Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 10 Posts from 2013

2013 is nearly over and I have to look back and marvel at everything that has happened. I started this blog, my sister had her baby and life has never been better. I have a lot to be grateful for and love how much our family has grown. I look forward to the new year and all the crafts, learning activities and recipes that we will try! I recently joined the Schoolhouse Review Crew, so look forward to some great product reviews. I definitely plan to make more felt boards and felt foods, because those are both our favourites and our readers favourites!

My big goal for this year will be to start a possibly weekly, but aiming for bi-weekly Family Game Night where we will talk about our favourite games and share tips and tricks to playing board games with young children.

So here are our Top 10 Posts from 2013 (in no particular order)!
We thank you all for sticking around and supporting our blog and look forward to sharing new activities and crafts in the coming year!

Our felt foods were so much more popular than I expected, but that is simply awesome and I can't wait to make more! If you haven't already checked them out, you should! They are easy to make and so much fun to play with! My kids still play with them and keep asking me to make more. Desserts are in the making already, just had to wait until after Christmas to buy more felt (4 yards in 8 colours and spent about $9 - so fantastic!) and to recuperate after so many crochet projects. I will be making some for the felt boards and some that are 3D! They are perfect for pretend play and make a great fine motor activity!

DIY Pretend Play Food: Tacos

DIY Pretend Play Food: Pizza and Salad

We love hands-on crafts around here, especially ones that work on fine motor skills! My kids love sewing and had so much fun making this Spider's Web. We actually still have it and the kids continue to play with their little spiders who diligently "sew their webs".

Spider's Web Craft

Sensory bins are always popular and are perfect for toddlers and preschoolers. You can use them to create fine motor activities and as a learning tool. We will continue to make themed holiday sensory bins and more for pretend play!

Pumpkin Rice Sensory Bin

Our DIY Felt Boards were especially popular and I am so happy that they helped others make their own. I plan on making travel-sized felt boards in the spring so that we will have them available in the summer to use when we are on vacation or on long car rides. I will continue to make felt board pieces and will hopefully be able to share templates as well!

DIY Felt Board

Autumn Tree and Leaves Felt Board

Play dough is a staple around here and we can't wait to try out new scents and colours! We look forward to Spring and Summer scented play doughs!

Autumn Scented Play Dough

We made our sensory bottles as a gift, but we look forward to making more this year! We intend to make one for each holiday with an "I Spy" theme.

Sensory Bottles

Dice are a fantastic learning tool and we still continue to use them in our activities! We will be sharing other ways to play and learn with dice in the next few months!

Learning with Dice

Thank you again for following the blog and using and sharing our ideas! We appreciate all of our readers and hope you will stick around in the next year!

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Secret Santa Squirrels Book Review

Secret Santa Squirrels is a rhyming picture book written by Hazel Nutt. It's perfect for young readers and small children who enjoy Christmas stories. We haven't read any of Hazel Nutt's other books, but she's an author who aspires to be like Julia Dweck, who happens to be one of our favourite children's book authors!

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Secret Santa Squirrels is kind of a traditional Christmas story, but it has an unexpected twist! My kids were just as shocked as I was when we read the book for the first time. This year my kids have really taken to the idea that Santa comes to our house on Christmas Eve to deliver toys to good little kids. So this was a fascinating book to them. The gist is that Santa doesn't have time to climb down every chimney, magically unlock every door to sneak in and carefully place Christmas presents under the tree - all while being super quiet so he doesn't wake the sleeping children! So he enlists the help of Secret Santa Squirrels who do the bulk of the work. They wait on roofs waiting for Santa to pass overhead.

But that's getting ahead of the story. The previous night Santa basically laid out a feast for his reindeer and they gobbled up all that food because they knew they had work to do! So Santa got them harnessed up and off they went! And as they flew over children's houses, the reindeer - yep, you guessed it. Just couldn't hold it in. They pooped. And as it fell, Santa turned the poop into presents that the Squirrels caught and carried down the chimneys to place under the Christmas trees.

