Halloween Preschool Crafts

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This week I had the pleasure to teach at my sister’s co-op preschool… and the theme is Halloween! I was super excited to help out because there are so many fun Halloween crafts and activities for kids. And they are EASY too! Here are some spooky but friendly ideas for your little one to do.

Puzzle Pumpkin Name

Cut out pumpkin shape. Write name on it. Draw lines between each letter and cut. Mix letters around and help child arrange them in the correct order. Glue on to paper and add a cute green pumpkin stem!

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Spider Handprints

Trace child’s hand on black construction paper. Cut out two handprints and a circle. Glue each handprint on to the back of the circle. Attach googly eyes on to the face… because what kid doesn’t love googly eyes?!

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Handprint Witch

Trace child’s hand on paper. Color green or another preferable color for a witch’s face. Trace and cut out a witch’s hat. Glue on to the top of the traced hand. Give her eyes, a nose, and a mouth. Draw on crazy witch hair, a broom to fly on, stars, and a moon. And wah-la! Beautiful art work to display for Halloween.

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Happy Halloween and happy crafting!!

Heather signature

DIY Lego Birthday Party

Both of my sons have been very enthusiastic about Legos this year, so I wasn’t surprised when my oldest decided on a Lego theme for his birthday party.  And, being the crazy summer that it is, I gave myself only 6 days to plan and prepare everything from start to finish. I  wondered how it would all turn out, but everything was, in fact, awesome. Cue music….

It turns out that there are tons of free printable resources online that made my job pretty easy! We used a free, customizable Lego movie invitation, these minifig straw decorations that we used as cupcake toppers, a minifig coloring page, and free printable Lego cupcake wrappers.

The Prep

I tried to involve my son as much as possible in the party prep, and it was a fun bonding experience, plus he was actually pretty helpful.  We handed out invitations that we printed 4-on-a-page and mounted on bright cardstock paper that we already had.

Hale Grafx free printable

We printed the minifig coloring pages, and also the straw toppers and cupcake wrappers, and cut those out. The boys used double stick tape to attach the straw toppers to craft sticks for the cupcake toppers.

I collected and separated Lego pieces into individual bags for our Lego car- building activity (check garage sales and local classified ads, or use your own stash and don’t send them home as favors).

I did purchase a few things for the party. I bought these Lego favor bags pictured below, some lego brick candies which I added to the favor bags and also decorated the cupcakes with (see below), a silicone Lego candy mold (we made chocolates, but you could do ice cubes, other candies, crayons, etc.), and minifig crayon sets which we could have made on our own if we’d had time.

 

 

I had some Wilton Candy Melts on hand that I used to make the Lego candies by melting the chips in the microwave, pouring in the molds, and refrigerating for a few minutes. They set up pretty fast, allowing me to use just one mold to make many candies very quickly. I packaged them up in small bags that I also had on hand already that I had found at the grocery store.

I also bought a long green plastic table cloth, red square plates, yellow cups and silverware, and blue napkins from the dollar store ($5 total).  I drew the minifig faces on the cups with a permanent marker.  I didn’t want to worry about feeding the kids lunch, but I got a veggie tray and a fruit tray, and that went over pretty well with the kids.

The  Party

We invited 10 7- year- olds, and I was a little worried about chaos, so I planned enough activities to keep them busy for 2 hours and made an itinerary.  My sister Cara was gracious enough to come help the activities move along and stay organized. Here is what my itinerary looked like:

10am  Gathering activity- Minifig coloring/decorating (10 min)

10:10  Lego relay race (10 min)
10:20  Lego straw game (5 min)
10:25  Snacks (veggie and fruit trays) (10 min)
10:35  Build and race cars (25 min)
11:00  Lego bracelets (25 min)
11:25  Presents (15 min)
11:40  Cake (20 min)

 

We did the coloring as a gathering activity while we were waiting for all the kids to arrive, and in addition to crayons, I provided googly eyes, pom-poms, glue, etc. to decorate them with.

Next we did a relay race, Egg-on-a-spoon style, with a tub of legos, a spoon for each team, and a bucket for them to dump their Legos into. I set a timer for 4 minutes (you could adjust according to the age of the kids playing) and they got as many Legos as they could without dropping them.

After the timer went off, I had the kids count how many Legos were in the buckets, and the winners got a prize (I reassured the kids that every kid would get to win a prize by the end of the party).

We also played the M&M game with straws and Lego pieces instead of M&Ms. (The idea is to use the straw to create suction and pick up Lego bricks for a minute or two. The winner is the one with the most pieces when the timer goes off. Make sure the pieces are large enough to be picked up this way and won’t be a choking hazard!)

