Autumn brings the fun of school days spent learning and playing with friends followed by crisp, cozy evenings at home. Here are some ideas...

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Autumn brings the fun of school days spent learning and playing with friends followed by crisp, cozy evenings at home. Here are some ideas and tips to brighten those busy days and provide a break during the precious hours that families spend together.

Playful place mat

Kids won’t play with their food when their placemats are a tempting alternative. Craft stores sell chalk for kids and chalk-friendly fabric in green or black; cut out a placemat with pinking or decorative-edge shears. Use a paint pen to personalize each mat. A damp sponge will wipe off chalk and food.

Fabric-scrap favor sacks

Guests will say “goody” when they get these cheerful bags. Made of fabric scraps, they sew up in a snap.

Cut an 11-inch-by-7 ½-inch piece of fabric with pinking shears. Fold in half, right sides facing inward; machine-sew two sides with a 1/2-inch seam allowance; turn inside out.

Fill bag with treats, and tie with a strip of contrasting fabric.

Tablecloth guest book

Encourage table talk: Ask guests to record their good wishes in words and pictures for the birthday boy or girl on a tablecloth you can bring out year after year.

Choose a cotton or canvas fabric in a light color for a tablecloth at a birthday party, and set out fabric markers in the middle of the table or at each plate. Let the fun begin.

At subsequent parties, kids will have fun reading old notes as they write new ones.

Fun fingernails

Painted fingernails can display a little girl’s passion, whether for tennis balls, polka dots or summer fruits.

Use nail polish and a No. 1 (very thin) paintbrush from an art-supply store, and let her interest of the week inspire you.

Job jar

The mere mention of chores can evoke reactions usually reserved for dentist appointments and haircuts.

To make tasks less tedious for everyone, print them on strips of paper, color-coding to distinguish “grown-up jobs” from “kid jobs.” On chore day, have everyone draw and complete a job.

Fast fresh fruit

How can fresh fruit compete with ready-to-eat junk food when your little ones are in a hurry? Make it easy for them to find. Toss together a colorful fruit salad; spoon into small containers.

Place the containers front and center in the fridge, where your kids can’t miss them.

Copyright 2006, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. Distributed by New York Times Special Features