land on along the way.


Ten Little Ducks

We count out 10 ducks and put them into our pond.  Then we read our Ten Little Ducks poem and do the actions along with it.  This is also fun to do during bath time.


Have a Great Week!


ECA Hires Specialist

Shelly Meredith is now the Infant/Toddler Specialist at Early Childhood Alliance (ECA). In her new position, she will work with families of infants and toddlers, responding to questions and assisting with the search for child care. Meredith will also provide technical assistance and on-site training on topics related to infant/toddler care and child development for both early childhood professionals caring for infants and toddlers and organizations that work with families.

Meredith has been with ECA for four years as a classroom teacher at the Learning Center on Beacon Street. She earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Ball State University.

Family Activity – Our Summer A to Z List

Like most parents, I look forward to spending more time with my preschool child this summer.  However, I also know that he is going to miss the activities, fun, and socialization he gets during the school year from his preschool.  To help alleviate some of the anxiety of planning activities to do for the summer by myself, together we worked on an A to Z List of things he wants to do over the summer.  Please feel free to use these ideas, along with the other resources listed below, as a starting point for your own summer activity list.

Have a Great Week!




Summer A to Z List

A – Arts & Crafts – Make a couple of art projects each week.

B – Bike – Take a family bike ride around the neighborhood.

C – Camping – Go on a family camping trip.

D – Drive-In Theater – Go to the drive in and experience watching a movie outside.

E – Exercise – Do some type of exercise each day.  Participate in the Family Fitness Challenge –  make family fitness a focus throughout the year.

F – Frisbee Golf – Go to the local park and play Frisbee Golf.

G – Geocaching – Go on a Geocaching adventure.  Geocaching is a treasure hunting game where you use a GPS to hide and seek containers with other participants in the activity.

H – Hike – Take a family walk on our local walking trail.

I –    Ice Cream – Make homemade ice cream.

J –   Just spend time together. It is alright to just unplug and spend a leisurely day together doing whatever the kids want to do – play outside, read books, go swimming, etc.

K – Keep Safe – Take a swimming class.  Hank fell in the swimming pool last summer and it really left a lasting impression.  Even though we got him in the water soon after the experience, he is still very hesitant.  I want to give him the tools he needs to feel confident in the water and feel safe in case it happens again.

L –   Library – Participate in the summer reading program at our local library.  To find your local library visit Public Libraries – Indiana

M – Museum – Visit a local museum ( i.e. Historical Society Museum – to find your local Historical Society information visit through the Indiana Historical Society website).  Visit the local Visitor’s Bureau of ideas of interesting places to go in your area – be a tourist in your own town/county.  For information on Indiana and your local visitors bureau visit

N – Neighborhood Garage Sale – Sort through toys and pick some to sell, and some to donate (i.e local preschool).

O – Obstacle Course – Set-up an obstacle course in our back yard.

P – Plant a vegetable and flower garden.

Q – Quick, Easy Fun.  Have family game night. Make popcorn and watch a favorite family movie together.  Put a puzzle together.

R – Read, Read, Read – Read books together every day.

S – Scavenger Hunt – Go on a scavenger hunt.  Check out some pre-made scavenger hunts – A Year’s Worth of Scavenger Hunts for Kids – from the Mother’s Niche Blog.

T – Trains, Trains & More Trains – Ride a train, visit a model train, and play with trains at home.  Hank enjoys riding the Little River Railroad in Michigan, but for his birthday we are taking him to Heston.  He also enjoys visiting the model train layout in Garrett.  On a daily basis you can find him in his room creating train layouts with his wooden train set.

U – Unplug – Have time where no electronics are allowed.  We are going to make a conscientious effort to turn off the TV, tablet, computer and other distractions for enjoying time together.

V – Visit the Fair – Go to the 4-H Fair or The Indiana State Fair.  Every once in a while nothing makes you happier than fair food, animals and carnival music. For 4-H Fair Dates, visit Countyfairgrounds, USA – Indiana.

W – Wonderopolis – Participate in Camp Wonderopolis, a fun, free opportunity for parents and children to learn together during the summer.

X – X-tra Special Times with Friends – Make time to see friends.  Nothing beats time with friends!  Hank enjoys seeing his school and church friends at VBS.  We also have an annual get together with a group of friends over July 4th and have “Camp” for the kids.

