Spring is in sight, and while warmer temperatures are on the horizon, so are April showers.
Stuck in the house with your family and have nothing to do? These creative crafts will help alleviate any cabin fever kids are experiencing this cold winter and rainy spring.
These miniature gardens are easy ways to allow your kids to express their creativity, while bringing some outdoor cheer indoors.
Blogger MaryLea Harris, of Pink and Green Mama, said terrariums simply involve a glass fish bowl, a miniature plants, and decorations to go inside. To keep the plants healthy, use a small layer of gardening charcoal, brown gravel and a layer of sphagnum moss to act like a filter. Top with potting soil and fun accessories like toys, figurines and rocks.
Fairy garden bowls
Have a Teacher Appreciation day coming up, or looking for a great end-of-the-year gift? These Fairy Garden Bowls are a great craft to pull together on a rainy Saturday.
Harris recommended using red plastic salad bowls found at retail stores and placing fish gravel in the bottom of the bowl because there are no drainage holes. Add a layer of sphagnum moss like in the terrarium craft, followed by some potting soil.
With fairy garden bowls, herbs such as Lemon Balm, Boxwood Basil and Marigold, grow well, she said.
Head to the craft store and grab some unfinished mini wooden houses and acrylic craft paint, and allow the kids to paint their houses with their favorite colors. Write message on the houses using permanent markers, and seal the house with clear acrylic spray, Harris said.
With Mother’s Day on the horizon, these milestone markers serve as not only art, but a touching sentiment as well.
“Just use a canvas and paint color of your choice,” said Whitney Collins Thompson, author of Whitty Whit’s Words, a blog on motherhood and crafts. “This could be used for anything really, too, like a birthday gift or Mother’s and Father’s Day.”
Cereal shadow box
Whether it’s zoo animals, the ocean or cartoon characters your child is interested in, a cereal box can transform their pretend world into a 3-D art project.
Using a piece of your child’s artwork, make two to three color copies of it on your home printer or at a printing store. Grab a cereal box and cut one side out of it to create a box frame. Paint the inside of the box one color, and decorate the outside of the box with patterned duct tape.
Cut out pieces from the copied drawings, and glue back some of the layers from the original drawing. Spacers glued between the back of the box and the cut outs will create a 3-D effect, Harris said.
If you have a child who loves to finger paint, try making rainbow glue. Start with half-empty glue containers, and add squirts of acrylic craft paint. Use wood skewers or thin straws to stir the mixture, and continue adding paint until the desired color is achieved.
When squeezing the glue onto paper, use watercolor paper or thicker paper that will absorb the glue better. Harris also suggests lightly sketching a drawing with pencil first for kids who need a little guidance.
Cotton Ball Sushi
While not every child enjoys sushi, they may enjoy this craft that brings together materials from the medicine cabinet and craft supplies.
Cut scraps of felt and attach them to cotton balls using black masking tape. Personalize some chopsticks for an additional effect, and add these to your kids play kitchen for a fun new toy, Harris said.
The 36th Annual Home and Lifestyle Show is not for adults only but instead the focus is on family fun for everyone.
“This year we’re featuring a Kids Korner with activities for families with children as a way to add something new and exciting to the show,” said Vicky Gadd, executive officer, Home Builders Association of Northwest Indiana (HBA of NWI). “The Kids Korner makes it more family friendly so that when adults are looking at the other exhibits children will have lots of things to do.”
One of the biggest events for kids is the HBA of NWI’s first annual Children’s House Building Contest featuring LEGO® bricks which takes place on March 8 (more details on exact times below).
“We have two age categories--5 to 8 and 9 to 12,” said Gadd noting that each age category has 20 spots for participants to build a LEGO home and first, second and third place prizes are awarded in each age group. Prizes are based upon five criteria-- design, details, colors, landscaping and appeal. “Each child receives both a certificate and participation prize.”
A cautionary note, the LEGO designs don’t get to go home as the blocks will be used for next year’s contest so bring a camera to take photos of these creations.
But what Gadd thinks will most appeal to kids who’ve been cooped up inside during this long winter is the Bounce House, which along with the photo booth, is open Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. There’s also Face Painting at the Kids’ Korner from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekend days.
“Treats by Sticky Fingers Candy Company, Noak's Popcorn and others will be available at Kids Korner,” said Gadd listing other options for children attendees. “Culver’s will be at the Kids Korner doing games—though no food and the Girl Scouts will be selling cookies.”
On Saturday from 2 until 5 p.m. and Sunday noon until 3 p.m., parents can pick up I. D. kits from the Porter County Sheriff Department. Leroy’s Hot Stuff, a favorite in Porter since it opened in 1990, will be on site selling snacks as well as full meals.
“We think it’s great that people can come to the show with their children, making it a family day with something for everyone to do,” said Gadd.
The subzero temperatures and excessive amounts of snow are forcing parents to be creative to keep their kids entertained and occupied.
When kids—and their parents—start getting stir crazy, there are plenty of indoor options to keep kids busy and burn off energy.
For the preschool set, library story hours, children’s museums and restaurants with play spaces are always popular.
So is Bellaboo’s in Lake Station, where Kara Mackey, the general manager, said the facility is staying open as much as possible despite the cold and snow.
“On the super cold days, we had parents calling in desperation to see if we were open,” she said.
The facility, which caters to children aged 9 and younger, is always offering new themes and activities all the time. Upcoming themes include St. Patrick’s Day activities and a beach theme to coincide with Spring Break.
“People are still coming in, and it’s starting to feel like spring in here,” she said.
Many health clubs and gyms offer a variety of activities to keep kids busy during the winter.
At Summit Athletics in Crown Point, classes range from dance and gymnastics to trampoline and parkour.
At Franciscan Omni Health and Fitness, Jane Bogordos, exercise physiologist and fitness supervisor, said there are numerous offerings for children of all ages. Swim lessons are open to all age groups, and for children aged 7 and up there are offerings through Parisi Speed School. Children aged 12 and up can exercise in the fitness center, participate in group exercise classes and play basketball with their parents.
“With obesity trends on the rise, it is more important than ever to be active,” she said. “Children under the age of 18 should have 60 minutes a day, seven days of week of exercise.”
Many facilities also offer open gym time in addition to their regular offerings, and at Midwest Training and Ice Center in Dyer, hundreds of kids have been participating in the facility’s weekend open gym time as a way to socialize and burn off energy. Their open skate on their ice rink has also proven to be popular.
Michelle Damore, a spokesperson for the facility, said their Friday night open gym hours can attract as many as 200 kids looking to run and play in the 34,000 square-foot facility. The facility has a foam pit, a climbing rope, three tumble tracks and nine trampolines.
“We’ve been busy,” she said. “It’s the place to be, and we keep kids out of trouble.”
If the weather absolutely prohibits you from leaving the house, Bogordos suggests there are things you can do to keep kids busy and active inside the house.
She suggests putting on music and dancing, or renting exercise DVDs including zumba, yoga and pilates. You can also encourage indoor hopscotch or sack races, or set up an exercise circuit that includes calisthenics like jumping jacks, push-ups, dips, lunges and squats.
Other options include exercising during commercial breaks, or having exercise contests.
“Most importantly, have fun,” she said.
The Dunes Learning Center will hold its first ever family camp this weekend, giving parents and kids the opportunity to explore maple sugaring and enjoy a camping experience.
Participants will learn about the science of maple sugaring through stories, games and hands-on activities at the retreat-style workshop, which runs Feb. 21-22.
"There's a long history of maple sugaring - both in the historical sense and within programs at the park," said Sandi Weindling, director of marketing and development at the center.
While many families enjoy maple syrup on their pancakes, not everyone knows the process behind extracting the sweet treat. The National Lakeshore is home to hundreds of Sugar Maple trees, and in the early spring months, sugars within the tree being to move.
Cold winter weather causes the trees to start converting food they have stored up all summer into sugar, and when daytime temperatures rise, these sugars flow through the tree, according to the Dunes Learning Center.
Syrup makers drill a hole into the tree and then place a spout into the hole. Sap flows out of the spout and into a bucket, and from there the sap is processed into syrup.
Families participating in the weekend event will get to see this process first hand, and even try their hand at it, Weindling said. They will even get to stand in the sugar shack where sap is boiled using the same methods the Chellberg family did in the 1930s.
When families arrive on Friday night, they will move into cabins and eat a maple-themed dinner, followed by a night hike and campfire with maple sugaring storytelling.
