Friday, December 27, 2013

After Christmas - Fun With Cardboard Boxes

The day after Christmas, or Boxing Day as it's known in many countries around the world, is a great day to make use of all the empty boxes left over after Christmas.  It might not be the intended purpose of the day, but as the point of the holiday open for debate, I figured it could be as good a tradition as any.

Not to mention, it was a bumper year for excellent boxes at our house.  My sister, alone, sent three boxes, one inside another, thanks to some confusion with the shipping guy.  The children snatched those immediately...

...claiming to be making some sort of snowman disguise.

I have yet to see the finished product, but the project has provided quite a few hours of engrossing entertainment for them all.

I've been busy myself, taking down the tree, and boxing up the Christmas decorations.  But, I couldn't resist taking a few hours to make use of the children's scraps, along with a few smaller boxes... try out a 3d dinosaur puzzle template I spotted over at

The template is actually for a 6 foot, wooden, dinosaur puzzle.   I printed it half-sized to make allowance for the amount of cardboard, and floor space I had to use.  

Wood would probably be more stable. The boys helped me sure up some of the weak, bendy spots on our dinosaur's legs, and spine with craft sticks and duct tape, and we were able to get it to stand - if not very well. 

As for the puzzle itself, it was very much like putting together one of those little boxed sets, only without all the splinters, broken pieces, and sanding.  And, the large size made it a lot of fun to pose and play around.

So, what did you do for Boxing Day?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Mini Gingerbread Houses

For years now, it's been our tradition for me to surprise the children with a homemade gingerbread house to enjoy as a special treat after the Christmas Eve service.  Of course, they know it's coming, so it's not really a surprise, but I try to bake and decorate it when no one is around, or when the children are napping or occupied, so it just appears on the kitchen counter with no warning.

This year, on a whim, instead of cutting the gingerbread out around our usual template, I cut six tiny gingerbread houses using the template provided by Not Martha for the little houses meant to be draped over the rims of mugs of hot chocolate...

...omitting the backdoor, since ours won't be going over mugs...

...and adding windows, using a butter knife, and the large end of a pastry tip as a cutter... that each of the children would have a tiny, teddy graham inhabited house... decorate themselves.

I would have loved to have had it together enough to have made enough houses for the children to decorate with their friends instead of sugar cookies, but I also really wanted to leave time for a pre-Christmas nap.  As it was, this project, while only being slightly more labor intensive than a single, normal size house, definitely upped the decorating mess factor.

It was a tremendously fun, but best done after the company had gone, when a sprinkle or two (or two hundred) on the floor didn't matter, and Mom...

...had had that nap, and was back to being a well rested, carefree, lover of Christmas fun.  Keeping in mind the wise words of Augustine - Our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in Christ.

A Very Merry and Well Rested Christmas to all of you.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Cookies with the Teens

Most of the youth groups in town were canceled this weekend, for Christmas break - making Sunday afternoon seem like a good time for my oldest three (ages 12-16) to invite in a few friends for an impromptu Christmas "party". Meaning, we had managed to find a quarter hour to bake batch of sugar cookies, and the house was clean enough for a group of teens.

The kids came straight from their respective churches, so we fed them lunch, but kept it simple with a couple of frozen lasagnas, bread sticks, and salad.

I sent them off to entertain themselves, while I cleared and reset the table for cookie decorating with:

  • a plate of undecorated cookies (our normal recipe of 2 cups flour, 2 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1 stick of salted butter softened, and 1 teaspoon vanilla was sufficient to make 28 normal size Christmas cookies, and 14 minis)
  • 1 large plate for each teen (or pre-teen) to work on
  • a triple batch of butter cream frosting (I totally cheated and used canned frosting) divided into bowls with a variety of colors added, and one batch  left white
  • extra bowls, spoons, and food coloring for mixing their own colors of frosting (and mix they did)
  • snack sized, resealable bags with scissors handy to snip corners for piping
  • a variety of candy sprinkles
  • every butter knife in the house, for spreading frosting
  • several piles of napkins
  • and a few damp dishrags on the ready.
The kids frosted, talked, laughed, and ate a LOT of frosting.  Some took their decorating very seriously. Others glopped on some frosting, and called it good.  But, they all seemed to enjoy themselves.

