Tuesday, November 25, 2014

12 Fantastic DIY Paper Gifts

Today I am sharing beautiful and unique gifts that you don’t have to buy, with materials readily available in your house – old books, paper, and cardboard. All you need is imagination and a little bit of time.
12 Fantastic Paper Gifts You Can Do YourselfYet again I am joining my friends from Kid Blogger Network in a big giveaway and in sharing ideas that could be interesting for parents and caregivers looking for fun activities to do with their kids. This time around the theme is Christmas! As all of us are considering what gifts to buy and to make for our friends and family, I thought to share some amazing gifts that can be done with paper and cardboard.

1. Paper Winter Village

My husband made this paper winter village over several years painstakingly designing and cutting each house by hand. Since now we have a paper cutting machine (Silhouette Portrait), we are planning to give Christmas houses to our closest friends as a special Christmas gift – from Planet Smarty Pants.
Paper Winter Village from Planet Smarty Pants

2. Paper Building Blocks

Delight preschoolers and older kids by building colorful paper building blocks from construction paper – from Babble Dabble Do
Paper Building Blocks from Babble Dabble Do

3. School From a Shoebox

Repurpose a shoebox to make this mini-classroom for Lego or Playmobil characters – guaranteed to entertain your children for longer than a store-bought version – from MollyMoo.
School from a Shoebox from MollyMoo

4. Paper Mache Bowls

Make beautiful paper mache bowls for small items or jewelry – from Happy Hooligans
Paper Mache Bowl from Happy Hooligans

5. Play Structure from Recycled Newspaper

Surprise your kids with a play structure made out of recycled newspapers… or build it with them! – from Inner Child Fun.
Newspaper Play Structure from Inner Family Fun

6. Cardbox Dollhouse

Why buy a dollhouse when you can build your own exactly to order. Older kids can even build cardboard dollhouse on their own for their younger siblings – from Filth Wizardry.
Cardboard dollhouse from Filth Wizardry

7. Cardboard Box Puppet Theater

My husband made this cardboard table top puppet theater several years ago, and it is still in active use. Great for playing out the Nativity story – from Planet Smarty Pants.
Cardboard Theater from Planet Smarty Pants

8. Paper Beads

Make your own paper beads to use in bracelets or necklaces. Great tutorial for easy DIY paper beads from Red Ted Art.
Easy Paper Beads from Red Ted Art

9. Paper Flower

If you have a book that you plan to recycle, transform it into a paper flower – from Craftside
how to make a recycled book flower from Craftside

10. Make a DIY Mirror Frame

Make your mirror frame or photo frame special with this decoupage project from Moms and Crafters.
mirror frame from Moms and Crafters

11. Paper Bracelets

Use your kids process art and make beautiful and unique paper bracelets from Picklebums.
Folded Paper Bracelets from Picklebums


12. Make a Paper Ornament

This paper ball ornament is pretty enough to give as a present or use in your own house – from Serious Whims.
Ball christmas ornament from Serious Whims

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Your Turn

fantastic DIY paper gifts

Are you giving homemade gifts this Christmas?

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Christmas Countdown with Kids

It’s only one week left until December 1st, and we are busy preparing for Christmas countdown. Here are some ideas on how to celebrate this magical time of the year.
Christmas Countdown - secular and religious Advent activity calendars
Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate and this post contains affiliate links. For full disclosure, please click here and thank you for supporting my blog!

Advent on Planet Smarty Pants

Even though we are a secular family, we enjoy counting down to Christmas starting December 1. I wrote about our Advent traditions before – mostly they include Playmobil Advent calendars and a lot of chocolate! This year, however, I was inspired by my friend MaryAnne from Mama Smiles: Joyful Parenting to make a book Christmas countdown. It helped that I had some extra time, because my family was enjoying a traditional “German meet up” with my husband’s brother in Florida. I pulled out all our Christmas and Hanukkah books out and discovered that we have 21 holiday books.
Christmas-Books I got three new books this year to add the list to 24 – two for special days and Mortimer Christmas Manger, because I really enjoyed it and wanted to have it in our personal library.
Mortimer Christmas Manger The legend of st nicholas The Return of the Light
I combined our book Christmas countdown with Advent Jokes Calendar from Modern Parents Modern Kids. I used her free printable jokes as tags on our books with the joke on the opposite side. I am sure that Smarty will enjoy these jokes!
Book Advent Countdown In addition, I put an activity card inside every book. My goal was to make these activities doable and unique to our family. For example, there are cards about my birthday, Smarty’s performance in school musical and in her choir’s Winter Showcase, going to see The Nutcracker, etc. I am moderately optimistic that we will actually do these activities since I was careful to put more involved activities on weekends or after the school break starts.