I combined the snack time with the Lego car activity. The kids spent more time doing these things than I expected, and really seemed to enjoy building their cars.  They all got relatively similar pieces, but the cars were very distinct and unique from each other.  I loved watching their creativity.  After they finished building, we went outside to the ramp my husband put together with some wood and sheets of plastic propped up on a sawhorse. Each child raced their car against another, and everyone got prizes.

I thought Lego friendship bracelets would be a fun craft that boys and girls would each enjoy, and although the kids needed a lot of help, they all seemed to think it was a pretty cool activity.  They even realized they could carry around their Lego cars stuck to the bracelets. :)  We followed this tutorial from The Centsible Life for Lego friendship bracelets. My husband went through our Lego stash and pulled a few pieces out, and drilled the holes pretty quickly.

I like to do cake and ice cream as the very last thing at birthday parties, so we sang “Happy Birthday and passed out the cupcakes after the presents were open. (I will share the delicious dairy- free recipes I used in a later post!)

My son was thrilled with how his party turned out, and all the kids stayed busy enough that there were no squabbles, and no chaos, so I was happy too!

DIY Can Stilts

Warm, sunny days are becoming limited around here, so we decided to make the most of the good weather and make these stilts. This is a fun activity that I remember doing as a child, and my kids didn’t really even know what stilts were, so I though this would be fun to do with them.

I used #10 food storage cans that were going to be recycled anyway, but you could use any sturdy metal can (like a large soup can).  Just use your judgement on if it is strong enough/ big enough for your child.

My 4 year old loved being my helper and the look on his face when he tried the stilts for the first time was priceless.

Here’s how to make your own tin can stilts:

1. Gather your materials. You’ll need two metal cans that are the same size, some twine or strong cord, scissors to cut the cord, a thicker- sized nail, and a hammer.

2. Using the nail and hammer, make two holes- one each on opposite sides of the can, just under the rim of the sealed end of the can.

3. Cut a length of cord or twine and poke each of the ends through the holes you just made.  The length you should cut the twine depends on the height of your child.  When they are standing on the stilts, the twine should come high enough that they can grip it easily but have no slack in the string (slack makes it easier to fall off or trip).

4. Tie the ends of the twine together inside the can for a hidden knot- or, if you want easier adjusting, string it though the opposite way, with the knot at the top where the handhold is.

5. Repeat steps for the other can.

Photo credit goes to my 4 year old!

Test it- you know, quality control!  Remember that the strings need to be pulled very tight as you walk in order to keep the cans next to your feet to avoid tripping or falling. It may take a little practice!

My first grader wanted to get in on the fun when he got home from school and both boys spent about an hour tromping in and out of the garage and down the sidewalk.

Yay for homemade (recycled) toys!  Do you remember making stilts like this as you were growing up?

Travelling With Kids (And Saving Your Sanity)

By my calculations, this year we have logged more than 80 hours of extended travel with our kids (some of it was just me and the kids) by plane and car.  And we’re looking at probably 50 more before the year is finished (starting next week!).  So I’m starting to feel like I’ve got this down, more or less.

My kids are in the 2-5 range, so I’m sure it would be a different story and a different game plan with a baby or with older kids, but here are some things that have worked for us! UPDATE 7/6/15 My older kids are now in the 5-7 range and most of these activities are still very entertaining for them. I’ll add a few more things we have included to our travel preparations, as we still do a fair amount of traveling with kids each year. Look for the updates throughout the post. (Post contains affiliate links, which help support this blog- thank you!)

The Basics:
We start out with a few foundation items: a cooler with plenty of healthy snacks, a few not- so healthy ones, and drinks.  Books, pillow/ blanky, and one or two beloved toys.  Technology- some new tunes on an mp3 player- both kid songs and grown up music, a portable DVD player for the car, our favorite kid shows, Leap Pads, earphone splitter, and headphones.

We are usually in the car for 13-14 hours one way, so we need a LOT to keep our kids entertained and happy.  I don’t want them watching movies the whole time, and they aren’t really into that either- usually 1-2 movies only for a trip that length. I do encourage them to nap, and sometimes they will for a short time, but the majority of the time they are kept happiest when they have a variety of activities to choose from.  We alternate the basics above with activities from the bag of tricks below.

The Activity Rotation
We rotate through our bag of tricks, each activity lasting on average from 15-30 minutes, repeating our favorites multiple times. (Your kids might have longer attention spans, depending on their personalities and ages, the times I list below are just to give a general idea)  Here are some of our favorites:

Good old pencil and paper for drawing, name writing, and letter/ number/ shape practice.  This one probably only lasts 10-15 minutes at a time.