When they were satisfied with their work, I shooed them back to their video games, cleared away the mess (which, being used to decorating with younger children - was not too bad at all).  I moved their masterpieces onto paper plates, so they could munch on a few, and wrap up their leftovers to take home.  All that was left was to join the Man of the House, sequestered in our room watching Christmas movies with the younger children, slipping out every once in while, to offer hot chocolate, eggnog, a glass of milk, or a board game/puzzle suggestion to teens wandering through the kitchen for a bite of cookie.

Before we knew it, the afternoon was over, and parents were picking up their teens for dinner.  I suppose by next year, they'll be driving themselves, and might be too cool for cookies and hot chocolate...but I hope not.

It's great to be homeschooler.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Christmas Carol Vocabulary Activity - Capacious Amounts of Coal

I'm not usually a big fan of handing out candy in the classroom.  It can set a bad precedent, and often backfires.  However, while reading A Christmas Carol this week, with my small reading groups, I made an exception. First off, because it was the last week before Christmas break, and everyone was handing out goodies. And secondly, those little bags of candy coal on the end aisles of all the grocery stores, at this time of year, are perfect for Dickens' classic.

I used them in our classroom as incentive for close reading.  The word capacious, meaning ample, roomy, and generous - was one of our Stave 2 vocabulary words, from when Fezziwig adjusts his "capacious waistcoat".  But, the word is used twice in Stave 3, as well, in connection with the Ghost of Christmas Present.

This garment hung so loosely on the figure, that its capacious breast was bare, as if disdaining to be warded or concealed by any artifice. 

How it bared its breadth of breast, and opened its capacious palm, and floated on, outpouring, with a generous hand, its bright and harmless mirth on everything within its reach!

So, as we read Stave 3 aloud, I had the students on the lookout for the word.  When they spotted it, all they had to do was raise their hand, and point it out on the page, and they could receive a piece of coal - for a total of two pieces of coal each for the chapter.  Not exactly a capacious amount, but enough to keep the students engaged, and following along while their classmates took their turns reading.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tasting "A Christmas Carol" - Christmas Pudding

We watched Disney's The Muppet Christmas Carol for our family movie night, to go along with our reading of the Dickens classic.  I was pleasantly surprised at the number of direct quotes from the story it contains.  It turned out to be a lot more on the educational side, than I had anticipated.  Though, of course, with the Muppets there was plenty of "entertainment", too.

The children had a good time picking out the parts of the movie that were the same, and the parts that deviated from the book.

The Christmas pudding was omitted from the Kermit/Cratchit's Christmas dinner.  But, that was okay, because I was ready with Mathew Walker Christmas pudding (ordered earlier in the week off of Amazon) to fill the gap.

I had deliberately ordered the small, four serving pudding, so that I would be able to deliver the line that, "nobody said or thought that it was at all a small pudding for a large family", and because as I suspected...

...the English dessert is an acquired taste - especially for our American palates...sort of like a really moist fruit cake.

I don't think Christmas pudding will make our list Christmas favorites. It was fun though to take a taste, and bring a spoonful of the story to life.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

A Christmas Carol Stave 2 Vocabulary Activity

To review some of the vocabulary from stave 2 of Dickens' A Christmas Carol (though again, this activity would work with any book you happen to be reading through near Christmastime) I gave the children stocking tops (the white papers) with quotes from the stave/chapter printed on them, with the vocabulary words underlined, to match up with the synonyms, printed on the polka dots (round label stickers) of construction paper stockings.

The activity worked the way I  had hoped, but I think it might have been even better to have given the students the stockings with the tops attached, but polka dots blank, so they could have looked up the vocabulary words in a thesaurus, and filled in the synonyms themselves, for that little extra push of learning.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, December 16, 2013

"A Christmas Carol" Stave 1 Vocabulary Activity

I put this activity together, to work on the vocabulary from stave 1 of A Christmas Carol, with a couple of small reading groups I lead at a local private school, and with my own children (the 10 to 16 year olds, anyway) at home.