"A lot of history will be revealed within storytelling," Weindling said. "Characters will tell stories through their perspectives."
The next morning, breakfast will include a maple syrup taste test and science experiments, followed by a "Walk Through Time" with more characters and a tree ID hike. Lunch will include a "maple sugaring at home" presentation and kids activities.
"After lunch, families will be able to tap a tree and gather sap," Weindling said.
They will even be supplied with the materials needed to tap trees at home, she said.
The following month, the park will host another family camp on the subject of reptiles and amphibians, Weindling said.
For more information, call the Dunes Learning Center at (219) 395-9555 or go to duneslearningcenter.org.
For Lowell resident Michele Johnson, cross country skiing at Lemon Lake County Park is a family affair.
She began going to the park as a young girl with her grandmother, Teresa Stoner, and continues to ski there today.
Her grandmother, who passed away in August 2013 at age 89, skied at the county park in March 2013, only months before her death.
"I love it there,” Johnson said. “If I can’t trail run it is because there is snow on the ground, so I bring my skis.”
She brings her own skis and enjoys the miles of trails.
“I don’t run into as many people as I would think, when it’s an absolutely beautiful day out and miles of snow,” she said. “I am grateful for such a nice park so close to my home. I have many great memories of my grandmother taking me there since I was a child. She passed away last year, so the park brings back sweet memories of her whenever I am there.”
Lemon Lake is one of three Lake County parks that offer cross country skiing opportunities between Dec. 1 and March 31 when snow conditions allow, said Sandy Basala, superintendent of visitor services at the Lake County Parks and Recreation Department.
Lemon Lake County Park, on 133rd Avenue between Crown Point and Cedar Lake, has eight miles of trails through wooded areas and flat open fields and is ideal for people with any level of skiing skill.
At Griffith’s Oak Ridge Prairie County Park, there are three miles of trails that are perfect for beginning and intermediate skiiers.
Stoney Run County Park, which is located east of Crown Point, has seven miles of trails winding through a wooded, hilly area as well as flat open spaces.
The three parks have ski rentals available. For more information on times and cost, visit lakecountyparks.com.
Basala said the parks have been a popular attraction for skiiers this winter. On one January weekend Stoney Run had about 50 ski rentals, and that doesn’t include the number of people who came with their own equipment, she said.
She said park conditions are ideal when there is a four-inch snow base that can support the glide of skiing.
“It’s a great family activity because all ages can do it at their own pace, and they can all ski together,” she said. “It’s basically stride and glide.”
She said staff at the parks can fit people with the proper size boots, skis and poles.
“With brief instruction, most people feel comfortable trying it out. It’s like any other activity, though, the more you do it generally the better you get,” she said. “Will you fall down? Probably, but it’s not like downhill skiing where you are traveling at a fast pace. The kids seem to bounce right back up. Of course, I’m convinced they like to fall down!”
Michelle Lionberg, of St. John, recently went skiing at Lemon Lake for the first time with her husband, Bill and three of their five children.
At $5 a person for ski rental, she said it was a fun, inexpensive way to spend a few hours of family time.
After being fitted for skis, they took a map and headed out.
“It was really great exercise and something fun to do outside as a family during the weather,” she said. “We’re hoping to go back again in the next few weeks.”
For those who want to cross country ski in other areas, try the South Bend Adventure Club. The group, which is based in South Bend, attracts members from all around Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan. More information about the club can be found on their website, outsidethebend.com, or on their South Bend Adventure Club Facebook page.
The group was started by Kerry Regan, a graduate student at Notre Dame in biology, and her husband, who is a laboratory manager in the biology department. The couple came to Northwest Indiana from Florida and wanted to bring Florida’s outdoor culture to the area.
They regularly take ski trips to St. Patrick’s Park, Madaline Bertrand Park as well as Potato Creek State Park and Love Creek County Park.
Regan said between 10 and 25 people attend each skiing trip.
“The skiing at each of these places is beautiful and is a very unique experience,” she said. “So far, my favorite park is certainly Love Creek, since it has very interesting terrain and longer trails.”
As most kids celebrate a day off from school Feb. 17, the nation will mark Presidents’ Day.
While Presidents’ may not seem like the ideal day to host a party, it’s actually a great way to spend family time together and reinforce what they are learning in school.
Here are some ways to mark the holiday with kids, from serving patriotic food to playing president-themed games.
Don some detective hats and trench coats and make a game out of discovering things about presidents that aren’t necessarily covered in kids’ history books.
Debi Lilly, a party planner and owner of A Perfect Event, which serves Northwest Indiana and Chicago, said finding interesting facts about former presidents brings them to life.
“Kids love doing research, so start by making a list of the presidents, as long or short as you like, and find out fun facts about each,” she said. “From George Washington to Barack Obama, where is he from? What was his first job? What is his favorite food? Favorite sport? Kids can design their questions around their personal interests, making it more fun and interesting.
Decorate the house
Design a party around the presidents by decorating the table with photos in frames, or even paper maps with their hometowns and cities where they began their careers.
“Draw family portraits with their children and dogs,” Lilly said. “These details become busy craft parties, and decorate the table at the same time.”
Get creative by using just a few fun items as well from around the house.
“Add colorful red, white and blue ribbon wrapped onto pillar candles for pretty lighting on the table,” she said.
Have kids fill round rose bowl vases with water and add red, white and blue flowers, Lilly said.
Prepare festive food
Plan menus for that day’s meals based on a president’s favorite foods and drinks.
“Write them onto paper, then cut into the shape of your round glass plates,” Lilly said. “Set underneath for a custom presidential menu plate design.”
Red, white and blue sodas make the perfect drinks, and don’t forget to use any red, white and blue dishes to accent the party’s patriotic theme, Lilly said.
“Make mini parfaits with red, white and blue – raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and vanilla yogurt or frozen yogurt — are the perfect presidential day dessert,” she said.
Plan games based on what the presidents loved to do and play outside the office, Lilly said. For instance, if a president enjoyed playing cards, set up Go Fish tournaments throughout the day.
The White House Historical Association also suggests having kids write in their diaries for the day as if they were a first kid. They can write about the first day they moved in to the White House, or their favorite heroes that came to the White House to visit.
Older children may enjoy designing their own White House – adding their own personal touches based on what they enjoy doing.
At PBS.org, kids have the opportunity to print their own campaign posters, and usmint.gov has several games kids can enjoy online.
For more information on activities, go to whitehousehistory.org.
The holidays are now behind us and there are some long weeks and months ahead before spring break, but if you’re looking for a break to take before then, you’re in a good spot for it. Whether you want to go tubing or ski down a slope or you want to relax in a lazy river and pretend it’s 80 degrees outside or you want to escape to another place and time, there are fun destinations within a short drive that make for an ideal winter weekend getaway.
Wilmot Mountain Ski Resort
Not too far over the Illinois border into Wisconsin is a place that is a winter wonderland for those who love snow sports. It was the first spot in the Midwest to successfully create artificial snow so that visitors could enjoy the resort even when Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating. The resort dates back to 1938 and in the 1950’s, the snow makers were introduced along with lights to make night skiing possible.
“Whether you are skiing, snowboarding, or snow tubing, there is something for the whole family to enjoy. Our snow tubing facility is brand new and it is one of the biggest facilities in the country with over one thousand feet of tubing lanes and a brand new lodge,” said Ryan Church of Wilmot Mountain. “We have live Music every weekend, a fireplace that is going everyday from 8am-11pm, kids ski school classes, events and more.”
Today the facility accommodates skiers, snowboarders and tubers. Group, semi-private and private lessons are available for those who are new to the winter sports. Several race events and live entertainment are scheduled throughout the season, which runs through early March. For more information, visit wilmotmountain.com
Key Lime Cove
Escape to an indoor tropical oasis in Gurnee, Illinois where it’s always 84 degrees and you have 30 acres of indoor fun to explore when the temperatures outside are plunging. The 414-room resort features connecting suites that can accommodate up to 12.
Inspired by the Florida Keys, you’ll truly feel like you’re far from home as you take in the festive atmosphere, food and top-notch spa to pamper the grown-ups and kids. With a tame lazy river and kiddie pool for the younger set, there are also water slides and a Hurricane Vortex whirlpool ride if you’re looking for thrills. Find more information at keylimecove.com.
For a day trip that will transport you to another place and time, Medieval Times in Schaumburg offers a great getaway from the glum Winter days with dinner and a jousting show in 11th century style. The dinner theatre is a feast for the eyes with colorful costumes, majestic horses and swords in the air.
