Three playtime books for a not-bummer summer

Posted Friday, Jun. 20, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

Chat with the author

We chatted by email recently with Holly Homer, co-author of 101 Kids Activities, about her book, her blog and keeping kids busy.

How did your blog, Kids Activities Blog, end up becoming a book?

Having a book published was never something I expected! Rachel and I have been blogging for years and love the community that has grown around Kids Activities Blog. When I received an email last spring from Page Street, I just assumed it was another spam email until I Googled it. I found a lovely article about Page Street in the Wall Street Journal and returned the email as quickly as possible! We feel so blessed that Page Street found us through our blog.

What are some of your favorite things to do with your own kids in the summer?

We both adore open-ended activities and letting kids create their own idea of fun. So what might start out as a simple outdoor sidewalk paint project might end up with the kids designing their own miniature golf course, or a few sheets in the living room are transformed into a tent city when it is too hot to go outside. One of the things the book has taught us is that our own kids like to flip through it for play inspiration.

What tips do you have for summer fun on a budget?

There is no reason to spend money on kid entertainment! Open your kitchen junk drawer or repurpose things you already have around the house. I have a closet full of scrap book supplies that now are devoted to kids’ crafts. Upcycling egg cartons, toilet paper tubes and paper plates into artistic endeavors can keep kids playing for hours.

How do you plan activities that appeal to kids in a wide age range?

One of the things we noticed was that most activity and craft books were for a certain age level, but that is not how families play. Between the two of us, we have ages 2-13, which is why each of our activities has modifications for younger and older kids. We think it is important for families to have fun together! Sometimes the older kids may be helping the younger ones, but sometimes a game can be altered a bit so that it is a level playing field.

How do you balance fun playtime with necessities like chores and work?

I have noticed in my own home that if we devote some time to play, it makes it easier to get the kids on board for chores. Finding ways to make work playful can also get toys picked up and rooms cleaned faster and with less resistance.

What’s your number one suggestion for making this the “bestest, funnest” summer ever?

I think that parents often get stuck thinking play is only for kids, but when they jump into the action it pays off in family bonding and stress relief! Trying to sneak a little extra play in each day this summer will definitely make it the “bestest, funnest” ever!

— Keri Houchin

Bird zip line








String (length depends on where you want the zip line)

1. To make the bird, fold a piece of paper in half lengthwise and trace out the profile of a flying bird on one half with the fold at the top. Cut along the pencil lines. Decorate the bird. Open the bird and tape a straw along the inside fold.

2. To make the zip line, stretch between two secure anchor spots where string can be attached. It should be at a height that kids can easily reach. Thread a bird onto each string before tying the second attachment.

3. Kids can “throw” the birds down the string to make them fly. Multiple zip lines can be set up next to each other for bird races.

Modifications for younger kids:

Placing the string at kid-sized level will have younger participants running up and down the string holding the bird.

Modifications for older kids:

Have older kids design a bird that is bottom-heavy and then split the underside of the straw so that the bird can be unattached from the string without untying. Then challenge older kids to create a zip line course for their bird to fly.

— from ‘101 Kids Activities That Are the Bestest, Funnest Ever!’


Oh, goop, what messy and mesmerizing fun you are. Goop has the strangest consistency — it’s liquid one moment and solid the next. Children love it, and adults who have never experienced it will marvel at its texture. You’ve been warned!


12 to 16 ounces cornstarch

Sensory tub

1 to 11/2 cups water (start with 1 cup and add as you go if needed)

Toys for playing, scooping, and filling, such as spoons and little bowls

Food coloring (optional)

Big storage container or water table

Note: To make good goop, you need a ratio of 2 parts cornstarch to 1 part water. Rather than present my girls with goop that’s ready to go, I like to involve them in the process of making it. It’s not only fun, but it helps them learn about the separate properties of cornstarch and water and what happens when they’re combined.