Other Ways to Count Down to Christmas with Kids

1. Elf on the Shelf

I will tell you very honestly – I don’t support Elf on the Shelf craze. I don’t have time or energy for that little creep who is supposed to spy on my kid and report to Santa on her behavior. However, some ideas are entertaining, especially Elf on the Shelf Reads Books from Growing Book by Book. It’s sort of a cross between Christmas book countdown and classic Elf on the Shelf approach.
Elf on a Shelf 24 Book Ideas

2. The Kindness Elves

A much better alternative to a naughty Elf on the Shelf are The Kindness Elves. I first discovered them last year on The Imagination Tree, but I felt that my 7 year old is a bit old for that tradition. I would definitely consider introducing the Kindness Elves to younger kids. The Imagination Tree also has a post with 25 ideas for the Kindness Elves, so if you have time to follow along, it’s a great way to count down to Christmas with good deeds.

3. Random Acts of Kindness

I’ve seen Coffee Cups and Crayons random acts of kindness printable advent calendar all over my Facebook news feed. I love the idea of that, but I have to be realistic about our December schedule. It’s not that we will not be focusing on kindness, but I’d rather not force something when we are all overwhelmed with rehearsals, school assignments, and Christmas preparations. I’ll still make an effort to follow along as much as we can!

4. Jesse Tree

Jesse Tree tradition seems to be popular with more religious of my blog friends. Being a secular person, I do not have a lot to say about Jesse Tree, except that it seems to bring a lot of focus to proper count down to Advent. Feels Like Home has a FREE e-Book with everything you need to start your own Jesse Tree.

Your Turn

Do you have some sort of Christmas Countdown? How do you do it?

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Our favorite cookbooks for kids

I am joining again with other kid bloggers for November edition of Poppins Book Nook. The topic this month is To the Kitchen, and I am going to share how kids and books mix in the kitchen for us.
Books in the kitchen - best cookbooks for kidsDisclosure: I am an Amazon associate and this post contains affiliate links. For full disclosure, please click here and thank you for supporting my blog! Clip Art for Poppins Book Nook is by Melon Headz

Reading About Cooking

I always enjoyed the picture books that talk about cooking and feature recipes in the end. Over years, we read many of those. I placed our favorites in my Amazon affiliate widget

Cooking with Cookbooks

While reading all these books with recipes is fun, they don’t necessarily translate into learning to cook. For once, most of the books feature desserts, which we make once a week, if we are lucky. For twice, we often read together after dinner and not before it. However, learning to cook is an important goal in my list of parenting goals and therefore I am always looking for kid cookbooks during library sales and garage sales. Here are two of our favorites (both acquired at library book sales).
Klutz Kids CookingKlutz Kids Cooking is printed on thick glossy paper that is able to take spills and can be consulted directly while cooking. Recipes are neatly divided into Breakfast, Lunches/Snacks, Dinners and Salads, Desserts. Some popular non-edible recipes (play dough, face paint, etc) are thrown as a bonus chapter. The recipes are kid-friendly and accompanied by detailed pictures.  The book (as most kid cookbooks) still assumes grown up participation.
Paula Deen My First Cookbook
Paula Deen’s: My First Cookbook is not as sturdy, but I found the recipes to be more “practical”, and I like that all of them are made “from scratch”, even homemade bread. There is a special section for holiday specials as well as a section about cooking for your parents (with an adult still supervising for younger kids). I see this book to be a more natural first step to independent cooking, but I think we still have a year or two to go before we entrust Smarty to use a stove or an oven without supervision.