The experience begins in the lobby with kiosks full of Medieval merchandise and continues in the arena where you are served a hearty meal sans silverware. Soon the lights dim and dashing knights are before you getting their joust on. Extend your visit with a tour of the weapons displays. medievaltimes.com for more information.
Shipshewana and Nappanee
Another escape from our modern lives can be found just to the east in the Amish communities of Shipshewana and Nappanee, where you can spend a weekend getting a taste of the simple lifestyles of Amish culture and shopping for Amish-made products in the many quaint shops in the area.
Amish country is particularly beautiful this time of year with a blanket of white as a backdrop for the horse drawn buggies that can be seen dashing down the roads. Take in a show at the Blue Gate Theatre or Round Barn Theatre. Enjoy an old-fashioned family-style thresher dinner of chicken and trimmings. Shop for locally made hand-crafted items and homemade jams and other wholesome Amish-made foods. Find more information at amishacres.com and shipshewana.com.
Close enough for a weekend trip, Indianapolis has so much to offer. From sports venues to museums to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to a top-notch zoo, Indianapolis has enough going on to fill several weekends.
Indianapolis features one of the nation’s oldest and largest general art museums and general admission is free, making it a great spot to include on your itinerary. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art offers a unique look into the artistic culture of our country’s Native Americans. Historical sites include war memorials, the historical museum, mansions and the state capitol.
On the more playful side, Indy has an amazing zoo where you can even plan for a dolphin encounter, the thrilling Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum and the world’s largest children’s museum.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is loaded with educational fun, enough that a full day at the location will still leave you with more to see. The new Playscape exhibit area is an inviting space for the youngest visitors where parents can explore with their infants, toddlers and preschoolers through sight, sound and touch. Older kids will enjoy diving into dinosaur fun, learning about space travel and checking out hands-on scientific exhibits. A ride on the breathtaking 1917 carousal is a must. Learn more about the museum at childrensmuseum.org and more on Indianapolis at visitindy.com.
We all know that exercise is important, but this time of year it is a lot easier to bundle up in a blanket and watch television than to venture out in the cold weather for some physical activity. However, studies show that walking or doing moderate exercise for just 30 minutes a day can help maintain a healthy body weight and improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels – and those benefits are for moms, dads and kids alike.
Take inspiration from this active family.
Cathy Dilbeck from Hammond has two children ages 6 and 4, and she makes sure they have ample opportunity to stay active all year round.
“My husband Dave and I were athletes growing up and our parents kept us involved in a lot of youth programs. We are still very active today - exercising every day and playing adult sports,” Cathy Dilbeck said.
In the winter, the Dilbeck family participates in organized activities such as swim lessons and youth basketball leagues and also makes time as a family to shoot hoops during open gym or take the kids swimming during open swim at the Hammond Family YMCA. Cathy advised other families to “take advantage of youth programs that are available at your Y and parks departments. Some programs start as young as three years old – not just to teach sport skills but to keep kids active and help them build social skills.”
Keeping kids of all ages active.
When the weather is bad, it’s time to get creative with what you have around the house. Alina Kilarski from Crown Point rigged up a swing in her house for her younger kids ages 2, 5 and 7.
“It doesn’t matter what the weather is like outside, we always find time for active play,” Kilarski said.
Other NWI moms suggested hula hooping, pulling the cars out of the garage and letting the kids use that open space for jump rope or Frisbee, or building an obstacle course in the basement or living room.
If you have older kids, consider setting a family workout goal such as exercising together twice a week. Or step up to a family challenge – perhaps a local 5K – and train for it as a family. Pick something that you can do together, and it will be easier to keep each other motivated.
Don’t be afraid to get outside!
Region residents all have their favorite sledding hills but there’s more to do in NWI in the winter. Bundle up and get ready for some fun!
- Many Northwest Indiana parks departments have seasonal ice rinks and some are even free if you have your own skates. Call your local parks department for availability. Deep River Water park is another regional option and, with refrigerated ice, one that is available even in slightly warmer temps. Ice is available Thursday-Sunday until Feb. 29.
- Park naturalists at Indiana Dunes State Park lead winter hikes on the dunes and in the park’s wooded areas. Children are welcome and some of the hikes include fun activities like putting out food for animals or bird banding. Check out their website for a monthly calendar of events – most are free to the public.
- Taltree Arboretum in Valparaiso has a variety of hiking trails and is open seven days a week all winter. If you have snowshoes or cross country skies, call and see if there is enough snow to use their trails.
Staying active in the winter months can be a challenge, but it’s one with many rewards: family bonding, improved health, higher energy levels, better moods—it’s worth the extra effort to keep your family up and moving. If you can get started now, it will already be a healthy habit that’s easy to continue once the weather turns warm.
As Cathy Dilbeck notes, “I just want to remind parents how much our kids feed off everything we do. If the parents live a healthy lifestyle all year long the kids are sure to follow in their footsteps!” Start a healthy lifestyle today and your entire family will reap the benefits tomorrow.
This year resolve to have more fun and spend more family time together, all while staying healthy, with these winter activities in Northwest Indiana.
Ice Plaza at Deep River Waterpark
Each year Deep River Waterpark freezes over and transforms into a winter wonderland featuring a 14,500-square-foot ice plaza where families can skate the day away.
“The Deep River Skating Plaza is designed to provide the finest in family and group winter activities in Northwest Indiana at an affordable price,” Superintendent of Business Development Jim Basala said. “With a groomed surface, heated food service and rental facilities Deep River is always geared to family skating no matter what the age.”
The skating plaza features food and beverage locations, a birthday party room, the U.S. 30 Surf Shop and heated bathrooms. The rink opened for the season on Nov. 29 and remains open through Feb. 23, weather permitting. Families can skate Thursday through Sunday (see sidebar for hours).
Winter Wonderland at Wolf Lake
For the 13th year, the Association for the Wolf Lake Initiative (AWLI) sponsors the annual bi-state Winter Wonderland festival. A non-profit organization, the AWLI seeks to protect and enhance the Wolf Lake watershed and this festival helps spread the word about the wonders of the area, Executive Director of AWLI Michael L. Boos explains.
“This festival, free to the public, seeks to showcase Wolf Lake and demonstrate to young and old alike the many ways they can enjoy the lake throughout the year,” Boos said.
The festival is held in two locations, at the Environmental Center in Hammond and William Powers State Fish & Wildlife Area in Chicago. Both locations feature exhibits and displays, seminars, tours and winter sports. The Hammond location features cross-country skiing, skating and a hike, while the Chicago location offers cross-country skiing, skating and ice hockey.
Outdoor Fun at Lake County Parks
From sledding and hiking to cross-country skiing, outdoor activities abound at Lake County Parks.
As a member of the Chicago Wilderness consortium of “Leave No Child Inside,” Lake County Parks is part of an alliance comprised of more than 200 public and private groups working together to offer outdoor programs for children year round.
“We know that just being outdoors in nature contributes to early learning as well as emotional and physical development in children, and it's not bad for adults either,” Superintendent of Visitor Services at Lake County Parks Sandra L. Basala, Ph.D. explained. “Our goal is to promote health through outdoor play and exploration, no matter what age or what season.”
Families can enjoy a brisk winter walk at the many trails of Lake County Parks, hit the sledding hills at Oak Ridge Prairie or Lemon Lake County Parks or strap on some skis at Oak Ridge Prairie, Stoney Run or Lemon Lake County Parks, weather permitting. Rental staff can help families get fitted for boots, skis and poles and offer hints on getting started. Cross-country skiing is great for all ages, easy to pick up and fun to do as a family.
“If you can walk, you can pretty much cross country ski. The more you do it, the better you become,” Basala said. “We often see multi-generational groups of beginners trying it out.”
Families should call after 9 a.m. to see if the hills are open for sledding or if there is enough snow for cross-country skiing. See sidebar for park locations or visit lakecountyparks.com for a complete list.
Catching up to Santa Claus for an interview can be a challenge, especially now when he’s busy getting ready for the holidays.
But Santa, who goes by a pseudonym when necessary, agreed with a right jolly “Yes” to answer a few questions about his very special visits. In Munster, Ind., he goes by the name “Jim Foster,” whose back story includes being a family man just this side of 50 with a wife, Kathy, and their five children, Jimmy 18, Tori, 17, Jack, 13, and twins Sydney and Hanna, 11.
Santa Jim explains everyone has to start somewhere, and he tells with a chuckle how he got his start in Munster. Jim was just a college kid, donning the sizable Santa suit as part of a Lewis University’s fraternity event for a local school for the disabled.
