Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fishing for Letters Hangman

A while back I saw this cute idea to fish for refrigerator letters in the bathtub and ever since have wanted to try  the same concept but adding the hangman twist.  A brand new package of refrigerator magnets means we still have the whole alphabet (two days from now, six of them will likely be hiding with the dust bunnies under my refrigerator); so today seemed the day to jump on it.

Our bathroom is pretty tight; so I didn't actually want to do it in the bathtub, but it actually turned out well to use two small tubs.  We separated out the letters into vowels and consonants to make it a little easier to catch the vowels.

For the fishing pole we used a ruler, a string, and a clothespin with a magnet in its "beak."
 It had been a while since I'd played hangman; so I made the mistake of thinking that shorter words are easier (of course, the longer the word the more likely it is to have any particular letter that is guessed).  Adding the fishing for letters twist makes it even harder for the guesser to win; so I'm afraid I beat them soundly every round we played (even after I added ridiculous levels of detail like shoelaces).  M and G didn't seem to mind defeat- they wanted to play over and over (well, M wanted to play; G wanted to dance her fingers in the water with the letters)

For the final round, M picked the word and let me fish for the letters.  I was very proud of her for doing it exactly right.  It seemed like it stretched her mental muscles in a new way which is always good.

Learning Laboratory

Monday, January 30, 2012

Snowflake Pancakes

I won't say I was exactly disappointed to come home to seventy degree weather after visiting snowy New York last week, but it did put me in the mood to try some new snowflake crafts.

We started yesterday morning.  In fact, we were almost late for church because the girls and I got completely carried away making these snowflake pancakes.  (sadly, we barely had time to eat them!)

 I found a mostly-empty squirt bottle of ketchup in the back of my refrigerator (yes, I do believe I could find just about anything in there).  After pouring the remaining ketchup into another bottle and scrubbing it out, I used a funnel to fill the empty squirt bottle with pancake batter.    Now I had a writing instrument for drawing whatever I liked!

It was a little tricky to draw pretty snowflakes for two reasons:

1.  Snowflakes really only look believable if they are symmetrical- a little tricky when drawing with batter
2.  I used a recipe for crepe batter instead of the traditional pancake batter with baking powder, etc.  I thought the snowflakes might be prettier if the pancakes were flat, but crepe batter is very thin and runny.  If you're not careful, you'll end up with a simple little pool of batter instead of a snowflake.

The girls enjoyed watching the snowflakes being drawn on the griddle, but they especially enjoyed sprinkling them with powdered sugar afterward.  "Snowy" snowflakes are the prettiest and the tastiest!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Grandparent Game

Our family suffers from LDGS- that is, "Long-Distance Grandparent Syndrome"  :-) Both sets of grandparents live hundreds of miles away, and visits are only possible every once in a while.  Our kids are also the only grandchildren on either side; so of course, our parents do all they can to stay connected in between visits.

Skype and phone conversations help for sure.  My mother has also started a tradition of mailing pictures taken during her visits to the girls; so the girls have the fun of getting mail addressed to them in the mailbox, and they get to remember all the memories of their time together.

Recently,  my mother added a new twist to the pictures.  She taped an index card to the bottom of each one and wrote on it a little quiz question about the picture.  The answers were on the back and were self-checking according to the method described here.

M loved this activity- sat down and did the whole pile of them as soon as she opened the envelope.  G lost interest fairly quickly, partly, I think because she can't read yet, and so can't do it on her own.  But I think she was probably happy that my mother had made her a set of her own (she's a typical second-born in that being included in things is super important to her)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

10 Reasons Why I Almost Quit Blogging

A little while back I found myself considering whether or not I wanted to continue being a children's activity blogger.  I've been at it for over four years now, and while it can be so so fun I have recently been visited by vague feelings of uncertainty about its value to me and my family.

Since it is difficult to know what to do with vague feelings I decided to spend about a`week reflecting on the pros and cons. The list I am sharing today is what I perceive to be the negative side of children's activity blogging.  I would love to hear  helpful hints on how other mommy bloggers counteract these aspects as well as thoughts about down sides that I may not have mentioned.

1.  Too much time on the computer.  There's, of course, the actual writing of the posts, but then once I'm there in front of the computer, it's easy to be tempted by all the other things (Facebook, Pinterest, etc.)  The internet can be so addicting!  If the development of self control is something I care about in my children it seems like I should at least model it. 

2.  Sometimes it is hard to be fully present in the activities I do with my children because I am distracted by trying to take good pictures.