We used the Christmas Carol vocabulary for stave 1 from, but the activity would work equally well with any of the staves, or for the vocabulary from any book you happen to be reading through, near Christmas.

I started by sketching out a large-ish Christmas tree, on a 4 foot sheet, from a roll of paper.  Before coloring it in, I traced out a circle on the tree for each vocabulary word.

But, instead of printing the vocabulary words in the circles, I used their synonyms.

I printed the vocabulary words on the backside (upside down) of paper Christmas balls, traced out around a cup, slightly larger, than I had used for the circles on the tree.  I decorated the front sides of the ornaments with a couple squiggly lines, and marked them with the page number on which the word on the back could be found.

Finally, I gave them to my students (a different set and tree for each group) as a vocabulary race.  The goal was for each student to grab a Christmas ball, find its vocabulary word on the proper page of their book, and print out part, or all of the sentence it was found in, before matching the ball to the circle on the tree with the corresponding synonym (I had thesauruses on hand, in case help was needed).  They glued the ornaments to the tree by the tops, so when they were done, the tree was covered in quotes from the chapter...

...that could be lifted up to reveal the vocabulary words with their synonyms underneath.

The student who placed the most ornaments correctly on the tree was the winner, and got an extra piece of (candy) coal - as well as a hearty, "Bah! Humbug!" from everyone else.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Simple Christmas Craft - 3D Cardboard Christmas Trees

I don't know who first came up with the idea of slipping two cardboard trees together to make them stand, but it's a classic for sure.

It's also the sort of craft I really love, because it gives the illusion of a messy and complicated project, without actually being messy or complicated.

So, before I cleaned up the cardboard left over from our cookie craft, I asked the older girls (and a friend who was visiting and needed something to do) to cut out a couple of trees each for the younger children.  There are templates all over the place online - we used one from a freebie math craftivity featured this month at (there are all kinds of great Christmas themed worksheets to be found over there right now - many of them free).

Anyway, once the girls were done with the trees, I cut alternating slits from the bottoms and tops of each pair, midway down... they could be slipped together to make a standing tree - just like with the slip-together playhouse.

Then, I took them apart, for the children to paint green on both sides (the part that seemed messy, but with washable paint, and paper covering the table - really wasn't).

We left them to dry overnight (making them seem complicated), flipping them every once and a while, so the paint wouldn't stick to the paper.

 And, I gave them back to the children, to decorate with stick on jewels (of course any type of sticker would work - or even bits of paper to glue on).

Making for a great seems-like-a-lot-of-work-but-is-really-quite-easy kind of Christmas craft.  Now I just have to dig out our copy Hans Christian Andersen's The Fir Tree, and we'll be all set.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Super Simple Christmas Craft - Cardboard Christmas Cookies

I've mentioned our love of decorating cardboard Christmas cookies before.  It's such a classic, no muss, no fuss, low maintenance type craft though, I thought it might be worth a second mention.

A couple of minutes of tracing, and cutting cookie cutter shapes from thin cardboard - the backs of cereal boxes, or the card stock from the backs of paper reams - a box of crayons, and maybe some Christmas music to set the mood, and you've got the makings for an entire afternoon of Christmas crafting...

 ...and pretend play...

...with very little clean-up required.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Christmas Science Craft for Children - Spiral Angel Spinners

Add a Christmas touch to the old convection spinner experiment (where a paper spiral is hung above a lit candle to allow children to "see" the air current created by the rising hot air) by giving the plain spiral an angelic make-over.

Simply cut a salad plate sized paper circle into a wide spiral...

...lift up the center of the spiral, and glue two quarters of a paper doily to it (or something equally pretty) points together - to form wings.

Then, glue two small circles (we used a medicine cup for a pattern) on either side of the center of the wings, sandwiching the center of the spiral, and the two loose ends of a loop of string - for hanging, between them.

Decorate the circle faces, or leave them blank, if you prefer.  They are pretty either way.

Make one, or an entire chorus of spiral messengers.

They make a lovely decoration, spinning slowly in the candlelight.  Just take care with the open flame...

...nobody wants a house fire for Christmas, I'm sure.

It's great to be a homeschooler.