“One kid was uber-excited, jumping up and down and waving his arms as he charged forward to sit on Santa’s lap. Problem was, he was 21 years old, at least 6 feet 4 inches and weighed well over my 250 pounds. I was sitting on a metal folding chair and he jumped exuberantly onto my lap.”
Oh dear. “The chair folded like aluminum foil and down we went,” in a jumble of chair parts, legs and arms, with Jim trying to calm the young fellow who thought he’d just killed Santa.
The rest of the night went peaceably enough until Jim realized the earlier dust-up had broken Santa’s belt, so that he had to hold up his pants while sidling out of the room.
Discouraged? Hardly. “I was hooked.”
Since then, he’s dropped in on the Munster Chamber of Commerce’s Breakfast for Santa for 17 years; this year will be only the second time he’ll miss it.
“Jim is fabulous with the children, even the timid ones. He gets them comfortable,” said Wendy Mis, executive director at the chamber.
“I always ask the kids if they have been naughty," Santa Jim said. "It’s hilarious to see the kids trying not to lie, because after all, I have the master list. I try to save them by saying, ‘It’s okay, let’s just try a little harder, okay?’ That always gets a good smile.”
Santa Jim naturally knows the names of many kids — even their parents — who approach him. Here’s his secret: He and Mrs. Claus, who in Munster goes by “Kathy Foster,” coach young kids’ sports teams and remember the names of many players. “Parents wouldn’t know it was me, but I’d know their names, their kids’ names. It’s always fun to keep them believing.”
Last year Santa Jim had another surprise up his roomy sleeve. At his workplace, Lake Mortgage Co. in Merrillville, co-worker Sue Stockman in loan servicing said they knew of Jim’s Santa role. But when Santa showed up handing out bonus envelopes, “Nobody knew (it was Jim); all we could hear was someone going “Ho, ho, ho,” real loud,” she laughs. “He was a really a good Santa.”
For Tammy and Bryan Paskewicz, close friends of the Fosters, it was a tradition to bring son Ethan to see Santa at Breakfast with Santa but never knowing who he was. When Jim helped Bryan bring in a Christmas tree and saw all the pictures of Ethan with Santa Claus through the years, he laughed. Tammy asked why. “That’s me!” Jim revealed.
“That’s how good Jim is — we never knew (until he told us),” said Tammy.
Since then Bryan and Tammy love to watch Ethan’s wonder as Santa says his name and asks questions only Santa could know. And for sister Erin, “The look on her face was, ‘He really does watch me!’ ”
“He really is Santa’ he does it without expecting accolades,” said Tammy. “He’s a very giving person. So is his wife.”
Kathy sewed the clothes for Santa and the Mrs. Claus for Breakfast with Santa.” It’s real hot underneath the beard, and little bitty kids pull on it.” But Santa understands. And, “I try to give the list back to the parents on the sly. An elf helps me with that.” Nancy Trimboli of Trimboli Chiropractic, then Karen Maravilla at El Taco Real have been faithful elves for years.
For his own kids, “I would change my voice for them, and it took a few years before they figured out that I was actually the Santa. Other kids, I try to help them along; I know they can be petrified. I’ll tell them to make a list and give it to their mom and she’ll give it to me. And I tell them I’m a big fan of cookies, and I always ask the kids to not forget the reindeer.”
Duly noted, Santa.
The holiday season in Chicago sparkles with lights and many fun events for families to do. Here’s our list of what’s best this season
Art Institute of Chicago
Holiday Thorne Rooms
Now to January 8, 2014
This year, one more of the 68 Thorne Miniature Rooms, capturing the exquisite interiors of abodes from the late 13th century to the 1930s, showcase their holiday style, making for a total of 11. Other rooms ready for the holidays include the Victorian English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period with Christmas tree, a modern-era California Hallway containing an Otto Natzler mid-century menorah and box with a dreidel and a English Great Hall from the Tudor period with such Christmas paraphernalia as a wassailing bowl, Yule log, and costuming for that period’s singing-dancing celebrants.
111 S. Michigan Ave
Now to December 24
Based upon the Nuremberg Christmas markets dating back to 1545, Chicago’s outdoor Christkindlmarket celebrates this European tradition. Red and white crested huts are set around the cubist Picasso sculpture at the Daley Plaza, each housing vendors cooking European treats such as Gluhwein (a warm spiced wine), savory and sweet crepes, stollen, sauerkraut, sweet cheese fritters, snow balls, Nürnberger and Kilometer sausages, Leberkäse and potato pancakes. Non-food vendors feature a myriad of goods from all over the world including Bavaria (handcrafted ornaments and pewter), Peru (jewelry, charms and rings), pottery from Boleslawiec, Poland and, from Strullendorf – Germany, clay and ceramic pottery items like decorative German houses that light up, tea and coffee sets and straw ornaments.
50 W Washington St.
A Christmas Carol
Now to December 28
See the Charles Dickens' classic at the Goodman Theatre, a tradition for over three decades. There are ghosts, music, dancing, a lot of "Bah, Humbugs" and ultimately a happy ending.
Lincoln Park Zoo and Ice Skating
Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo
Weekends Only, December 6–8, 13–23; December 26–January 5, 2013–14
Celebrate the holidays with the animals when the Lincoln Park Zoo is ablaze with over two million colorful lights. Activities include crafts, live ice carving demonstrations, visits with Santa in the Kovler Lion House, photos with Santa (up until December 23), carousel and train rides, musical light shows, animal encounters, 3-D displays, and food and winter drinks for a quick warm-up. New this year is ice skating at the rink in Farm-in-the-Zoo area.
Cannon Drive at Fullerton Parkway
Macy's on State
Now to early January at Macy's on State Street
The wonderfully themed and decorated windows along State Street display a story of Christmas good will. Be sure to wander inside for a view of the 45-foot Great Tree bedecked with more than 1,200 themed ornaments and 25,000 dazzling lights in the store’s Walnut Room.
111 N State St.
Caroling at Millennium Park's Cloud Gate/Ice Skating at McCormick Tribune Plaza at Millennium Park
Each Friday, take the family and sing along with such Chicago’s choral groups as the Chicago Children's Choir (Dec. 6) and the Wicker Park Choral Singers (Dec. 13). 6 - 6:50 p.m.
201 E. Randolph St.
After caroling, rent skates ($10) or bring your own for free ice skating at Millennium Park with the beautiful city skyline as a backdrop. Ends in March 9, 2014.
Michigan Avenue between Madison and Washington Streets
Museum of Science and Industry
Christmas Around the World & Holidays of Light
Now through Jan. 5, 2014
Since 1942, MSI has been doing it up in grand style with a 45-foot Grand Tree festooned with more than 30,000 lights and 1,000 ornaments and encircled by over 50 smaller trees decorated by the city’s ethnic communities to represent their cultures and holiday traditions. Located in the museum’s immense rotunda, intermittent falling "snow" adds to the holidays appeal. School choral groups and ethnic song and dance groups perform on the Holiday Stage by. This year’s holiday theme is inspired by the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives, the museum’s new temporary exhibit.
5700 S. Lake Shore Drive
Dec. 6, 2013 – Jan. 12, 2014
Amazing as usual, the marvelous 170,000-square-foot Festival Hall is recreated to include such family-friendly holiday fun as an indoor ice skating rink, such rides as Reindeer Express, Iceline Express Zip Line, Arctic Plunge, Visit with Santa, and live entertainment for both young and old.
600 East Grand Avenue
A Holiday Fantasea
Now through Dec. 24
Want to watch dolphins leap, penguins saunter and a sea lion dance and hear beluga whales sing? Then the Shedd's themed, multi-species aquatic show, A Holiday Fantasea, is a must-sea (their pun not ours). With lights twinkling and music playing at the Abbott Oceanarium, Santa arrives and the animals show their stuff.
1200 S. Lake Shore Drive
With holiday breaks from school approaching, and the cold already here, crafts are the perfect way to spend quality time with kids while exercising their creativity.
The bonus with constructing crafts during December is those crafts can then be used to decorate the house for the holidays.
Enjoy these festive art activities this holiday season.
Salt dough ornaments
Decorating the Christmas tree is a family tradition children enjoy, and this craft by blogger Kelly Burtelson gives families the opportunity to make new memories each year.