3. Gravitation toward activities that blog well.  It's easy to want to pick activities that are photogenic, unique, and clever.  Those are not always the activities that happen to be best for my children.

4.  Temptation to only do an activity one time.  After all, you can really only blog about it once.  This happens despite my conviction that children often get the most benefit out of something once it becomes familiar and is deepened by repetition.

5.  Fun activities sometimes win over things like laundry.  Sometimes that's ok, but "more fun" is not always what my family needs.  They also need clean socks.

6.  Watching the comments, number of followers, and page hits on my blog sometimes turns my focus away from seeking the Lord's approval first and foremost.

7.  I'm finding that running an activity blog has meant that the time I spend with my children is sometimes over-structured. My intuition tells me that while there is a place for structured activities children also need parents to spend much child-directed time with them.  There need to be long stretches when the parent has the leisure to listen, thoughtfully observe, and to play in a carefree way.  Sometimes because of the blog I get impatient with this kind of thing and want to be accomplishing a goal- finishing an activity so I can write about it.

8.  There is a temptation to not allow an activity to evolve organically (related to number seven).  I usually have a goal in mind for the direction I want an activity to go, and I can sometimes bulldoze other ideas so that I can make sure it will happen "the right way."

For example, one day I noticed that there were several books open and turned upside down on the table.  I thought it would be cute for M to find her dollhouse dolls and put them under the open books and pretend that they were camping in tents. It looked very cute that way, and I was about to snap a picture and write a quick post on it, when M decided to flatten all the books and swirl them around the table to pretend they were boats (very not blog-worthy).  There was a part of me that didn't want to let her do that.

9.  Sometimes I fear that our steady stream of new activities will condition my children to not appreciate simple, classic pleasures. I don't want them to become dependent on novelty.

10.  I worry sometimes that readers of this blog might get the mistaken impression that I think that being a good mother is directly related to how many creative activities one does with one's children.  Motherhood is of course so much deeper than such an external thing.  I am especially concerned that I not give off that impression because I think that our culture is overemphasizes the external.  I would not like to contribute to that unhealthy imbalance.

At the end of my week of reflection I did decide to keep blogging for the time being.  I'll try to find a time next week to share what I feel are some of the positive aspects of blogging that for me make it worth it despite all of the potential pitfalls.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Heart-Shaped Foods- Part I

Well, I don't know about you, but after almost a month after Christmas I'm finally ready to begin thinking about another holiday. Valentine's Day can be awfully cute and fun for kids.  The only problem tends to be all the candy that tend to accompany it.  One fun way around all the Dove promises and sweet tarts is to find ways to slip hearts into every day food.

1.  These cherry tomato hearts are simple and adorable.
2.  Use a squirt bottle full of pancake batter to make these lacy heart pancakes.
3.  My sister made this heart pepperoni pizza three years ago.  Isn't it cute?
4.  Heart-shaped egg and toast from Martha Stewart to serve your sweetheart or little sweeties for breakfast.

I've been collecting simple ideas for heart-shaped foods for quite a while so you can expect to see a few more posts on this theme in the next few weeks.

What other ideas has your family tried for celebrating Valentine's Day in a low-candy way?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Preschool Penguin Crafts

1.  Ripped Paper Penguin from Baby Matters Blog
2.  Toilet Paper Tube Penguins from I Can Teach My Child
3.  Footprint Penguins from Meet the Dubiens
4.  Penguins with handprints for feet from Casa Camacho

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Homemade Peppermint Marshmallows

I've never been a huge fan of marshmallows (I'd rather do a sink full of dishes than eat a Peep), but for some reason the idea of making them myself fascinated me from the first moment I heard it was possible.

Since so many imitations of processed foods are mediocre at best, and me not being the most careful of cooks, I half expected my marshmallows to turn out a puddle of white goo on the counter that I would reluctantly allow my girls to lick up and sicken themselves upon (so it wouldn't be a total waste).