Why Reading Cookbooks Is Important for Kids

Learning-to-Cook Even if you are an accomplished cook making recipes from memory or looking them up, I believe it’s important to have cookbooks in the house and to introduce kids to cookbooks:
  • The vocabulary is more defined, which is helpful for beginning or reluctant readers.
  • Kids learn to use abbreviations, fractions, and metric conversion intuitively while doing practical jobs such as measuring their ingredients.
  • There is some math involved when a recipe needs to be scaled up or down.
  • Children feel more involved and have a better understanding how the food comes to our table, especially if parents discuss it with them while preparing meals together.
  • Picky eaters might be more encouraged to try new foods if they select the recipe themselves and help prepare it.

Cooking Around the World

What I love about cooking is that it’s an excellent way to explore the world through researching and preparing ethnic dishes at home. We did it in the past as part of our hands-on geography explorations and also through participation in Around the World in 12 Dishes project. Unfortunately, lately we’ve had too much going on and I had to drop out of 12 Dishes, but we learned some new recipes along the way. And it’s even better when a book and a dish can be linked together, as we did with our Italy study when Smarty was in preschool.

read-and-learn-italyYour Turn

Do you have a favorite recipe book – for kids or for you?

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Here are the Poppins Book Nook participating bloggers:
Enchanted Homeschooling Mom ~ 3 Dinosaurs ~ To the Moon and Back ~ Planet Smarty Pants ~ Farm Fresh Adventures ~ Growing in God’s Grace ~ Chestnut Grove Academy ~Learning and Growing the Piwi Way ~ The Usual Mayhem~ Preschool Powol Packets ~Monsters Ed Homeschool Academy ~ Adventures in Mommydom~Teach Beside Me ~ Life with Moore Babies ~ Kathy’s Cluttered Mind ~ Are We There Yet? ~ Our Crafts N Things~Hopkins Homeschool ~ ABC Creative Learning ~ Joy Focused Learning ~ P is for Preschooler ~ My Bright Firefly ~A Mommy’s Adventures ~ Inspiring 2 New Hampshire Children ~ World for Learning ~ Ever After in the Woods ~Golden Grasses ~ A glimpse of our life ~ Journey to Excellence ~ Happy Little Homemaker ~ Little Homeschool Blessings~Raventhreads ~ Tots and Me ~ As We Walk Along The Road ~ Stir the Wonder ~ For This Season ~Where Imagination Grows ~ The Canadian Homeschooler ~ School Time Snippets ~ Peakle Pie ~ A Moment in our World ~Every Bed of Roses ~ Finchnwren ~ At Home Where Life Happens ~ The Library Adventure ~ Embracing Destiny ~Day by Day in our World ~ Our Homeschool Studio ~ A “Peace” of Mind ~ Thou Shall Not Whine ~ SAHM I am  ~Simple Living Mama

Poppins Book Nook Giveaway

Feed Our Small World:A Cookbook for Kids Giveaway! Every month the Poppins Book Nook group will be offering readers a chance to win a brand new storybook or product that ties in with our theme for the month. This month one lucky entrant will win a copy of the book Feed Our Small World: A Cookbook for Kids for the theme of To The Kitchen!
Entrants must be 18 years or older and reside in a country that receives U.S. Postal mail. This giveaway is brought to you by the company Enchanted Homeschooling Mom who is owner and founder of the Poppins Book Nook. By entering this giveaway you are also acknowledging that you have read and agree to all of the Rafflecopter terms & conditions as well as Enchanted Homeschooling Mom's disclosures found here . just enter the Rafflecopter below to win:
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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Week In Review – November 22, 2014

Highlights of the Week

  • Smarty is enjoying her week in Florida with her Papa, aunt, and uncle.
  • I spent my free evenings going through various closets and decluttering.
  • We reached the verdict on the first phase of the trial (guilt), and now started on the second phase (sanity). There is hope that this trial will end before Christmas. In the meantime, I keep balancing my job, my blog, and my jury duty.

Places We Are Going

Busch Gardens A visit to Florida is now a yearly tradition for my husband and Smarty. They meet up with my brother-in-law near Tampa and spend a week shopping, swimming, and going to The Busch Gardens. There was no swimming this time around as Florida weather was unusually chilly, but Smarty is still enjoying her trip and all the extra attention from her German family. She also loves The Busch Gardens, especially since the park was so very empty during this visit.