2 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 cup warm water
Circle cookie cutters (or a parmesan cheese lid and a tin can)
Button, fork, shells, rubber stamps, lids (to make impressions in the dough)
Drinking straw (to cut out a hole for the ribbon)
Mod Podge Shimmer
Mix together flour and salt, then gradually stir in the water. Mix well and the knead until it is a smooth dough, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Cut out circles and lay on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Use the straw to cut a hole at the top of the ornament.
Use the buttons, shells, stamps or other supplies you can find to make impressions on the salt dough.
Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and baked at 200 degrees for one to two hours, depending on thickness of the ornaments.
When the ornaments are completely cooled, paint with Shimmer Mod Podge and tie on a ribbon when dry.
Source: Kelly Burtelson, eyesonthesource.com
Felt Christmas tree
Large sheet of green craft felt (sold at craft stores)
Smaller felt sheets in various colors
3m Command Strips
Using scissors, cut the large sheet of green craft felt in the shape of a Christmas tree. Make any size you want that fits a blank space on a wall in the house, or cut it the height of your child.
Make the ornaments and the star on top by cutting circles and different shapes out of the remaining colors of felt. If you make layers or other decorations on the ornaments, use a hot glue gun to secure them.
Once finished, secure the felt tree to the wall in several places using 3m Command Strips or another similar product.
Decorate the tree with the felt ornaments - felt will stick on felt, so no need to glue the ornaments to the tree. Plus, little ones will enjoy taking the ornaments on and off. If the felt ornaments don't stick well, try attaching a piece of Velcro to each ornament and then designated spots on the tree.
Optional: Add presents at the bottom of the tree using felt, or cut out a trunk for the tree with brown felt.
Source: Whitney Collins Thompson, wittywhitswords.blogspot.com
Owl pillow box
These owl pillow boxes are perfect to put gifts in during the holidays. They can be placed in the tree for further decoration, or set on the fireplace mantle for all to see.
Kraft colored pillow boxes
Yellow cardstock (for beaks)
Buttons (for eyes)
Felt (for scarf)
Hot glue gun and glue sticks
Choose coordinating colors of paper for wings, buttons for eyes and felt for a scarf.
Fold the scrapbook paper in half and cut two equal half circles for the wings. Use decorative scissors if you have them available.
Keep the pillow box flat until all the pieces are glued on. Glue the wings, eyes and nose in place with a hot glue gun. Cut a thin strip from the sheet of felt and fringe cut the ends.
Stretch the felt, as far as you can, before you tie it on the owl.
Pop open the pillow box and close the ends, then tie the scarf around the owl.
Source: Kelly Burtelson, eyesonthesource.com
Snow globes are a holiday staple, but they can be used to decorate the house throughout the winter. Little figurines laying around the house or ornaments from the tree can be used as the snow globe's centerpiece.
Mason jar and lid
Figurines of choice
Using a glue gun, glue the figurine to the inside bottom of the Mason jar.
Once the glue has completely dried, take a teaspoon or more (depending on the size of the Mason jar) of glitter and add it in the jar.
Fill the jar slowly with water and place the lid on the jar. Double check the correct amount of glitter has been used, and tighten the jar. Additional glue from the glue gun can be used to seal the jar, though if tightened adequately, no water should leak.
Optional: Decorate the top of the lid or using fine tip Sharpie, write the year on the bottom of the jar so you remember which year each snow globe was created.
Source: Whitney Collins Thompson, wittywhitswords.blogspot.com
As the holiday season approaches, little magical elves are descending on hundreds of homes around Northwest Indiana, peeking in on little kids and reporting back to Santa whether the kids are on the “naughty” or “nice” list.
In addition to reporting to Santa, each night the elves — assisted by their adult human helpers — move around the house and wreak havoc while the children sleep.
Reports of holiday elves causing mischief date back to the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the 2005 children’s book “Elf on the Shelf” came out that it began to become a cultural phenomenon.
Today, in addition to being able to buy the book-and-elf combination at most “big box” stores, it has spawned a line of elf clothing, at least one DVD and a television special.
Pinterest is loaded with hundreds of pictures and ideas for mischievous elf exploits. Basic ideas start with having the elf move around the house during the night, and more complicated ideas include floating the elf in a hot air balloon in the house, having the elf wrap the Christmas tree in toilet paper and building an elf-sized igloo.
Families all across the Region have made the elf a beloved holiday tradition, not only as a way to encourage good behavior but also to create memories they hope will last a lifetime.
Last year, a mischievous elf named Zap arrived at the Mikula home in Hobart, and Zap was as obsessed with Skylanders as was the family’s 5-year-old son, Riley.
During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Zap the elf — with the help of mom Tianna Mikula — baked mini elf donuts and drew mustaches on pictures. Zap also used bath crayons to draw an entire town inside the bathtub, and filled a hallway with hand-cut paper snowflakes.
On Christmas Eve, a second elf, named Brobee by 2-year-old Wyatt, joined the family and is expected to wreak havoc with Zap this winter.
“This way, each boy can take their elf with them to create memories for their own families one day,” she said.
Margo Machnik remembers her family having an elf that sat on the mantle, and she and her siblings would fight to be the one to put him up each year.
Machnik was excited to invite an elf into her home, and is delighted how her seven-year-old daughter, Summer, looks forward to Elfie’s next adventure.
Elfie has been known to eat leftover pie in the refrigerator and zip-line through the house, she said.
“On the last night Elfie appears, he always ends up in the manger, under the tree waiting for baby Jesus,” Machnik said. “I’m not sure in today’s world how long children keep believing in the magic of Christmas. We will always keep Elfie, but I’m not sure that Summer will believe that he is reporting back to Santa for too many more years.”
Elves also find their way into many elementary classrooms, keeping tabs on students for Santa. Each year, Melissa Dillard invites an elf, Fred, into her first grade classroom at Protsman Elementary in Dyer. Fred helps keep behavior in check in the weeks between Thanksgiving and winter break. His antics are so popular and outlandish, Dillard keeps track of his adventures in her blog.
“I don’t think I can get away with not having an elf visit our classroom ever again,” she said. “The rumor has spread and my current students have made it known that they know we will have an elf in the room if they misbehave.”
For many elf owners, there is always pressure to help their elves find new, creative predicaments.
“I do, like most parents that have invited the elf into their home, feel pressure to come up with things each night. Not so much to outdo myself, but just to keep it mixed-up and fun,” said Hobart resident Kristen Lotkowski. To that end, one night the Lotkowski family elf, Buddy, found himself trapped inside a snow globe. “I see how much they enjoy it, so I put the work into it. Some people do think we elf owners are crazy for putting any time into it at all, but I really don’t mind. Buddy can get away with most things we can only dream of, so that in itself is great.”
For the Miller family in Chesterton, elf Harley provides some pre-Christmas entertainment for boys Logan, 12, and Connor, 10.
Mom Amanda Miller said the elf is an extension of the magic and mystery of the holidays.
“It’s something my boys look forward to. It also brings an element of surprise to the days and weeks leading up to Christmas,” said mom Amanda Miller. “It’s something I can pass on to them and they can pass it to their children.”
Elmo, Barbie, Minnie, Woody… each of these beloved characters are huge hits in the “big box” toy stores every year. Your kids love them, but that could be because they don’t have a choice. The mainstream toys and characters are everywhere they look.
This Christmas, tap into your non-conformist side by giving kids gifts that stand out. When it comes to unique gifts, you’ll find that the possibilities are endless. Below is a gift guide that lists just a few out of hundreds of ideas. The items are reasonably priced and most can be ordered online, so convenience and practicality are still attainable, for gifts that will be more than memorable.
In 2013, the personalization trend skyrocketed. For whatever reason, we love seeing our name on our possessions. Just about anything can be personalized; here are some suggestions for fun personalized items for kids.
Crayon Aprons – Your little artist will appreciate having her tools at her fingertips with a cute and comfy Doodlebugz apron that comes with slots for crayons, a pad of paper, and her name embroidered on the waistline. Available for girls and boys, $20-$35, at princesslinens.com.
Placemats/plates – Sarah + Abraham, based just down the road in Naperville, Illinois, makes dinnertime fun with modern-designed personalized plates and placemats for just $20-$25. Personalized lunch boxes, art prints, paper pads (think teacher gifts!), chore charts and more are also available. sarahandabraham.com.
Books – Kids love books, especially when he or she is the main character! One of many book personalization companies is I See Me, which offers books for boys and girls of all ages, Christmas-related or not. $29.95. iseeme.com.
Your kids can have fun and learn a little something while they’re at it. Here are some ways to boost brainpower and still delight your little ones.
