Friday, 28 December 2012

Activities around The Snowman

Ahhh! Christmas is over, we have finished all the activities on our garland, and there is no need to count down any more. We are already missing opening the advent calendars' windows, making tree ornaments, the smell of spices in the kitchen and the general anticipatory mood. Hopefully, you have all had an amazing Christmas and have got to the other side all cheered and happy. As for us, we are back in our home and the tree is still standing with all its decorations, although the branches are starting to look a little floppy.

On Christmas day, we watched The Snowman and the Snowdog, the sequel to the wordless 1982 film adaptation of Raymond Briggs' classic on television. This year marks the 30th anniversary of The Snowman, which has been shown every year on Channel 4 at Christmas since 1982. Ju's grandfather kindly gave him The Snowman book and CD set for Christmas. What more could we need to busy ourselves around The Snowman today? Just because Christmas has been and gone, it surely doesn't mean Christmas crafting stops here.

After watching the episode of The Snowman and the Snowdog again on Channel 4OD, the boys had a snowman lunch, consisting of a toasted bagel spread with cream cheese and decorated with blueberries for the mouth and eyes and a slice of carrot for the nose.

Then we made some snowmen rice crispies cakes, using up the last of our marshmallows and some leftover sweeties to decorate. The boys enjoyed eating those for dessert.
We used:
- 160 g rice crispies
- 65 g butter
- 260 g marshmallows
We melted the butter in a saucepan, then added the marshmallows, stirring for about 10 minutes on a low heat until everything was melted and smooth. Then we mixed in the rice crispies.

We waited for the mix to cool slightly and then made balls for the head and body.

Then we got decorating with small sweets and chocolate stars for buttons, eyes and noses, liquorice all sorts for hats, and jelly snakes for the scarves.

After lunch, we re-read the story of The Snowman and then got onto The Snowman's website, where we found instructions and a printable template to make a mobile. The mobile was simple enough to make, using glue, ribbon, sellotape and scissors. Ju stuck the sellotape and cut the ribbon.

We hung the finished mobile in his room. Ju particularly enjoyed prodding the characters with his new pirate foam sword to make them move.

If you are looking for more snowmen-related activities, check out the sock snowmen we made on Day 12 and the mozzarella snowmen which were part of our Christmas feast on Day 9. Time for us to go and listen to Walking in the Air our Snowman CD now...

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Monday, 24 December 2012

Last Minute Christmas Decorations

So we're spending a few days with family in Norfolk. As we're staying in a holiday cottage, the lack of Internet has prevented me from posting on our activities but not to craft. As we are guests here, the tree is a little bit bare so we have joined forces with my sister-in-law and her children to get decorating.
Here are our ideas for some very last minute decorations:
- wrapping paper concertina
- felt ornaments
- decorated wooden ornaments
- pre-cut foam reindeer and sleighs
- Father Christmas on a lollipop stick
- decorated paper boxes
My lovely sister-in-law brought this great book of Christmas paper crafts which I look forward to using too.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

A (digital) letter to Santa

We haven't written our letter to Santa yet, so we thought we might use the powers of the Internet to speed things up a bit, as it is only 3 days to Christmas; who knows how long it would take for our postcard to reach the North Pole? There are many free websites that let children enter their wishlist online and send a reply for Santa. We sent two online letters to Santa today and had fun on those two websites with different digital activities.

North Pole
On this website, we had to create an account, but the user interface was very friendly, with hardly any adverts (all of them easy to ignore). The main page was Santa's secret village, from which a range of activities was available, such as listening to stories, songs, a crafts section, possibility to send e-cards, etc... There were games which were well suited to pre-schoolers, including a memory game which both Ju and Lilo enjoyed greatly. The stories we listened to involved reindeer and elves, and even though the story reader sounded a bit computer-generated, the boys enjoyed listening to the different stories.

The letter to Santa was well laid out for pre-schoolers, with a pictorial selection of toys to choose from for their wish list, as well as space to enter their own wish list. On top of Ju's wish list this year is a sprayer, which we hope Santa has in his workshop. Ju's special message to Santa was "Happy Birthday and Thank you". I think perhaps his understanding is that Jesus and Santa are the same person. This site allows parents to word their own letter from Santa in reply to their child's.
Screenshot from our letter to Santa on

A Letter 4 Santa
For this website, we didn't have to create an account, but the site was full of clickable adverts. The range of activities was more limited than the North Pole and not as well presented. The games sections was also aimed at older children, unfortunately for us. The sing along section was lovely, although we didn't know most of the songs on it. We couldn't watch anything in the movies section as they were restricted to US viewers. Ju really enjoyed the online colouring book.