Magnadoodles.  We would do this activity maybe after a movie, not drawing in notebooks.  Probably another 10-15 minute activity for my boys.

Silly putty is a great fine motor activity and there are sooo many variations on this activity.  Sculpting, twisting, stretching, ink printing, stamping, impression making, bubble blowing etc.  We are happy with this activity for at least 30 minutes.

A memory game of some type is good (Here is the one we have); there are also tons of free printables you can find on Pinterest that are travel memory games or scavenger hunts. This is a 10-15 minute activity for us, but I think as they get older, and if I had more variations of it, they would play longer.

Scratch art.  This is a fun activity for older kids and maybe grown ups too!  You use the wooden stylus to scratch off the black coating and underneath is brightly colored plastic when you hold it up to the light.  This is a 25-30 minute activity for my kids, but they need a little encouragement.

Dry erase activities (like this).  We pack a couple different colors of dry erase pens, and just use tissue to erase.  For whatever reason, my boys both love using dry erase markers over any other type of writing implement.  My only warning is that dry erase pen is VERY hard to get out of clothing…  My kids will play with this activity for about 25 minutes.

Magnatab.  This is somewhat similar to the magnadoodle in that you use a magnetic stylus, but it works by pulling up a little metal ball that lodges in a groove near the top of the surface.  You can’t draw anything very detailed, but it makes a satisfying sound and it is somewhat of a novelty.  My kids will probably spend about 20 minutes on this.

Stringing beads and shapes. This is actually an activity that I inherited from my mom, and it is kind of nostalgic because Marissa and I played with this in the car 20+ years ago!  My mom actually had us help her make salt dough shapes, which we let dry and then painted together.  My mom cut out a bunch of felt shapes and punched holes in them, and everything got strung on shoelaces.  We used to have all kinds of neon colored laces; this is what is left two decades later! Haha.  We add random empty spools, beads, etc. for stringing.  My kids will play with this for 20 minutes usually.

Felt board with story puppets and shapes.  Here’s another one I played with as a child, which my mom gave back to me.  (My mom is super creative, as you may be able to tell.  She made all of the puppets herself.)  The kids play with this usually about 15 minutes, then throw the shapes all around the car for another 10. I guess we take what we can get. Haha.

Eye Spy Books. We have a couple of these books along with some magnifying glasses.  That combo seems to last us about 30 minutes if we have enough books to search through.

Dollar Store games.  We have a few little things like this that we have found at the dollar store or saved from kid’s meals which will entertain the kids for 5-10 minutes on average.  Not very long, but it does the trick to distract them sometimes when they are starting to get whiny or have a meltdown.

WikkiStix.  This is another activity that is fun for kids and adults alike.  These “sticks” are actually pieces of yarn coated in some kind of wax that sticks to itself and other nonporous surfaces, but leaves your hands mess- free… win!  This awesome fine motor activity lasts us a good 30 minutes.

Here’s another blast from my past!  As you can tell, these also belonged to Marissa and I as kids.  Now my kids love coloring on the chalkboards.  I will probably have to give Marissa hers soon as her daughter gets old enough to use it.  :)  We just use colored chalk and tissue for erasers.  These have also stood the test of time for 20+ years!  This is a 20 minute activity.

Every once in a while, we get a really good kids meal toy.  We got several sets of these connector things from Wendy’s a few months ago, and I save two sets for our next car trip.  My kids will play with these for 30 minutes.

Magnet story board.  This is a new toy that I haven’t showed my kids yet. It is a metal box with three sheets of punch-out magnet animals that you can mix and match to make silly looking animals.  I’m hoping this one will give us at least 30 minutes of creativity. UPDATE 7/6/15 My kids have loved this activity and they sometimes request it even when they’re not traveling.

Sculpting play foam.  We love this stuff!  As long as your kids are old enough to not throw it around, it is super easy to clean up, and it sticks to itself only- not your hands, so totally mess- free!  Woohoo!  This is a 20+ minute activity.

Window Crayons and mirrors.  Ok, I’m going to warn you- this can get messy, so skip it if your kids will draw on seats, themselves, etc.  The crayons are almost a dry lipstick consistency, but it does wipe off very easily with wet wipes.  We do this activity for 15 minutes- any longer, and my kids will start drawing a mural on their carseats.

Mess- free markers.  If the previous activity made you shudder, then maybe this one will float your boat. These markers don’t actually use ink; they only work on specially treated paper.  So it is impossible to make a mess with these. My kids are interested in this for about 15 minutes.

