Associated Press
A "Building of Freedom" by seventh-grade student David Troyer.

Oh-h-h say, can you see ... that your middle-school-age kids actually can be pulled away from their video games and cell phones? As you prepare for a Fourth of July celebration with family and friends, give the kids some hands-on, creative fun outdoors. Challenge them to think "patriotic" and put them in charge of sculpting and painting table decorations with a stars-and-stripes motif.

All you need is lots of white packing foam from a new computer, DVD player, toaster, TV, etc., wooden kebab skewers, toothpicks, household glue, non-toxic red and blue tempera or acrylic paint, paintbrushes, markers and serrated bread knives.

Bring all your supplies and kids outside. They can let off some steam when they karate chop the largest foam into the building blocks of your sculptures.

Use plastic serrated bread knives to cut and shape the pieces, then attach them together with skewers and toothpicks to construct the sculpture. Add color and details with paint and markers. While working, the kids might want to talk about what they love most about America, how our country could improve and how they could participate in making it better.

Here are some ideas:

Symbols

For a tall, eye-catching table centerpiece, construct a "Building of Freedom." Stack and attach foam pieces with the largest at the base and the smallest at the top. Draw windows, doors and other details you like. Top with a paper American flag to blow in the breeze. Or, sculpt other symbols of freedom such as the Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty.

Carve a large piece into the shape of your state, and mark the capital with a star. And, there is always Uncle Sam!

Boats

Set long, rimmed pans or plastic and tin flower boxes filled with water down the middle of the table for a flotilla of boats. Carve the foam into floating boat shapes. Cut out red, white and blue paper sails and attach them to the foam with toothpicks or twigs. Set them in the water to float.

For a mouthwatering gourmet fleet, put fresh strawberries and blueberries on skewers and attach to the boats.

You might float flower blossoms in the water, too.

Tip: After the meal, let younger kids float their boats in a wading pool or ice tub filled with water.

Safety note: Due to small parts and pieces, this activity is appropriate for children 4 and older.


Donna Erickson's new award-winning television series "Donna's Day" is airing on public television nationwide. Visit www.donnasday.com to find out when it airs on your local PBS station and to sign up for Donna's e-newsletter. Her latest book is "Donna Erickson's Fabulous Funstuff for Families."


© Donna Erickson