The letter to Santa was decently laid out, and as a bonus, we got a well-worded reply straight away on screen. All in all, we preferred the North Pole website to A Letter 4 Santa, but the latter had the distinct advantage of allowing us to remain anonymous.
Screenshot from our letter to Santa on

Friday, 21 December 2012

Two Kids Christmas Movies

So today, we were travelling down South to be with family over the festive period. What better excuse to watch Christmas films? As we don't have a TV at home, films are our special treat. Also, it is a great way to keep the boys quiet and still while we are packing and tidying up the house and travelling on the plane. And all the while, we complete one of the activities on our Christmas countdown garland, which is to "watch a Christmas film".

The films we chose to watch were:
  • The Polar Express
  • Arthur Christmas

Both are animation films and I won't summarize them in case you haven't seen them - what I like most about films is the element of surprise as you discover the story line and the characters, so I won't be one for spoiling that for you. Ju enjoyed watching the Polar Express, and told me it was all about a boy and a train, and a bell, and Santa and a present, and how the bell was inside the... oh! but I really didn't want to spoil it for you.

Along withThe Polar Express, I printed out and partially laminated this free brilliant activity pack from Living Life Intentionally aimed at Pre-schoolers up to first graders, and we are taking it with us on our holiday. Ju started doing some of the activities: cutting, letter writing, dice games, finding letters...

And here is a brilliant Pinterest board, which has great ideas of activities to go along with watching the Polar Express.

On the plane, Ju watched Arthur Christmas and was quite taken by it. Again, I'm afraid I will not spoil the plot, but it's definitely approved by my 3-year old.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Wrapping Presents Playtime

As I am not the most organised person, I generally leave wrapping presents to the last minute. It then becomes such a chore, as it has to be done quickly and well. Darling Him loves doing it, so he generally has the pleasure of wrapping for both of us (well, I do wrap his, to keep it a surprise). When we wrote down "wrapping presents" as one of our countdown to Christmas activities, I wasn't actually intending Ju to wrap all my presents for me. The aim was to playfully experiment with matching different sizes of paper with different object sizes, to develop coordination with sticking sticky tape while holding paper, and generally discuss the point of wrapping presents at all. Also, did I mention Ju loves folding paper at the moment?

This is what I gathered for today's playful activity:
  • jam jar lids
  • several packaging boxes of different sizes: small cosmetic box, light bulb box,...
  • pieces of wrapping paper of different sizes (use recycled paper from previous years/gifts)
  • scissors
  • small strips of sellotape (lots!)
  • last year's Christmas card, main picture cut into small squares
  • hole punch
  • pieces of wool
Ju chose a jam jar lid to wrap first, and he folded it up inside some paper. He stuck sellotape, not necessarily on the bits that needed to be stuck together, but more on top of the paper. This allowed us to discuss the point of sellotape in closing any "gaps" and fixing the folds onto the main bit of the present wrap.
Wrapping a jam jar lid
He then cut some paper with his scissors and realised that it was too small for the box he had originally intended to wrap, so he chose one of the smaller boxes.
Ju cuts paper to wrap this box but then realises that the piece of paper is too small
Wrapping paper absorbed him for quite a while and he didn't really get frustrated until the fourth wrap. 
Holding the folded paper while putting the sellotape on is tricky
He then punched one hole in each of the tags and set about threading the wool into the hole to make the tag attachment.
Punching holes through the tags
Threading wool through the tag
Present ready: " I will put it under the tree now"

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Wonderful Snowflakes on our Window

Today we were decorating the window in the kitchen, one of the activities still left in our Christmas countdown activity garland. Our themes were snowflakes and transparency of colours. The structure of a snowflake is nearly completely unique, because complex shapes emerge as the flake moves through differing temperature and humidity regimes. However, most snowflakes have a hexagonal symmetry. The vagueness and wonder in snowflake patterns, combined with the fact that there are certain rules to follow, make them an ideal craft project.