There you have it! The secret it out. This is apparently how Santa gets it all done in one night! My kids were not convinced. Bean had some questions and I answered mainly with a shrug and a "I don't know. Santa is magic and magic can take many forms. Perhaps this is how he does it. We'll never know because Santa is too quick to be seen!" Although I seriously cannot wait until the year I can convince my boyfriend to dress up as Santa and have the kids "accidentally" see him tucking presents under the tree. Am I terrible? I hope not! My dad used to walk around on our roof on Christmas Eve when we were kids and it completely convinced us. But we don't exactly have a roof like that, so it wouldn't work for us... However, we do have squirrels in our roof that we hear from time to time... So you never know!

Despite the unexpected reindeer poop in the story, we still liked it! It made the kids think about how Santa gets all the presents delivered in one night and I loved that Bean took it so seriously that she was asking lots of questions. Always a plus in my book! Secret Santa Squirrels can be found on Amazon.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Homemade Watercolours

I've posted about our homemade watercolours before and we still love them! Now I am making them again to give as part of our homemade Christmas gift collection, which includes chalk, play dough and holiday dolls! Our cousins enjoy arts and crafts and I hope to give them a big batch of supplies which should last a while! 

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I used four ice cube trays which have 14 slots each. Each batch of the watercolours was enough to fill a slot in each of the trays. Which means I made 14 batches. To make things easier, I mixed everything together in a measuring cup and just rinsed it out between batches. 

You'll need:
Baking soda - 4 tablespoons
White vinegar - 2 tablespoons
Cornstarch - 2 tablespoons (corn flour)
Light corn syrup - 1/2 teaspoon (we used dark because that's what we had on hand)
Liquid or gel food colouring
A container for the watercolours - mini muffin pans and ice cube trays work great!

You can use a combination of liquid and gel food colouring - whatever works! This is our little stash.

The popsicle sticks are for mixing the colours after they are poured. I stirred them a few times over the course of three hours, this way the colours don't settle at the top and are mixed thoroughly. 

Mix everything together in the measuring cup. I added the syrup first, then the baking soda, then the cornstarch and poured the white vinegar over it and stirred quickly. It should look like a thick white paste. 

At this point I would add the liquid or gel food colouring. 

On the side I created a batch of reddish-orange oobleck for the kids to play with, since they lost interest in helping me make the watercolours when they realized how many we were making. :)

So they had lots of fun "painting" with the oobleck while I continued working on the homemade watercolours.

Because we really did make so many! And they are all coming out perfectly! I am so excited!! Probably more excited than I should be, but seriously, these are the best watercolours I have ever made and I love them! Hopefully my cousins who love to paint will enjoy them as much as my kids do! They are a staple around here! You can use them right away, but if you are gifting them, give them a few days to dry out before you wrap them. To use them, all you have to do is dip a paintbrush in water and dab them on the colours. Or you can add a few drops of water directly on them to make it a little easier for younger kids.

Close up of the colours! Top row: lilac, brown, dark blue, light blue, yellow, dark green, olive green. Bottom row: red, peach, orange, fuchsia, black, light green, pink.

And this is a preview of how nice these watercolours are! They are very vibrant and dark. I've definitely noticed a difference between using food colouring gels and liquid food colouring. The colours are darker and more vibrant with the food colouring gels and I will definitely be using them more in the future! I cannot wait to test out liquid watercolours with this recipe!

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Homemade Chalk

We are making lots of homemade gifts for our cousins this year! It's a perfect way to get the kids in the spirit of giving! It's also a fun way to involve them in a science experiment which will result in something more than a puddle of mush that will be washed down the drain. The kids have helped me make chalk in the past and are fascinated by how quickly they solidify. However, since these chalks really are "giant" sized, they took a little bit longer to completely dry out. I'm pretty certain it was because we added slightly too much water, but by the next day it didn't even matter. I will definitely be using this method the next time we make these because they came out absolutely perfect!

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In a child's hand, these look HUGE! Seriously. And it's pretty fantastic. My daughter even pointed out how much more she would be able to colour with them. I can't say for sure that they will last longer, but I assume so. 

You'll need:
Paper towel or toiler paper rolls
Wax paper
Acrylic paint in various colours (we used purple, green, orange, blue, yellow and red)

We started out by saving a few paper rolls. These are about 5 or 6 inches long.

We taped wax paper to the bottom of them, but other people have used duct tape or any wide tape would probably work. We also lined the inside of the paper rolls with wax paper. This will help to keep the chalk from sticking to the paper. Peeling everything off when they are dry is super easy!