Little Master Books – Introduce your toddler to classic literature with Jennifer Adams’ Little Master board book series, which features baby lit versions of Pride and Prejudice, Romeo and Juliet and Moby Dick, among others. $8.99. amazon.com.
Language DVDs – Buongiorno! Kids from 6 months to 6 years can have fun learning a new language with the EarlyLingo DVD sets, which uses animation and playful learning techniques to teach Italian, Spanish, French, German, Chinese or English. Single DVDs are $19.99; a box set of 6 is $99.99. earlylingo.com.
Photography Tutorial – If your child has a penchant for photography, help them learn their craft with the instructional book Click! Click! Click! Photography for Children. $12.75. amazon.com.
The following toys encourage and enhance creativity, using music and make-believe to help kids cultivate their imaginations and expand their minds.
Musical Instruments – Your toddler could be a Mozart in the making, so start him out young with the kid-sized instruments by Land of Nod, which range from guitar and piano to the less traditional accordion and finger cymbals. $3.95-$199. landofnod.com.
Puppet Show – Also from Land of Nod (which hosts a plethora of toys for imaginative play) comes the Off-Broadway Puppet Theater, a fabric “stage” that hangs in the doorway for kids to put on their own puppet show. $39. landofnod.com.
Support local merchants and your kids’ imagination at the same time this year. Below are just two of many local business owners whose inventory rallies that of the big box shops.
Handmade Clothing and Toys – Crown Point-based after8handmade makes a variety of clothing, toys and accessories in cute, trendy patterns. For the girls on your list try the “kidfinity” scarves, dresses, and chapstick holder keychains. The boys will get a kick out of the superhero capes/masks, monster stuffed animals and canvas wallets. (Order now; availability may be limited closer to Christmas.) Find after8handmade on Facebook or at craft shows at Crete Church (Dec. 7) and Clark Middle School (Dec. 14).
Quirky Toys – Alice’s Garden Toy Boutique in Chesterton carries old-school toys like the Miss Weather Colorform Dress-up Set and Shrinky Dinks, along with new, one-of-a-kind items like wooden kitchen sets, rocking horses and board games you’ve never heard of. Visit Alice’s Garden Toy Boutique at 206 S. Calumet Ave., Suite B, in Chesterton.
CHICAGO | Mickey Mouse and his friends have added their magical touch to the holiday celebration at the Museum of Science and Industry.
As guests approach the 45-foot Grand Tree in the museum’s rotunda, they are greeted by banners of their favorite Disney characters decked out in holiday outfits.
Mickey head shaped ornaments shine among the tree’s 30,000 lights as Mickey, Minnie and Pluto help trim the tree. Gifts addressed to the gang can be found underneath.
The museum’s main floor also features 53, 12-foot trees decorated by volunteers from Chicago’s ethnic communities. A 54th tree celebrates the Chicago Blackhawks’ championship by paying homage to the team with a Stanley Cup tree topper and hockey puck tree base.
The fun and festive theme for the 72nd annual Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light is inspired by the museum’s new temporary exhibit, Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives.
Giovanni Savaglio, of Munster, has a family membership to the museum and recently took his wife, 6-year-old son and mom to the holiday celebration.
“It was magnificent,” he said. “The Disney tree was the grand centerpiece.”
His family also enjoyed the ethnic trees, especially those dedicated to Italy and Britain, which represent where they are from. The British tree features photos of the royal family and the new prince, which was a nice update, Savaglio said.
“They stay contemporary and do a little changing.”
For his 6-year-old, the museum trip was less about the trees and more about adding to his Christmas list with fun items he spotted in the museum shops including an astronaut costume.
For Northwest Indiana families planning to visit, Savaglio suggests planning ahead because the museum is a big place.
“I’d say pace yourself and the way it’s spread out, you want to make sure you don’t miss a tree. It’s not an orderly line, so just give yourself plenty of time and take it all in. You can’t beat it for the family.”
He said sometimes Northwest Indiana families are deterred by the distance to Chicago but that the museum’s south side location is only 30 minutes from Munster.
“You’re able to share a Christmas experience in Chicago,” he said.
Jeff Buonomo, a South Holland native and manager of temporary exhibits and events at the museum, said this year’s décor appeals to the “many, many, many Disney fans.”
Other pop culture characters such as Dr. Seuss and the Peanuts gang inspired the tree’s theme the past few years and brought a lot of visitors. Buonomo expects the Disney tree will do the same.
“Almost everyone has a Disney connection of some sort whether it was going to the theme parks or growing up with the films and shows,” Buonomo said. “Everyone has such an attachment to them. We have the vintage feeling of the characters and that’s more holiday in nature. People love that nostalgia this time of year.”
Buonomo said museum staff members took the lead on creating all the decorations for the Grand Tree and Rotunda, using graphics provided by the Walt Disney Company.
“We designed it all and then used various in house and out of vendors to produce the elements,” he said.
Festivities also include weekend cultural entertainment from Chicago area groups and schools from Chicago and Northwest Indiana performing on the holiday stage during the weekdays. Something new this year is an enhanced “Trees and traditions” broadcast, which can be pulled up on a smart phone to provide reading or listening of the text for each country.
“That’s a nice supplement to your tour of the 54 trees,” Buonomo said.
Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives celebrates Walt Disney’s legacy with more than 300 artifacts from Disney’s 90-year history.
“The exhibit focuses on Walt himself,” Buonomo said. “There’s a lot of his Midwestern roots that you can see throughout his career.”
Guests who want to find a “hidden Mickey” permanently on display at the museum, should visit the fairy tale castle, which includes a small portrait of Mickey and Minnie dressed as king and queen of hearts.
“We always thought Walt painted it himself,” Buonomo said, but when Disney archivists came in for the temporary exhibit, they learned the portraits were done by artists under Disney’s direction. The fairy castle exhibit is currently undergoing a “once in a blue moon” renovation, Buonomo said, making its tiny artifacts easier to see for guests.
Susan Culler, of Hammond, said she is a big Disney fan and especially loves Minnie Mouse. She and her husband recently took a trip to the museum.
“I highly recommend going to see the trees, and if you are a Disney fan you will love it.” She used 3-D glasses to look at the Grand Tree and said it was cool to see nothing but Mickey Mouse faces.
She also enjoyed seeing the ethnic trees and said a favorite was the Blackhawks tree.
“It was a fun filled day for my husband and me,” she said.
Legoland Discovery Center Chicago will become a winter wonderland for the month of December, as the center celebrates a Holly Jolly Holiday, said Kristina Pucci, sales manager at Legoland Discovery Center Chicago.
The Holly Jolly Holiday event runs through Dec. 24. The center will also offer a New Year’s Eve celebration Dec. 31 and events on Jan. 1.
The center will be filled with Christmas trees and other holiday-themed models, including nearly two dozen holiday trees, numerous lights and wreaths, strings of Lego garland and hundreds of ornaments.
The center’s mini-land will also be decorated for the holidays, featuring snow, snowmen, penguins and holiday mini-figures.
“About 500 little Santas invade mini-land,” Pucci said.
Pucci said it generally takes about two days to transform the center for the holidays.
“It takes a lot of help, and a few all-nighters, but we try to get everything done in two days,” she said.
In addition to the holiday décor, there are several holiday-themed events visitors can participate in.
There will be a holiday ornament station, where visitors can build and purchase ornaments to take home with them.
There also will be a scavenger hunt throughout the center, where visitors can get a scavenger hunt card and search the facility for Lego penguins. Those who successfully complete the scavenger hunt can enter to win four annual passes to the center, Pucci said.
Visitors also can see a factory tour on how Legos are made and receive a commemorative brick, she said.
There also is a Lego Santa that stands more than five feet tall, and a large-scale snowman.
Both places are designed to be a great family photo-op, she said.
“Kids and adults can sit on Santa’s bag of toys and get their picture taken,” she said.
The goal of the event is to get parents to engage in play with their children.
“Things like the scavenger hunt are designed for team work, so everyone plays together as a family and gets involved in it,” she said.
The center will also host an event Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 to help families ring in 2014, Pucci said.
The event will also feature a scavenger hunt, as well as a place where visitors can use four-inch by four-inch boards to create mosaics of their hopes for the new year. The pieces will be placed together and hung on display as a large-scale mosaic.
“It will be a fun party, with sparkling grape juice and a lot of music,” she said. “It’s a great option for families because so many things are closed on New Year’s Day.”