Y – Yard – Have fun outside in our own backyard – set up the tent, play in the sandbox, enjoy water fun, etc.

Z – Zoo – Visit a Zoo.  We enjoy the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, but there are other options available in Northern Indiana as well.  Check out the Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, or Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Albion.

Check out our new wheels

Be on the lookout for ECA’s new van, delivering programs and services across 10 counties of northern Indiana. The van is used to transport both materials for Book Buddies and Learning Kits to early childhood programs, and also for staff/Board member use to make program visits and attend meetings/events. Book Buddies is an on-going, early learning program for families offered at several libraries and other locations. Learning Kits with books, hands-on learning materials, and teacher resources are used to enhance learning environments. They are available to be checked out for FREE to all programs enrolled in Paths to QUALITYTM, Indiana’s quality rating and improvement system. Visit our Family Events Calendar for the Book Buddies schedule.

We wish to thank these generous sponsors

PNC Bank

School Age Summer Magic

Roberta Newman writes, “There’s something special about summer. It’s a special time. To dream, to kick back, to relax, to play, to learn new skills, to take time to get good at things, to enjoy life with friends, to have special kinds of excitement that seem like magic.” Roberta is right. There is something special about summer. Roberta calls this summer magic.  To me, summer magic is that warm fuzzy feeling that brings back fond memories of my own amazing summer experiences.  If we want our kids to have magical memories, then we need to create magical experiences.  Otherwise, mediocre experiences will leave behind mediocre memories. You see, the experiences we create are the memories we leave behind.  How do we create magical memories? Let’s look at the Indiana Summer Learning Standards as a guide.

The Summer Learning Standards outlines the best practices and recommendations specific to high quality summer programming for K-12 youth.  The standards define high quality summer programming as those who promote a wide range of academic achievement and positive youth outcomes. Summer learning programs help children catch, up, keep up and work ahead through hands-on learning, engaging programming, and creative projects-all that are fun! Here’s a snapshot of what to look for in high quality school-age summer programs:

  • Opportunities for Summer Magic and Learning
  • Activities that help kids catch up, keep up, and work ahead
  • Hands-on learning, engaging programming, creative projects and field trips
  • Wide variety of experiences tied to learning, including:
    • ü  Hands-on activities that promote critical thinking, explanation and creative expression
    • ü  Service learning/community involvement
    • ü  Experience the outdoors and the world around them through field trips & adventures
    • ü  Movement and exercise
    • ü  Learn and practice skills needed for success in school, college, careers and life
  • Trained and experienced staff

For more information on the Indiana Summer Learning Standards and to download, visit


School-Age Child Care Programs needing support

If you’re a child care provider looking to improve your school-age summer experiences, schedule an onsite technical assistance visit. Together, we will customize a diverse and dynamic summer schedule that’ll keep your school-agers engaged and wanting more.  Contact me by email or 574-360-3070.


Have a great summer!



Quote excerpt mentioned is from Roberta Newman’s article, Tapping in to the Magical Rhythms of Summer.



Karin Gilbert is ECA’s School-Age Specialist, serving Allen, DeKalb, Elkhart, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Marshall, Noble, St. Joseph, Steuben, and Whitley Counties.  Karin has a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University-South Bend and an Indiana Youth Development Credential.  She has 15 years of experience in school-age youth work. Karin provides support for providers of SA programs to increase the quality of SA care.

Contact Karin at 574-360-3070

Inspiring Leaders

The Foellinger Foundation is committed to investing in Allen County’s nonprofits. Their Language of Leadership conference in October 2015 was a huge success and it represents one of the many ways they hope to continue providing tools and resources to support leaders like you.

They have created three Inspiring Leaders videos for you and your organization to use as resources for further discussions. The lessons learned at the conference on adaptive leadership have the power to transform Allen County.

No School – Building Kit

If you are like me, you will soon be scurrying to find activities for your school-age child to keep him occupied and out of trouble during the upcoming time off of school.  Following is a Building Challenge Kit that I assembled to help alleviate some of the stress that potentially comes with school breaks and 24/7 time together.  Enjoy!

Building Challenge Kit

Have a Great Week!