Best Memory of the Week

Christmas Picture
We took pictures for our Christmas card before my husband and Smarty left and I looked through them one evening this week enjoying all outtakes and thinking how fortunate I am to have this little “accident” in my life. Looking forward to having my daughter and my husband back with me on Sunday night!

Most Popular Post of the Week

Yet again with a big gap, it was a week of 12 Engineering Projects for Kids. My second most popular post was 12 STEM Ideas for Kids Age 5+

Your Turn

How was your week?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Winter Holiday Books for 4 Year Olds

This post is part of the series in Book Recommendations for Kids by Age and Month of the Year. It has December book recommendations for children who are 4 Years Old. Each book is paired up with additional resources that you can use to extend the story further.
Winter holiday books for 4 year olds with extension activities
My daughter is now 8, and she is a very fluent reader. Very often I hear the same question, What did you do with her when she was little? Well, we read a lot, and I maintained a diary of our reading activities in weekly What My Child Is Reading entries in my blog. I decided to make these reading diaries more useful and create a new series on my blog where I will share our best books for each month for ages 3, 4, 5, and 6. Moreover, I will pair each book with an extension activity – sometimes with ours and sometimes with activities from my creative friends from Kid Blogger Network. For the month of December I decided to focus specifically on the holidays that our family celebrates during this month – Christmas and Hanukkah. In this post I am featuring books that we read in December 2010 when Smarty was 4.
Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate and this post contains affiliate links. For full disclosure, please click here and thank you for supporting my blog!

1. A Baby Born in Bethlehem

A Baby Born in Bethlehem We are a secular family, but we want our daughter to understand and respect religious beliefs of others. This is why our Christmas reading always include some books that focus on Christ’s birth. A Baby Born in Bethelehem is a book from our own library, and we always pull it out before Christmas. I like that Martha Whitmore Hickman stayed very close to the Biblical account, and my daughter enjoy dreamy illustrations by Giuliano Ferri. Usually, we play Nativity story with Smarty reenacting her favorite parts of the story (she loves the visit from Three Wise Kings, because they bring presents).

2. The Littlest Christmas Tree

The littlest christmas tree
In comparison, The Littlest Christmas Tree by R.A. Herman is a very secular book. The tiny tree wishes for someone to take it home and decorate it. However, the time is ticking away, and nobody is interested. The cover sort of gives away the happy ending of this warm story beautifully illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers. Any craft involving mini Christmas trees (pinecone trees, pipecleaner trees, etc.) will work, but this paper plate laced Christmas tree from I Heart Crafty Things looks beautiful and requires lacing – great fine motor practice for those preschool fingers!
Paper Plate Christmas Tree

3. Let It Snow (Toot and Puddle)

Let it Snow
My daughter enjoyed all Toot & Puddle books by Holly Hobbie, and she absolutely loved Let It Snow. Two great friends are together again and trying to find a perfect present for each other. They put both thought and effort into selecting their gifts – a great lesson for my daughter who even now thinks that she can “whip up” a good gift in 15 minutes. There is also a good discussion about special meaning of homemade gifts in this book, and a good extension activity would be to make some homemade gifts. My daughter at that age was more interested in “practical” gifts than in artwork gifts, and in her preschool they made a scrub similar to this lemon-lime sugar scrub gift from Classy Clutter. Adventures in Wunderland has a wonderful roundup of gifts in a jar – making any of them would be a great joint activity for parents and their older preschoolers.
Sugar Scrub Gift in a Jar

4. The Baker’s Dozen

The Baker Dozen
Since my husband is German, Smarty is lucky to celebrate St Nicholas Day on December 6. According to Northern European tradition, the original St Nick is visiting children on December 6 bringing sweets. The Baker’s Dozen book moves action to colonial times of Albany, New York and introduces us to a baker who is very prosperous and exact in his dealings. However, he lacks generosity and never gives his customers anything extra. His luck changes when a mysterious visitor asks for 13 cookies for the price of 12, and the baker refuses. The story is somewhat long for youngest readers, but the illustrations by Wendy Edelson are gorgeous and can be admired for a long time. An obvious extension activity for this book is making cookies, especially iced cookies. This particular edition of the book comes with a recipe and a pattern for St Nicholas cookie. There are so many yummy cookie options to choose from in this gorgeous Christmas Cookies round up from Kids Activities Blog.