Paper snowflakes, plain and rainbow-coloured

We started by folding and cutting an A4 sheet of paper to make a square. Ju loves folding paper and experimenting with cutting through several thicknesses of paper at the moment, so he was very keen to do this.
Ju folds his paper
Because we used standard printing paper, it was actually really hard to cut through the many layers of paper once we had folded it as per this tutorial. Ju helped with the folding, but I had to do the cutting. We folded a square in two to make a triangle, then in two again; then we folded the two outer corners onto the middle line, and folded this in two. Then we cut the outside to give us a wedge. I recommend you look at the tutorial linked above, it's very clearly explained.
Once we had a wedge, I just cut into it to make patterns, and then we opened up the piece of paper. What wonder awaits when the insignificant wedge reveals itself into a beautifully symmetrical and delicate snowflake! And so, we made two paper snowflakes today.

Our two paper snowflakes, before and after unfolding
One of them went up on the window.

We had a little fun laminating the other snowflake, sandwiching it together with some coloured tissue paper. We cut the laminated shape out, and made a hole with hole punch to hang it up. Ju threaded some wool into the hole and we hung it on the window too.

Snowy soft snowflakes

For this, we took some glittery Christmas drape and cut out two large six-pointed snowflake shapes. Really simple, but it looks like fresh, soft, giant snow.
Drape snowflake on the window

Hot glue snowflakes

I have to thank We Lived Happily Ever After for this idea. My hot glue gun and I set to work on the window to create some six-pointed snowflakes by drawing them free-hand, while Ju and Lilo had their lunch (cunning trick to keep them away from the hot glue). 

I put a little bit of silver glitter just before the hot glue set to make them extra sparkly. Drawing the snowflakes wasn't hard, but I found mine were a little bit messier looking than I would have liked. I expect I should get better at it with some practice. As the evening is drawing in, these are looking even prettier as their three-dimensional opacity is reflecting the street lights glowing outside. 

Please note that this is not to be attempted if the weather is very cold, as the difference in temperature between the hot glue and the freezing outside surface of the window could cause the glass to crack. Thankfully we had no such worry. And ours is also a low temperature hot glue gun.
Hot glue gunning a snowflake on the window
My three hot glue snowflakes
We added to the snowflakes a few homemade stained glass effect window ornaments, including the Sharpie marker recycled stained window ornament we made on Day 8. We can now consider our kitchen window officially decorated. It will be lovely to look at our window from the street too. I wonder if Darling Him will notice when he gets home tonight.

Snowflake decorated window
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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Sweet Little Gifts

A tradition we used to have in my family around Christmas time was to make truffles, either for us to eat, or to give away as little gifts. When Ju said he wanted to eat chocolate as part of our Christmas countdown activities, I thought he too might enjoy making and giving truffles. We will take some to the nursery Christmas party tomorrow and also take some with us to give to family when we travel on Friday. If I can keep them hidden from Darling Him long enough, that is.

I made the chocolate preparation (a ganache) the night before, melting 300g dark 70% chocolate on a double-boiler, then mixing it in with 200 ml almost boiling double cream. I refrigerated this overnight, to allow it to set.

Melting dark chocolate over a double boiler

Mixing hot double cream into the melted chocolate
Today, we all washed our hands thoroughly twice and then I shaped little walnut-sized balls out of the chocolate preparation. I passed them to the boys to roll in the cocoa powder and then place in the little paper petit four cases.
Ju rolls the truffles in the cocoa powder

Ju puts the ready truffle in a paper case

Lilo puts the truffles on the plate
They both enjoyed doing this, although Lilo's first three went into his mouth. Hands and mouth were covered in dark chocolate and cocoa powder. This is certainly not an activity for the faint-hearted!
Truffles all ready
We made 36 truffles in total with the recipe above. They have to be refrigerated and will keep for up to a week this way.

We then made little heart boxes out of card using this template. It's a very handy one as it doesn't require glue or staples, just cutting, scoring with a butter knife and folding. Each box fits 4 truffles, which is plenty, as these truffles are very dark and rich. The boxes are a bit too fiddly for little hands, but older children might be able to make them by themselves. Ju decorated them a little bit. I wrote down the ingredients and the use before date on the box.
Heart box template all cut out

Box with 4 truffles

Ju shows off the box

I also have started making "marrons glaces", which are candied chestnuts, which are very Christmassy sweet gifts. However, they take 3 days to make according to this recipe I am following. So here is the progress so far: I have boiled the chestnuts and peeled them.
Boiling chestnuts
Chestnuts all peeled

I am now ready to introduce them to their first syrup. Wish me luck and I'll keep you posted about the result on Friday!

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