Various car doo-dads.  Dancing giraffes, bendy blocks (made that name up), kaleidoscopes (we have these), and marble mazes that I sewed based on tutorials around the web.  Each of these activities is good for 5 minutes, give or take.

Creative commons photo credit

Triangular crayons or colored pencils for road trips are brilliant- they don’t roll. I think a few companies make them now; ours are Melissa and Doug.  We also have some clipboards that help a lot with coloring and many of the above activities just to provide a hard surface to work on.

UPDATE 7/6/15 Here are a few more items we have added:

Our most recent addition is this Boogie board. We haven’t used it on a trip yet, so I don’t have my own picture, but it is a fun LCD writing tablet that is fun for doodling on.

My boys love doing these types of mini Lego kits. They aren’t too expensive (usually around $5) and they can do them over and over. Cut out the picture on the front of the package, and keep the instructions if your kids are into that, and keep it all together with the Lego pieces in a ziplock bag.

For the grownups: For car trips, we bring our favorite healthy snacks, a couple treats, protein bars or drinks, our caffeine of choice (almost always Dr. Pepper), a book to read from, and an audiobook that is as exciting as possible.  One of our last trips we listened to Ender’s Game and it kept all the drowsiness away for both of us, which is super important if you drive at all during the night.

Between all the different activities, eating, potty breaks, movies, naps, and the mandatory looking out the window minutes between activities, that pretty much takes up our whole trip.  We have modified this to work on airplanes too.  It’s always a good idea to have at least a couple new things that your kids haven’t seen before.  On one trip, we wrapped everything in wrapping paper, and it was really fun for the kids to open their “presents”.  We never get these toys and activities out at any other time than travelling, so they are extremely desirable and the kids are excited to play with them.

Oh- before I forget- I got these toys from a variety of sources. Amazon, ToysRUs, some were gifts or we made them, Walmart, and a whimsy, magical toy store in the southwest Portland metro-ish area of Oregon called Mudpuddles. Favorite toystore ever! (I would link to them, but they don’t appear to have a working website. Dang. We are going to visit soon and do some Christmas shopping!)

Hopefully there were some good ideas for you.  Happy travels!

Rock art gift

I was looking through pictures from last summer and came across pictures of a special gift from my son’s fourth birthday party.  I am excited to share this creative gift/activity idea with you!  My parents and some of my younger siblings had been at the beach earlier in the summer and my dad had the idea of collecting the smooth, differently colored rocks from the sand and starting a collection for my son.  Some rocks were big, black, smooth and flat, and others were funny shapes, bright colors, and small.

My dad packaged the rocks up in a cool box and you can see from my son’s face that he thinks this gift is awesome.  “What?  You’re giving me rocks?”

This was a delightful tactile experience for both my boys- the youngest was two at the time so we had to watch him carefully so he wouldn’t put the rocks in his mouth.

“I can make a sandwich!”

“Look at this smiley face!”

In fact, it was so delightful, that pretty soon we had this going on:

Ok, so maybe we’re easily entertained (nothing wrong with that!) but something about this hands-on experience really brought out our creativity.

 

 

Honestly, the adults probably had as much fun as my son did making rock creations, and it was a great memory to make together.  I loved that it was spatially interesting and mentally stimulating (kind of like putting together a puzzle).  Mostly, I loved that my family thought about my son while they were away, and spent a lot of time picking up these rocks that they knew he would love.

On priorities and compromises

I live in a lovely, 3-bedroom condo. One room for the parents, one room for the boys.  And one room that is MINE. Only mine. Oh, does that sound a bit stingy?  {Yes, it does.}  My family has been kind enough to support my desire to escape into crafty/sewing land at my every whim {I am a sometimes introvert} over the past five years.  And I got to feeling like I owned that room, like I deserved it.  As if it was a sacred, holy land of creativity.  And it was that, but one day we had to look at the facts.  My boys were sharing a room- which is just fine!  BUT they had gotten into a bad, bad cycle of not being able to go to sleep in the same room {we’re talking staying up 3-4 hours, until 11pm} and then the older one waking up at the crack of dawn, while it was still dark out- even with blackout curtains- and turning on the light and waking up the cranky little brother.  Each morning was a disaster.  Crying, fighting, yelling, tearing the room apart every exhausting day… I may have joined in the crying and yelling once or twice after being woken up to referee or triage at 5am.  They were not happy.  My husband was not happy.  I was not happy.

So on a Saturday at the end of May, I packed up my beloved sewing table.  I put away all my crafting supplies and my lovely decor.  All the lovely things brought back for me by family members and friends from their travels Japan, Korea, Thailand, China, and India, and maybe a thing or two from Africa and Spain {can you tell we love Asia?}.  All of it in boxes.  I cried.  I moved it all out.  In went a twin bed, an adorable little three year old, and a whole heckuva lot of toys.