1. Start by pouring the cornstarch into the middle of the tub. Feel it, squeeze it, sift it through your fingers, and talk about the texture. Next, pour in half the water and mix it with a spoon or your hand. How does it feel? Add the rest of the water and continue mixing. Again, talk about the texture.

2. Once this exploration has run its course, introduce a couple spoons or mixing tools to scoop, stir, and mix the goop. If you’re feeling brave, invite your child to walk barefoot through the goop. As a last step, invite your child to squeeze in a couple drops of food coloring. Stir it in, spin it around in swirls, and enjoy your colorful goop.

— from ‘Tinkerlab’

Rainbow water stacks

In a dense liquid, all the particles that make up the liquid are packed together tightly, forming a liquid that is more solid and capable of supporting liquids that are less dense, or that have particles that are more loosely packed together.

The sugar water stacks should float on top of each other, because the densest water, the one with the most sugar, sinks to the bottom while the least dense water, the one without any sugar, floats on top of the other layers. If your rainbow stacks don’t look quite like a rainbow but rather resemble an oozing brown sludge (don’t worry; it happens), try tinkering with how much sugar you add to each glass. And also make sure you pour the liquids in super, super slowly. Give each layer a few minutes to settle before adding the next color.


A clear bottle. Or vase. Or clear tube of some sort. You get the idea: something big enough to hold a lot of liquid.

Measuring spoons and glass


Four glasses

Food dye

Sugar (Lots!)

1. Your lab partner can pretty much do all this. It’s just a lot of measuring and pouring. Take your four glasses and have your lab partner fill each of them with 1/2 cup water.

2. Now, add green dye to one glass of water and add 6 tablespoons of sugar, stirring until it is dissolved, and then set aside. Take your second glass and dye water blue, adding 4 tablespoons of sugar and stirring. Take your third glass and dye water red, adding 2 tablespoons of sugar. Take your last glass, dye water yellow, and don’t add any sugar.

3. Now pour the green water (the water with the most amount of sugar) into your bottle first. Then, take your blue water — the one with 4 tablespoons of sugar — and very, very slowly pour the water into your bottle, being sure the blue water touches the side of your bottle. If you’d like, you can pour over a spoon as well to help spread out the liquid. Repeat the same process, first with your red water and then with the yellow water.

4. At this point, you should have a miniature, muddled-looking rainbow of color in your bottle, as the water floats on top of the color below it. If, however, you’re having trouble with this, try tinkering with the amount of sugar you use. More sugar will create denser liquid, so try messing with the amounts to make a rainbow stack to your liking.

— from ‘Dad’s Book of Awesome Science Experiments’

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

Summer has just gotten started, but if your kids are anything like mine, the b-word has already been uttered at least once. Keep the kids from getting bored with one of the dozens of activities in these three fun new books (one of which was written by local mom-bloggers) that are packed with good ideas.

101 Kids Activities That Are the Bestest, Funnest Ever! (Page Street Publishing, $19.99) was penned by two bloggers from Fort Worth, Holly Homer and Rachel Miller. Both are moms with three and six kids, respectively, and they used their collective experiences to fill the book with activities for all ages. The book includes everything from simple arts-and-crafts projects to games, experiments and boredom busters.

Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors(Roost Books, $21.95) is by Rachelle Doorley, an art educator, blogger and mom to preschoolers. Her blog and the book are packed with creative ideas for the under-6 crowd, though many will appeal to older kids. The concept of tinkering is at the heart of each project: doing something hands-on to explore the world with the senses. Sections include setting up your workspace, art experiences, building activities and messy recipes.

Dad’s Book of Awesome Science Experiments (Adams Media, $18.99) was written by a writer and stay-at-home dad whose daughter was always asking the perennial kid question: Why? The book is filled with hands-on science activities that kids can do alone or with adult supervision (depending on age). Topics include chemistry, biology, physics and earth science, and include age-appropriate explanations.

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