By LYN VANDEBRAKE
HAMILTON COUNTY - Question: what does one get when adding an infant, two toddlers, two preschoolers, a kindergartner, and six elementary school-age children together on a winter day with temperatures outside in the single digits?
MADDIE MEDINA, 5, and Emma Ammerman, 6, spoon their bird seed mixture into a large Bundt pan.
Answer: buckets of fun and memories for a lifetime if one happens to be part of Lynn Hougland's in-home childcare, bursting with educational activities.
Hougland, of Hamilton County, has operated a childcare business for 16 years. Previously a teacher for Early Childhood Special Education in Webster City, Hougland opened her in-home childcare when her son, Matthew, was 9 months old.
"Within a week, I had four phone calls from moms knowing I was now staying at home, asking if I could watch their children," said Hougland. "By the end of the year, I had established such a relationship with the children and families, I made the decision to continue, and not return to teaching in a public school setting."
Hougland uses the Mother Goose curriculum, which includes music, crafts and learning games.
"Every morning we start with doing our calendar," Hougland said.
On this day, three-year old Connor Luhman places the labels for January, Tuesday, cloudy and windy weather, on the large colorful display. He is the son of Travis and Amanda Luhman, of Kamrar.
A hot breakfast has been served and Mother Goose music is playing in the background as Kyler Sloan, 4, son of Jeremy and Kara Sloan, of Randall; and Keira Wright, 4, daughter of Michael and Kyla Wright, of Story City, are already in the learning circle.
After that, a "dance with the jungle animals" game begins. The group listens as "slide like a snake and climb like a monkey" is being sung.
All ages participate in the dance.
"Our Mother Goose curriculum has ideas for large and fine motor skills, science, math, art, and reading," Hougland said. "The nice thing is we do what fits into our day. There are some days when we do more cuddling and reading books."
Hougland serves all meals. Weather permitting, play time takes place outside.
Otherwise, the spacious basement is home to a variety of childcare tools, including tricycles, building blocks, tents, a playhouse, fort, craft table, rocking chair and stuffed animals.
As an experienced teacher, Hougland makes clean-up easier by placing two large beach towels under her craft table in the center of her large kitchen and a fitted sheet over the table. When crafts are finished, everything can be folded up, taken outside to shake out, then straight to the washing machine.
Little hands are carefully washed in the adjacent utility room sink.
On this day, the group made healthy homemade cut-out cookies for dogs and bird seed wreaths to hang outside for the wild birds.
The children, including Mikayla Carpenter, 8, have fun in Hougland's class.
"I'm having the most fun making the dog cookies," Carpenter said.
She and her sister, Lexi, 6, are the daughters of Kevin and Michelle Cooper, of Story City. They also have a black Labrador named Cooper.
"We love coming to Mrs. Hougland's because it is always just so fun," said Mikayla Carpenter.
She and sister are in Hougland's program periodically, and on this day, they are present because school is not in session.
Older children have special activities planned for their age group, different from toddlers and preschoolers.
Lynn Hougland is married to Steve Hougland, a full-time crop and swine farmer. The couple have two sons; Tyler, 21, and Matthew, 17. Tyler is a senior at Iowa State University majoring in ag.
Hougland's home childcare is registered through the state.
"We play and then play some more," she said. "It is so important for kids to learn to play and interact with their environment and each other. They need time to explore their world in a safe place."
Bird seed wreath
An excellent craft for small children as it does not involve a mixer or oven. Necessary kitchen items for this craft are mixing bowls, measuring cups, measuring spoons, spatula, Bundt pan.
For one Bundt pan-sized bird seed wreath, or a dozen miniature wreaths:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup warm water
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 package unflavored gelatin
4 cups bird food
Optional decorations: thistle seeds, peanuts, berries, dried fruits
Bundt pan or other mold
Nonstick cooking spray
If you don't have a mold, shape the mixture by hand onto a piece of waxed paper or a cookie sheet.
Mix edible glue. Stir the gelatin into the warm water until dissolved. Whisk in the corn syrup and flour.
Stir well until there are no more lumps. It will make a thick gooey paste.
Stir in wild bird seed. Mix the seeds with the paste in a large bowl, using a spatula to stir and fold until all of the seeds are coated and the edible glue is distributed.
The mixture will start getting very sticky. Make sure it's well-mixed to keep the wreath from falling apart.
Children will want to put their hands into the mixture to help with the mixing. This is fine and will not hinder the end result.
However, the more personal handling the mixture gets, the less it will stick together. Increase the edible glue slightly to ensure the wreath does not fall apart later.
Spray the Bundt pan (or other molds) with nonstick cooking spray. Using the spatula (or fingers) press the seed mixture into the Bundt pan.
Be sure to press the mixture down firmly until it's well packed and even.
Decorating optional. Use raisins, berries or other dried fruit and seeds.
Set the pan(s) aside overnight.
The mixture will harden and the surface will be firm and dry when it's ready.
Test by pressing gently on the surface, and allow more setting time if it's at all soft.
Once the wreath is hard, gently remove it from the mold by first placing a plate on top, then turning the whole wreath upside down onto a cookie sheet. Tie ribbons through the Bundt mold hole and hang in outdoor trees for the birds to enjoy
(Note: Hougland said her miniature Bundt pan set was purchased from Hobby Lobby in Ames. This enables each child to make their own individual bird seed wreath, and decorate with their own imagination.)
seed edible bell
Use a flower pot as the mold for the bird seed mixture, following the above recipe.
Tie a knot in a piece of ribbon, threading through the drainage hole of the pot.
Add seed mixture to the pot making sure the ribbon is going through the center of the mixture.
Tie another knot on the top of the flower pot (which later will be the bottom of the bell once the flower pot is turned upside down.)
Follow above instruction from bird seed wreath.
pumpkin dog cookies
2/3 cup pumpkin puree baby food
1/4 cup peanut butter
2 large eggs
3 cups whole wheat flour, or more, as needed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat pumpkin puree, peanut butter and eggs on medium-high until well combined, about 1 to 2 minutes.
With small children, allow them to stir the mixture by hand with a spatula or spoon. Many small hands stirring will achieve the same effect.
Gradually add 2 1/2 cups flour at low speed, beating just until incorporated. Again, this step can be achieved with small children adding ingredients and stirring by hand.
Add an additional 1/4 cup flour at a time just until the dough is no longer sticky.
Working on a lightly floured surface, knead the dough 3 to 4 times until it comes together.
Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to 1/4-inch thickness.
Using cookie cutters (see note below), cut out desired shapes and place onto the prepared baking sheet.
Place into oven and bake until the edges are golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Let cool completely before feeding treat to pets.
(Note: Dog bone, dog and cat paw, and various other specialty cookie cutters may be found at Hobby Lobby in the baking aisle.)
Kitty cat tasty
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon softened margarine
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine chicken, broth and margarine.
Add cornmeal and flour.
Knead the dough into a ball and roll out to 1/4 inch.
Cut into one-inch pieces.
Bake for 20 minutes on an ungreased cookie sheet.
Cool completely before giving to pet.
Makes between 12 and 18 cat treats.
Any remaining dough not baked may be refrigerated for up to three days, or frozen for up to three months.
Treats are good for five days.