5. The Nutcracker Ballet

The Nutcracker Ballet
Now moving on to my own childhood tradition from the former Soviet Union – watching The Nutcracker ballet either on TV or live in our Opera and Ballet Theater in my native Minsk. I took Smarty to see The Nutcracker for the first time when she was 4, and we’ve been going every year since. I already have tickets for our visit this year. Every year we read The Nutcracker Ballet by Vladimir Vagin. I have to admit that the story described in the book is based, I think, on specific Russian production, since San Jose ballet has a completely different story line. Thankfully, the music is still the same, and discussing different takes on the music gets more interested every year as daughter is better able to appreciate the details in the costumes and choreography. Ballet itself is our “extension activity” for this book, but you could listen to it on CD while making this easy clothespin Nutcracker craft from Crafty Morning.
Nutcracker Craft

6. Light the Lights!

Light the LightsI am half Jewish, and we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas in our house, both with emphasis on family and friends and not on religion. Light the Lights! is a book that could be written about our family. There is no suspense in the book, just a look at normal family life from a child narrator’s point of view. Growing in the country where both holidays were “discouraged”, it’s reassuring to know that we live in a society where different traditions and blended traditions are accepted as normal. My daughter is equally excited about Hanukkah and Christmas and is hoping that this year she is entrusted to light the candles on the menorah independently. When she was 4, she designed and build this craft stick menorah completely on her own.

More December Books Recommendations

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Your Turn

Do you have a favorite Nativity book?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Can Do Thanksgiving

As any parents, we are trying to teach our daughter to help others. This post is about getting her to take more active role when we, as a family, are making decisions on how to serve.
Getting kids more involved while giving to charities
Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate and this post contains affiliate links. For full disclosure, please click here and thank you for supporting my blog!

Preparing for a Food Bank Drive

Thanksgiving and Christmas offer plenty of opportunities for giving, and we participate in many of them through Smarty’s school and my workplace – donate to shelters, shop for children in need, give money to charities. As Smarty gets older, all these activities are becoming more meaningful to her, and we are trying to get her to make as many decisions on her own as possible, especially when she contributes her own money saved from allowance and money gifts. So when her school announced a food drive to contribute to our local Second Harvest Food Bank, I suggested the following arrangement to my 8 year old:
  • For each dollar she contributes to the food drive, we will contribute $3.
  • She will look through supermarket flyers and select nutritious food to buy – the food that we will donate to the food drive. This led to a good discussion about what our food bank needs most.
  • She will write the shopping list and will do all the shopping while I will provide transportation and supervision.

Great Thanksgiving Book About Giving to Others

Can Do Thanksgiving
While discussing our food drive, we read again a wonderful Thanksgiving book The Can-Do Thanksgiving by Marion Hess Pomeranc illustrated by Nancy Cole. The topic of hunger and homelessness is approached sensitively in this book through the eyes of a girl who contributes a can of food to a food drive and writes her name on it in hopes of finding out where her can goes. She then helps out at a shelter’s Thanksgiving meal and discovers that kids of her age are coming to this feast. Smarty, of course, asked if we could help out in the shelter kitchen as well, but we have my parents coming over for Thanksgiving. However, I will look to see if we can get more involved in our local food bank that accepts volunteers.

Kids Will Feel Needed If They Are Really Helping


I took Smarty shopping for Giving Tree before, but she was not really “engaged” in that effort, since, after all, not a lot was needed from her. The wish was already made, the present did not need to be wrapped. It was just a trip to the store like any trip to pick a birthday present for a friend but even with less opportunity to choose or think. This food drive was different. Smarty was absolutely engaged in choosing food to buy, writing a shopping list, and calculating the total. Then we came to the store, and she forgot all about her shopping list with all the other options on the shelves. She managed to keep herself to the items that the food bank was asking for, but she went way over her initial budget of $20. She ended up spending $40 – also a good lesson on what happens if you don’t stick with your shopping list. But at least this going over budget was for a good cause, and she contributed her own $10 to it.
After we came home, Smarty built this can tower to show Papa her choices before taking them to school the next day. Now she is asking me if we can contribute extra $$$ to the food bank following the same 1:3 approach. We can certainly do that as well Smile

Your Turn

How do you involve your children in serving others?

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