I was definitely encouraged when several of you on facebook mentioned having good experiences with marshmallow recipes, and the girls and I promptly set off to make our own.
Peppermint Marshmallows
(adapted from Martha Stewart)

  •  cooking spray
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 4 packages (1/4 ounce each) unflavored gelatin
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 2 teaspoons red food coloring
  • powdered sugar for dusting


  1. Coat a cookie sheet  with cooking spray; line bottom with parchment paper. Coat the parchment with cooking spray, dust with powdered sugar and set pan aside. 
  2. Put sugar, corn syrup, and 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring; let mixture come to a boil. Raise heat to medium-high; cook until mixture registers 250 degrees on a candy thermometer.
  3. Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over 3/4 cup water in a heatproof bowl; let stand 5 minutes to soften. Stir in extract and set aside.
  4. Beat egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Whisk gelatin mixture into sugar mixture; with mixer running, gradually add to egg whites. Mix on high speed until   very thick, cool and glossy, 15 minutes or longer.
  5. Pour mixture into lined pan. Working quickly, drop dots of red food coloring across surface of marshmallow. Using a toothpick, swirl food coloring into marshmallow to create a marbleized effect. Let marshmallow stand, uncovered, at room temperature until firm, at least 3 hours or overnight. Cut into squares, using a pizza cutter or sharp knife.   Roll in powdered sugar.
1.  Definitely tasty.  Lighter and creamier than storebought marshmallows.

2.  The red marbling did not work out so well for me.  You can see that rather than artistic red swirls, I ended up with what looked a bit like a snowy battlefield.  

3.  Very fun process!  It was fun to watch the sugar mixture foam up when we added the gelatin, fun to watch the Kitchen Aid poof up the glossy white marshmallow fluff.  The girls also enjoyed cutting and rolling the marshmallows at the end.  

4.  Ever since we made them my mind has been racing, thinking of useful variations of this recipe.  I've heard that coconut flavored marshmallows are very delicious roasted over a campfire.  Apparently, cookie cutters can also be used to make fun shapes.  We gave out these marshmallows as a gift to some friends and family along with some homemade White Chocolate Peppermint Hot Cocoa.  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Surprising Use for Old Neckties

I'll never throw away another old necktie- at least not one that is 100% silk.  They make the most fantastically beautiful colored eggs. In fact, they are so pretty, you'll probably want to hollow out the insides of the eggs so you can keep them for decoration or give them away as gifts.

This past week our preschool co-op made them go along with a lesson on Faberge eggs, but quite honestly, it is a project better suited to older children.  (Little hands have a difficult time wrapping the eggs tightly enough.


100% silk scraps (I raided my thrift shop for old neckties.  Small prints work best- also ties that aren't terribly faded)
twist ties
strips of cotton fabric

If you are hollowing out the eggs, do that first by pricking the tops and bottoms of the eggs with a safety pin and twisting the pin around a bit to enlarge the holes.  Blow the yolk and albumen out of the eggs into a bowl.

Cut the silk fabric so that it is just the right size to completely wrap the egg.  Bind it as tightly as possible to the egg, minimizing wrinkles (they will show up as white lines on the egg.  Twist the ends of the fabric like a piece of candy and secure with twist ties.

Wrap the eggs with a second layer of fabric using the cotton strips.  Make sure the silk is completely covered.    This step really is necessary.  I skipped it with one batch, and they did not turn out well.  (The dye escapes to the water and the silk does not stay close enough to the egg).
Drop in a pot of water.  Bring to a boil and continue to simmer for 30 minutes.  If your eggs are hollow you will need to place a second pot on top of the eggs to sink them down in the water a bit.

Remove from water, allow to cool and unwrap your eggs.  This part is so fun!


(Many thanks to the person who suggested we try this activity in a comment a while back.  I'm afraid I can't remember who or what post it was at this point, unfortunately.  I really need a better way to organize my blogging life!) For tips on how to get the best results see Crafting a Green World.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

3 Russian Crafts for Kids

In our Five In a Row co-op this week we read the book Another Celebrated Dancing Bear which takes place in Imperial Russia.  I believe this is the first book we've read with that setting; so I was pretty excited to see what kinds of crafts I could find to illustrate Russian culture.

1.  Printable nesting dolls.   I love these adorable Russian nesting dolls.  You can print them out in full color or in black and white outline to color them yourself.

2.  Faberge eggs.  I am honestly shocked that I have been unable to find any children's nonfiction books containing the story of the Fabrege eggs. Their history is all about riches, surprises and lost treasure- just the kind of thing kids love, and such a great way to teach about Imperial Russian and the 1917 Revolution.  If you want to tell your children the story and show them a few pictures, this link from PBS has a pretty good summary.

We used a really fun silk technique to dye the eggs.  They don't actually look all that similar to the historical Faberge eggs, but they're fancy- which is basically what we were going for.  I'll be writing about how to make them in an upcoming post.
3.  Russian Architecture-  The colorful onion domes on the Orthodox churches in Russia are so striking. I thought it would be fun to let the kids design their own churches in this style.