And you know what?  Peace.  In so many ways.  My boys are sleeping until at least 7am now, sometimes later.  They play quietly in their rooms for a while, then ask to play in the other’s room.  When things start escalating during the day, I send them to their rooms for “calm down time”- with their doors sometimes open, sometimes closed, until they feel calm enough to play together again.  Much less crying and fighting.  A happier Mama.  Was it worth it?  Yes.

Lest you think my crafting and sewing days are over, think again! I cleared out some floor space and drawer space in my room, and my sewing table lives in there now.  I still have 1/3 of the closet space in my old sewing room.  My computer desk is crammed almost hilariously in one of the corners of my living room.  Whatever.  It’s not feng shui but it is a good compromise.  I do occasionally find myself walking into “my” sewing room only to remember that it’s not MINE anymore as I see toys and flip flops all over the floor. >sigh< The benefits do outweigh the sacrifice though.  And this small sacrifice of mine seems right.

Someday I will have a room to myself again, but for now, I will smile every time I wake up to… quiet.

Have you ever had to make a compromise that in the end was worth it?

Angel Ornament Kid’s Craft

Here’s a quick idea for a fun craft to do with a group of children or just one or two!  I did this with the kids in our neighborhood playgroup last year and they all seemed to enjoy it.

You will need: 1 marshmallow, 2 doilies, a toothpick, some ribbon, red and black sharpies, tacky glue or hot glue, and some yellow embroidery floss or pipe cleaner for a halo.

Directions:  Fold one doily in half, and the other doily in quarters.  Glue the quartered doily on top of the half- doily, as shown in the picture.  Poke the toothpick up through the middle of the half- doily; the marshmallow goes on the exposed toothpick end.  Glue in place.  Cut a small piece of yellow floss or pipe cleaner and make your halo- glue it on.  Use the ribbon to make a loop to hang on the tree- glue that in place too.  Use the sharpies to make a face on the angel.

Fun, easy craft for the kiddos!

This year, I think I am going to have our playgroup make this simple but very cute ornament from Fun Home Things:

What crafts are you planning to do with your kids this year?

Camping, and Kiddie Sleeping Bags

I grew up in a camping family.  Not so much your ordinary campsite camping, but the backpack in a few miles in and stay a few days kind of camping.  Every summer, usually around mid-August, we would pack up and go.

My dad was there too, but he is taking the picture!

There was usually some of this…

sometimes some of this…

and we certainly did this…

After I got married, we went with my family a couple of times, but then life got busy, and we had kids.

Last week we went camping for the first time since we have had kids; in actuality, it has been about 7 years.  We were excited to let the kids experience it (even though it was your standard campsite kind of camping) and let them play with rocks and sticks and dirt, but we were also a little concerned about how to keep them warm at night (with temperatures in the low 40s) since our kids don’t stay in sleeping bags or keep their blankets on well.

What ended up working for us was to layer as much as we could.  So, each of my boys had on an undershirt or onesie and socks, pajamas I made for them out of my husband’s old thermals (pictured above), and zippered footie pajamas on top.  Each of the boys had their own little sleeping bag (made by me) and their usual blankets they sleep with on top.

I made this sleeping bag a few years ago for my oldest son.  I used 4 matching quilted pillow shams- I just sewed them together, leaving one side partially open and adding velcro for functionality.

Fully extended sleeping bag

Velcro closures

The end of the sleeping bag folded up for more warmth

I also made this sleeping bag for my younger son in preparation for our camping trip.  It is made from a hodgepodge of different fabrics I had laying around.  I figured if I had to go buy fabric I might as well just buy a sleeping bag, so I made it work with what I already had and busted some of my stash in the process… win!  (I used two different kinds of batting, two different kinds of fleece, and two different jersey knit fabrics, and and old 24″ zipper- a real mish-mash).

Well, the kids didn’t keep their sleeping bags on too well, but that might partly be due to the fact that they were so excited to be sleeping in a tent that they could barely hold still.  Once they fell asleep we had readjust the sleeping bags/ blankets a couple times but they stayed warmer than me! (I checked, and while I had ice cold ears and nose, they felt nice and toasty warm.  I obviously should have implemented the same layering strategy for myself.)

I forgot the camera on this camping trip (shame on me) but we have a couple more camping trips planned, including a backpacking trip with my family later this summer!  Woot!

Has anyone camped or backpacked with toddlers?  What advice do you have?