Ask any child about Thanksgiving and you’re likely to hear about pilgrims and Indians and turkeys. Wouldn’t it be nice if the first thoughts that came to mind were about being thankful? After all, that’s why those pilgrims and Native Americans got together and shared some turkey for dinner back in 1621 – because they were thankful for a good harvest. Those early settlers found value in taking time to be thankful for the good things in their lives. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s still worth taking time to teach our children to be truly thankful for the good things in their lives.
Creative ways to teach thankfulness
Just how do you go about teaching children of different ages to be thankful? You can make it a topic of conversation around the dinner table – perhaps going around the table and having everyone share one thing from the day for which they are thankful. You can talk to your children when you receive a gift or an unexpected surprise. You can walk the talk and thank them when they help or do something special. But let’s go beyond the idea of just talking about being thankful and get into action.
Here are some great ideas from local elementary teachers that can be used in or out of the classroom to help children of all ages understand the concept of being thankful and its importance:
- A Scroll of Thanks: a list a child keeps at their desk or perhaps their bedside table where they can write down things for which they are thankful whenever they think of them.
- Good Deed Slips: small coupons with good deeds that the child can do for their family and friends - encourages children to appreciate the things that are done for them.
- Gratitude Journal: start a daily routine of writing three things – big or small – for which your child is thankful. You could even make this a family journal.
- Poetry: using the word “thanks” have your child think of something for which they are thankful that starts with each letter.
- Books: there are lots of great stories out there for all ages that help teach the importance of being thankful. Here’s a short list:
o The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
o I’m Thankful Each Day by P. K. Hallinan
o Biscuit is Thankful by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
o An Awesome Book of Thanks! by Dallas Clayton
Ideas specifically related to Thanksgiving, a great opportunity to get your kids focused on being thankful:
- Thankful Turkey or Tree: make a turkey head/body and ask the kids to write something for which they are thankful on the feathers. Alternately – draw a tree trunk with branches and have children write things for which they are thankful on the leaves. Display the finished creation in a public place so the class or entire family can see everyone’s gratitude.
- Hostess Gift: make a centerpiece, a picture frame or other small gift and give it to the host/hostess of your Thanksgiving dinner. Helps your child recognize the hardworking hostess who prepares the Thanksgiving feast your family is fortunate enough to enjoy!
Don’t stop thanking after the holiday
Kelly Anthony, first grade teacher at Lake Street Elementary in Crown Point noted, “Activities like these help children recognize that others around them work hard to make sure they have warm beds, food to eat & all of the other things that keep them going all year round!”
Being thankful isn’t just limited to holidays or gift-giving occasions. Children need to learn to be thankful for all the blessings of life - including those that they may take for granted. Thanksgiving happens once a year but good things are part of our lives all year round.
Let’s use this Thanksgiving to jump start being consciously thankful in every season – a lesson that’s good for children and grown-ups alike.
Even in late fall, with just wisps of leaves remaining on bare branches and winds sometimes chill and sharp, there’s still plenty to do in Northwest Indiana for families on the go. Depending on the activities, it’s all in the way you dress.
Layer up and head to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The only summer camp built by U.S. Steel Company for its employees' children and once known as the U.S. Steel's Gary Works Good Fellow Club, the area encompasses nine historic buildings on 63 acres of woods the banks of the Little Calumet River. Operated by the National Park since 1976, it is the site of the Indiana Dunes Environmental Learning Center. Parents and children can join a ranger in the Visitor Center's activity room for Kids Rule! stories and activities every Sunday from 1-3 p.m. FYI: (219) 926-7561; nps.gov/indu
Warm clothes are necessary if you’re going to hit the trail at Stateline Stables, four miles southeast of New Buffalo in LaPorte, Ind. These guided trail rides are offered year round, seven days a week by appointment. Package rates are available and for children ages 2-10 under 75 pounds, there’s a miniature trail pony rides. No experience is necessary and the horses are well trained. The 45-minute ride traverses meandering paths through the woods, down into a ravine and includes crossing several bridges. Lessons are available for those who want to practice their horsemanship skills before venturing out. FYI: (219) 778-9020; statelinestables.com
Put on an apron and bake some cookies at Bellaboo’s Play and Discovery Center where the Bellaboo Bakers aka kids, provided with cookie cut-outs and rolling pins, can learn to bake My Size Pumpkin Pies with Ms. Pumpkin. The class is offered November 4 -29 on weekdays at 3:45pm. Limited availability so show up early. FYI: 219-963-2070; MyBellaboos.com.
Lace up your ice skates and expend some calories when the season starts the day after Thanksgiving at Deep River Waterpark’s 14,500 square foot Deep River Ice Plaza with its food stands, heated bathrooms and U.S. 30 Surf Shop where ice skate rentals are available. Girls should bring their dolls for Snowflake Skate. Learn a routine from the Snowflake Skater, make a craft, munch on pizza, pop and cookies, pose for a group photos (dolls included) and be the star at the party’s finale performance. Saturday, Dec. 14 from 9:30-11:30 a.m. FYI: deepriverwaterpark.com
Decorating their holiday tree naturally is a long time tradition at Gibson Woods Nature Preserve so stop by their Environmental Awareness Center on Saturday, Dec. 7 from 1-3 p.m. Learn how to make ornaments using acorns, pinecones, seedpods, dried materials and other finds of nature while holiday music plays. Create one for the Gibson Woods holiday tree and one to take home too. Register for this free program at (219) 844-3188.
See Santa arrive at noon in a vintage Ford Model T Car and then get ready to board the Candy Cane Express at Hesston Steam Museum on the first two weekends in December. The winter train ride in a first-class enclosed coach includes hot cocoa and a visit with Santa in his red caboose. Bring a new, unwrapped toy for the U.S. Marine Corps. Toys for Tots toy drive and receive one free train ride. Train rides from noon-5, no reservations needed. The museum opens at 11:30 a.m. FYI: (219) 872-5055; hesston.org/
Thanksgiving is traditionally the time of year to gather family around the dinner table and give thanks.
However, the weeks leading up to the holiday is a great time to gather children and plan the perfect fall decorations to adorn the table and welcome guests.
Here are some Thanksgiving crafts your family can construct together that will be the highlight of the day - next to the turkey, of course.
Pine cone turkey centerpiece
Circle edge punch, such as one by Martha Stewart
Large pine cone
Card stock in at least 3 colors
1 piece of card stock with a patterned design for the base
White paper for eyes
Piece of red ribbon
Cut 3 circles out of card stock and punch the edges with your circle edge punch or other design.
Cut a rectangle shape out of card stock for the base. Choose a piece that has a pretty pattern or fall color.
Cut 2 wedges out of the white paper for the eyes, and draw black circles with markers.
Cut a small beak out of one of the card stock pieces.
Trim a small piece of red ribbon for the wattle.
Cut 2 wedges for the feet out of one of the card stock pieces.
Assemble all the pieces by gluing them to the pine cone with a glue gun.
Gourd turkey centerpiece
Cut off the smaller end of the gourd to use as the turkey's head. Using a skewer or toothpick, attach it to one end of the squash, which serves as the body.
Attach to the turkey's head the cloves as eyes and an end of a carrot as the nose. Toothpicks can be used to attach these as well, inserting one end into the gourd and one end into the carrot and cloves.
Place fruit candies on the skewers, alternating colors, for the feathers. Stick the ends of the skewers into the opposite side of the gourd.
Pilgrim hat place cards
Black plastic cup
Yellow and black construction paper
Gold or other metallic pen
Glue stick or glue gun
Cut a strip of black construction paper about 1-inch thick that is long enough to be wrapped around the widest part of the plastic cup.
Out of the yellow construction paper, cut a square that will serve as the belt buckle about 2 inches high and wide. Draw a black box in the middle of the yellow square or cut out another square within the yellow square.
Turn the black plastic cup upside down and, using a glue gun or glue stick, wrap the black strip of construction paper around the rim and secure it. Add the yellow belt buckle.
Cut a circle shape out of another piece of black construction paper, about 1 to 2 inches wider than the cup. This will serve as the pilgrim hat's brim. Using glue, secure it to the bottom of the cup.
Using the metallic pen, write the name of one of the guests.
Thanksgiving napkin rings
White cardstock (cut in 2-by-5-inch strips)
Fall colored tissue paper (cut in 2-by-2-inch squares)
Hot glue gun with glue sticks
Begin by covering one of the 2-by-5-inch strips of cardstock with school glue. Crumple up a square of tissue paper and glue onto the strip. Continue until you fill the whole strip, just leaving a small blank space at the end for gluing later. Alternate colors for different looks.