If you have older kids, you can mix the Plaster of Paris (following the directions on the package) in a plastic container with a plastic spoon. But we actually prefer mixing it together in a Ziploc bag because it makes for easy pouring - just snip off a corner and pour! Pour in the Plaster of Paris and then the water. Close up the Ziploc and shake it up very carefully! It mixes together very easily. Then add in the acrylic paint and mix it up again. It's then ready to pour into whatever container you are using to shape your chalk. For a much smaller mold, it would only take 20-30 minutes to harden, but I'd give these giant chalks a few days to harden before removing the rolls and wax paper (we waited 2 days).

The colours are nice pastels! We had a little bit extra yellow, so we added it on top of the blue chalk.

To keep these standing upright and let's face it, saving them from being knocked over, I stored them in a container where they could dry safely. The container can also be used to store them when you gift them.

After two days I peeled off the paper and wax and checked them out. They were dry and perfect! Notice all the air bubbles on the yellow chalk? That can be avoided by tapping the paper gently when it is still wet. Clearly I forgot that one. :)

These giant chalks are so simple to make and will be the perfect gift for our young cousins! I can't wait to see their reactions when they open them up! I really hope they love them and I can't wait to see them colour with them!

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Homemade Holiday Dolls

Sewing is quickly becoming a new hobby of mine! I am so excited with these felt dolls and can't wait to make more in the future! I plan on making another set of these dolls for my daughter but these ones will be given to my nephew as part of his Christmas gifts. 

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You'll need brown felt for the gingerbread men and white felt for the snowmen. You can use scrap fabric from the snowman for the gingerbread icing and scrap fabric from the gingerbread for the snowman's arms. You'll also need black felt, orange felt, green felt and red felt (or any colours that you choose to use!). 

I used the same gingerbread pattern that I used for my gingerbread people and cut out two pieces. I used a blanket stitch to sew around the edges. (And don't mind all the gaming sheets in the background - I'm a multitasker.)

I left the last inch and a half open to fill him up with stuffing. I should have put more stuffing in him, but I wanted him to be sort of flat, like a gingerbread cookie. So to me he feels too light, but my kids did not notice and still really liked him.

Once he was filled up with stuffing, I continued using the blanket stitch and closed him off.

Bean played dress-up with him while she considered what kind of clothes she might want to put on him.

She also went on a few cardboard box adventures with him! You can barely see him, but he's on her lap. And she's accompanied by Puppy and Cthulhu.

Finally we decided to add icing instead of clothes. Perhaps we'll make clothes for Bean's version, but since these are being given to our cousin who isn't yet a year old, simpler is better! He has white icing features on his face and "squiggle icing" on his arms and legs. Bean picked out red buttons and a green bow tie. Instead of sewing them on, I decided to glue them on using Elmer's fabric glue, which worked out perfectly! 

Isn't he cute?
Now for the Snow Man! I used items I had on hand to trace circles onto a piece of white felt. You'll need a small, medium and large circular item to trace, or you can freehand it if you are brave. I recently started to use a disappearing ink pen for my felt crafts and I LOVE IT! This pen writes on fabric, so you can trace and cut, and then it disappears after a few hours, leaving the material clean of any marks. It has been a life changer.

I cut out the two snowman shapes and lined them up. I used the blanket stitch for the snowman as well. It's a perfect stitch for felt projects like this.

Please note: I completely meant to sew the arms into the body and was distracted by playing Netrunner (a card game) with my boyfriend that I finished sewing around the snowman before I realized I didn't sew in the arms. It would have come out much better if I hadn't forgotten this step, but he still came out really cute! I just sewed the arms to the outside.

Leave a small opening so you can fill him up with stuffing (or overstuff him, like I did, oops..) and then continue with the blanket stitch and close him off.

We used the black felt for the snowman's features and buttons/coals and orange felt for his carrot nose. Bean was very particular about his face and asked if he could be smiling.

I used Elmer's fabric glue for his features and buttons too. This glue worked considerably better than I expected!

For his arms, I cut out four matching "tree branch" shapes and lined two up and sewed a blanket stitch around the edges. I left the base open so that I could line it up over the edge of the white felt. I aligned the stitches and attached it, tied it off and tucked in the string. I also added a drop of glue inside the branch where it touched the white felt so that it could add a small amount of support, but it wasn't necessary. 

And there he is, looking super cute!

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