My husband (who has a much steadier artistic hand and loads more patience for historical accuracy) sketched some historically accurate domes and spires for me on a piece of card stock.  I used those as templates for cutting out lots of domes and spires from different colors of construction paper, along with some other basic shapes.  The kids could then arrange them like building blocks on their page and glue them on once they found an arrangement they liked.  They used markers to draw on details like windows, stripes on the domes, and crosses.

Any other ideas for Russian kids' crafts?  

Monday, January 9, 2012

Catch the Shark

We have a new game around here. It involves exercise, uproarious laughter, and cleaning -believe it or not.  Just a simple thing, but it helps cure cabin fever when we've been in the house for a long time.

When I vacuum with my cordless sweeper (It's a Shark- I love it for a quick pick-up) the girls chase the vacuum and try to push the off button (which is on top of the sweeper and easily accessible) while I dart and dash madly about the room trying to clean as much of the carpet as I can before the vacuum gets "caught."  We have a fairly large living room; so we can get some pretty amazing exercise this way.

(No one sponsored this post- I just really love my sweeper and this fun little game :-) 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Rainbow Crayon Twist Sticks

Despite the fairly decent pictures, this project was pretty close to a craft fail (one of the reasons Pinterest is not always as wonderful as it seems)

 In theory it seemed like a great idea- peel and sort all our crayon stubs into baking cups in a muffin tray, melt in the oven and pour in layers into old glue stick shells.

 I had envisioned nice neat layers of color, but of course as each layer was added, the hot wax melted the layer underneath and they blended together. Also- fully half of the glue sticks broke once the crayon layers were in and I tried to twist them up to use them (the little piece of plastic broke because the hardened crayons were pretty tricky to twist through)
 But it wasn't all bad.  The girls and I had fun sorting the crayon stubs together; the workable sticks are still pretty fun to color with despite the blended colors, and as a little bonus I was reminded of how contagious creative endeavoring is. While I was cleaning our crayon-wax-besmattered kitchen, M began a creative project of her own, gluing baking cups to the wall (it actually looked quite neat- I should have taken a picture)

 Thanks to Infarrantly Creative for inspiring this activity!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fun with Finger Jello

When a little friend recently got his tonsils and adenoids out and was sad with his sore throat, we tried to think of something to cheer him up and feel good on his throat.   When we thought of finger jello we realized it was going to be fun for us too.

We made four colors- for each color we used 2 packages of jello combined with 2 1/2 cups boiling water (no cold water) and poured it into an 9x13 pan.  (The girls were able to do all the stirring) Once the jello had set (about 3 hours) the girls used cookie cutters to cut out letters and shapes.  (I had to be the one to lift them out of the pan with a spatula though)

We used the scraps around the cookie cutters to make rainbow parfaits (layered the colors)

An Activity for Toddlers and Preschoolers

If you have both a toddler and a preschooler and would like a fun activity adapted to keep them both learning at the same time you might like to check out my guest post at Jenae's great blog I Can Teach My Child today. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Comprehension Cards

A little while back my mom picked up a pack of spelling flashcards at a garage sale.  M loves them because they are "self-checking" flashcards, meaning she can do them on her own.

The concept behind the cards seemed easy enough to replicate; so I made up a set of reading comprehension cards that M could use in her rest time to go along with some of her favorite picture books.

Each card contains a multiple choice question, and next to each answer I punched a hole with a hole punch.  On the back of the card, the hole of the correct answer is circled.  M's job is to push the end of a pen or pencil through the correct hole.  She turns the card around to see if she's right.

The flashcards got tucked into a scrap paper pouch I made at the back of each book.   I did it for both fiction and non-fiction books, but the questions for the fiction books seemed to work a little better for M.

Little G has been asking for some flashcards of her own.  Any ideas for how I might modify the concept for a pre-reader?  

Monday, January 2, 2012

Twelve Favorite Activities of 2011

Here are 12 fun things we did in 2011 that we absolutely loved.  I suppose eleven would have been more appropriate, but these twelve just really jumped out at me, and I didn't feel like going to the trouble of narrowing it down any further.  (I've decided that in the month after giving birth one is allowed to take the lazy route now and again :-)

Making Butter
Three Teddies
Stained Glass Fall Leaves
Butterfly Symmetry Matching Game

Balancing Butterflies
Ribbon Treasure Hunt
Jumping Through a Rainbow
Soap Snakes

Texture Scavenger Hunt

Everyday Life Portraits

Spray Bottle Painting

Making Marbled Paper with Shaving Cream