When the glue has dried, curve each strip into a circle and hot glue the ends together.
Place the napkin through the ring.
Thanksgiving Turkey Tablecloth
Twin size white sheet
Yellow, brown, green, orange, blue and red paint
Start by laying the white twin sheet out on the floor.
Lay wax paper on the cookie sheet and pour yellow paint on top. Roll the corn in the paint and then roll the corn down the sides and center of the sheet.
When the yellow paint is dry, lay the sheet flat on a table.
Prepare the brown, green, orange, blue and red paint on a paper plate.
Paint the palm and thumb of a child's hand brown, and one finger green, one orange, one blue and one red for the feather colors.
Make handprints down the yellow painted center of the sheet.
After the turkeys are stamped on the center of the tablecloth, add little brown legs and a red wattle to each one using leftover paint and a paint brush.
Ghosts, goblins and mummies - they all have one thing in common. They make great ideas for crafts.
Halloween is a great time of year to channel the spirit of creativity. Here are some easy Halloween crafts families will enjoy constructing together.
Paper bag puppets
Every day household items like paper plates, empty toilet paper rolls and paper lunch bags can be decorated to create Halloween masterpieces, said Cheryl Blackburn, with the Portage Public Library youth services department.
Each can be decorated using googly eyes, pipe cleaners, construction paper and foam crafts, she said.
"You really can design with whatever you want," she said, adding that supplies like tissue paper and glitter glue can add extra texture to the pieces.
First decide on which type of hand puppet you wish you make. Let your kids' imagination take charge, but suggestions can include a witch, mummy, cat, Dracula, pumpkin or Frankenstein.
Turn the paper bag over so the flap is facing up.
Cut construction paper to fit the size of the bag, and glue different layers on top using construction paper to create the face, clothes and hats. If creating a mummy, glue gauze or white streamers to the bag.
Cotton swabs only aren't for cleaning ears.
Melissa Boothe, a children's librarian at the St. John branch of the Lake County Public Library, said they can be used to create awesome skeletons as well.
The only supplies needed are cotton swabs, a sheet of black construction or scrapbook paper, glue, scissors, a small piece of white construction paper and a black marker.
Before beginning, lay the cotton swabs on the paper to get an idea of the design, and then cut the swabs accordingly. Cutting the swabs is a good job for the parent, because some sticks can be difficult to cut.
Using glue, secure them to the black paper, and then cut out a skull head to fit on top.
Have your child draw a face on the skull to finish the project.
Halloween rock magnets
Have some small rocks in your yard? Turn them into Halloween magnets.
Rocks that are smooth and thin work best, since the magnet must be able to hold the weight of the rock on the fridge.
In addition to gathering a handful of clean rocks, you'll need paint, magnets, strong adhesive and either paint markers or Sharpie pens.
The easiest magnets to make are pumpkins, cats and ghosts - though anything can be created.
First, paint the rock its base color - black for cats, orange for pumpkins and white for ghosts. Once dry, using either paint, paint markers or Sharpie pens, color in the eyes, nose or mouth.
Using a strong adhesive, attach the magnet to the back of the rock.
These spiders are bound to get little ones in the mood for Halloween.
To create, you'll need a Styrofoam ball (2 to 4 inches work best), black acrylic paint, a foam paint brush, either 12-gauge colored aluminum wire or colored pipe cleaners, wire cutters, gum drops and googly eyes.
Using the foam paint brush, apply the black acrylic paint to the Styrofoam ball. While drying, cut eight legs out of either the wire or pipe cleaners - 6 to 12 inches in length depending on the size of the ball.
Round the upper portion of each leg and stick a gum drop at the lower portion to make the feet.
Once the Styrofoam ball is dry, insert the upper portion into the ball - four legs spaced out on each side. You may need to adjust the legs to make the spider properly stand.
Glue googly eyes on the ball, or use other materials, like candy necklace pieces or gummy Life Savers to create the eyes.
The costumes, the pumpkins, the candy… so much about Halloween is fun and exciting for kids. The down side to the holiday, however, is the potential for harm or injury. When hundreds of kids in costume roam the neighborhoods asking strangers for candy, vigilance is of utmost importance.
Whether your child is trick-or-treating for the first time or the fifteenth time, it’s important to talk as a family about safety guidelines. According to Troy Williams, chief of police for the Portage Police Department, trick-or-treaters are advised to:
-Abide by neighborhoods’ scheduled trick-or-treating times.
-Stick to neighborhoods you know well.
-Have a reflective device with you (either carry a flashlight or wear reflective tape somewhere on your costume).
-Look both ways when crossing the street.
-Have parents check your candy before you eat it.
Williams also points out the importance of parents or older siblings accompanying children. If parents are wondering at what age their child can go trick-or-treating by him or herself, Williams said to base your decision on what you know about your kids. “Know their maturity level, their level of responsibility,” he said. “Ask yourself if they would know what to do if someone approaches them.” (By the way, kids, if a stranger does approach you and you feel threatened, it’s okay to make some noise. “Kick, scream, yell for help,” Williams said.)
Williams also advised motorists to be extra cautious on trick-or-treating nights. “Drive slower than the speed limit because you never know when a kid is going to dart out in front of you.”
To lessen the risk of danger, many families are opting to participate in “Trunk-or-Treat” events rather than traditional trick-or-treating. Trunk-or-Treat typically is hosted by local churches or community organizations. At Trunk-or-Treat, those passing out candy do so in a parking lot. The trunk of each vehicle is decorated and contains candy for costumed little ones.
Faith Church’s Hammond location has been hosting Trunk-or-Treat at Kenwood Elementary School for three years, in conjunction with the school’s annual Harvest Festival. “We find it's a wonderful opportunity to offer a safe, family event for kids to go trick-or-treating from trunk to trunk versus door to door,” said Breanne Mitchell, organizer of Faith Hammond’s Trunk-or-Treat, which is open to students of Kenwood and attendees of Faith. “This allows the kids to still get dressed up and enjoy Halloween without the dangers of crossing the street, and enjoy the fun decorations of the trunks as well.”
Indeed, viewing the trunks is always a highlight at any Trunk-or-Treat. Decorations range from basic Halloween trimmings to “something as extravagant as decorating their car like a children's story book such as Charlotte's Web and dressing up as Fern or other characters,” said Mitchell. “Since it is a family event, we do ask that all decorations not be scary, but rather kid-friendly.”
Amy Citlau, mother of four boys in Crown Point, has attended Faith’s Trunk or Treat for the past few years. “We like going because it's a great way to be involved with the community and it's a lot of fun to see how people decorate their trunks,” Citlau said. “That and the candy is the kids' favorite part!”
Halloween doesn’t have to be scary for parents. Whether you choose to celebrate in your neighborhood or at a Trunk or Treat, be sure to take all of the necessary precautions so your kids can enjoy the holiday the way it’s meant to be enjoyed.
For Andrew Johnson, a master model builder for Legoland Discovery Center in Chicago, the goal for any event is to transform Legoland and make the center as immersive as possible.
“We want to ooze Lego,” Johnson said. Johnson, who is in charge of ordering bricks, maintaining the brick models and brainstorming for events, has been working on Halloween preparations for weeks.
The center’s annual Brick-Or-Treat event begins October 5 and runs through Halloween.
Some Lego models highlighted during the event include a four-foot-wide pumpkin, as well as large-scale werewolves, ghosts, skeletons and mummies. Johnson is also making as many 8-inch by 8-inch spiders as possible out of the iconic bricks.
The center’s miniature land, which is a scaled-down version of Chicago, will feature spiders, monster fighters and zombies.
“My favorite is the little glow-in-the-dark ghosts,” he said.
Visitors will be able to participate in a spider scavenger hunt, for which Johnson has been building as many spiders as possible.
“The goal is always to build as much Lego content into the event as possible,” he said. “I love it when the kids can touch the models and participate in fun activities.”
There also will be a “Brick or Treat,” where kids can visit four stations and receive four Lego pieces, which fit together to create a black cat after the pieces are collected.
“They get to take it home with them, and they really love that,” he said. “It’s fun, because a lot of kids come dressed up and there’s always something to look at and talk about.”
For Johnson, the best part of preparing for Halloween is decorating the miniature land for the holiday.
“I love the small scenes, and adding things in. It’s really fun and organic, and it turns out really well,” he said. “I love interacting with the Legos and making it come alive.”