Early Childhood Homeschooling Made Easy

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Christmas Craft Projects

We’ve done numerous craft and baking projects this holiday season.  They are fun to do, they keep my daughter busy, and they can be a good learning tool.

Here are some of the projects we’ve done for Christmas.

Marshmallow Snowman

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Paper Wreath

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Paper Christmas Tree

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Holiday Coloring Pages (We’ve done a lot, but these were from her dance studio.)

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Chocolate Pretzel Snacks with Holiday Sprinkles

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Baking Cookies

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Salt Dough Ornaments

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Christmas Countdown Chart

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Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!

Please feel free to share what types of Christmas crafts and baking projects you do with your kids.

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Beaded Salt Dough Ornaments

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This was the first year we made salt dough ornaments.  For the most part, they came out pretty good.  We’re happy with them, and my daughter was very proud of what we did.  Yesterday, we made some beaded salt dough ornaments.  We didn’t do anything all that special to make them.  My daughter rolled out the dough is circles/ovals, then put beads in them.  We used different colored dough for each ornament.  At first sight, these ornaments can look unimpressive.  But…The ornaments look great when put in front of a light.  They catch the light from the tree, and the beads kind of glow.  Very pretty.

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Once we added the varnish to them and hung them on the tree, we could see their true beauty.  I think these are my daughter’s favorite salt dough ornaments.  We might end up hanging them in our window during the summer like sun-catchers.

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* See previous post for salt dough recipe.

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Salt Dough Ornaments and Cinnamon Salt Dough Ornaments

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When I was little, my best friend’s mom made beautiful salt dough ornaments to sell at craft shows, and to sell to friends and neighbors.  I remember us having various ornaments that she made, and this beautiful fake blueberry pie that looked exactly like a real pie.  I was always impressed that she could make this stuff in her own kitchen.  One year, she even let my friend and me make some ornaments with the salt dough, just for fun.  It was something I always wanted to do on my own when I grew up.

Fast forward over 20 years, and my friend is no longer with us (she was killed by a drunk driver when we were in college), but I still remember the wonderful salt dough ornaments that her mom used to make.  I send her mom and dad a Christmas card every year.  This year when I was working on my Christmas cards, I decided that I would try my hand at making some salt dough ornaments with my daughter.  Kayla is 4 years old now, so she is old enough to do a lot of it on her own.  I know my ornaments won’t be quite like my friend’s mom’s ornaments, but they can still be special.

My daughter and I started out by using a very basic salt dough recipe.  (There are tons of slightly different recipes on the internet, but this one worked for us.)

Salt Dough Recipe

2 cups Flour

1 cup salt

1/2 cup water, and add more water as needed

We mixed the ingredients together in a bowl and kneaded it until it was the right consistency.  Keep adding water little by little until the dough is the way you want it.  If it gets too watery…sticky…add a little more flour.

Once the dough was just right, we divided out the dough.  Some of it we kept as is, and the rest we used to make colored dough.  We used Crayola kid’s paint to color the dough.  We made red dough, green dough, blue dough, and purple dough.  You can do whatever colors you want.  We were trying to stick to Christmas colors, and we also did purple so we could make a special ornament for one of our friends.  We put a dab of paint on a ball of dough, then kneaded the paint into the dough until it was the color we wanted.

Plain salt dough

Plain salt dough

Green dough

Green dough

Kayla working on making red dough.

Kayla working on making red dough.

She kneaded the red paint into the dough all by herself.

She kneaded the red paint into the dough all by herself.

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Colored salt dough

We used the plain dough to make a handprint.  She is giving the handprint to daddy as a surprise Christmas present.  We used the colored dough to make candy canes, and used cookie cutter to cut out ornaments.

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When making candy canes, we just rolled the dough with our hands to make two long worms and twisted them together.  In order to use the cookie cutters, we rolled the dough with a rolling pin, then cut out our shapes.  Once we were all done, we baked them in the oven at 200 degrees for 2 hours.  When we took them out, they were hardening up.  Not super hard, but hard enough.  After that, we just set them out so they could air dry.  Some recipes will tell you to bake them for longer times, like 4 hours, but we simply don’t have the time for that.  The way we did it worked fine.

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After letting them sit for 24 hours, we painted them.  Painting them is optional, especially if you used colored dough.  It adds to the fun of it to let the kids paint them.  Kayla enjoyed being able to paint the handprint for her dad, and ornament gifts for friends.  She was very proud of herself.  Right now, our first batch of ornaments have been painted and are ready to be covered in a varnish.  If you’re painting the ornaments completely, a varnish isn’t necessary, although it does give them a nice glossy finish.  Not all of ours are painted, so we plan to put varnish on all of them to give them a finishing touch.  Plus, this will make them last longer.  These are keepsakes we want to have for years to come.

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Another thing we tried was using a cookie mold tray/pan.  The pan has Christmas molds built in, as you can see in the picture below.  We just put the dough into the molds and baked it.  Halfway through baking, I pulled it out and popped the dough ornaments out of the molds.  I then added the ornaments to the baking sheet with the other dough ornaments we were baking to let them finish hardening.  I’m sure I could have baked them in the molds for the entire time, but I didn’t want to take the chance of them getting burned or stuck in the molds.  These dough ornaments came out great.  We were impressed by the detail.  They will be fun to paint.

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So far, we’ve done 3 batches of salt dough ornaments.  On the last batch, we recruited my husband to do some with us.  He wasn’t exactly thrilled to join in, but he humored us.  I’d like this to be a new family tradition.  Something we can do together every year.  My husband tends to only like to do things that were traditions in his family, and he loves to do stuff WITH his family.  Trying to get him to create new family traditions with me and our daughter can be a challenge at times, but it’s worth the effort.  In the end, he made a few really nice dough ornaments that should look great on the tree.  I think it is important to create holiday traditions with your family.  It is nice to carry on traditions that you grew up with, which are important to us, but it’s also important to create NEW traditions with your significant others and your kids.  It’s all about creating memories.

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In our last batch, we made some cinnamon salt dough.  This dough gives the ornaments a lovely cinnamon scent.  When we paint them tomorrow, we are going to add a touch of cinnamon to the paint to enhance the cinnamon scent.  What I loved most about the cinnamon dough was that it gave the ornaments a beautiful country Christmas look.  I wouldn’t mind keeping these natural and not painting them, but my daughter is looking forward to painting them tomorrow.

Cinnamon Salt Dough Recipe

1 cup Flour

1/2 cup Salt

1/2 cup Cinnamon

3/4 cup warm water

The recipe I used said you don’t need to bake them, just let them air dry for 24 hours.  We baked ours along with our other salt dough ornaments and they came out great.  200 degrees for 2 hours.

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Cinnamon salt dough

The cinnamon salt dough was probably my favorite, but my daughter and husband preferred the colored dough.  I could see the beauty in the simple cinnamon dough ornaments.  They look very traditional to me.  Something you would have seen hanging on trees years ago.

We plan to play around some more with our dough ornaments.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to try making some with beads tomorrow.  If I have time, I will try to type up a quick post with pictures of the dough ornaments with beads.

Happy ornament making!

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Cookies, cookies, cookies!

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One of my favorite things about the holidays is all the cookies. Growing up, my mom always baked cookies for every holiday. She made the most at Christmas-time. She’d make butter cookies, sugar cookies, bar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, etc. We’d have plenty of cookies to take to school with us for our holiday parties, and we’d still be eating cookies for weeks at home. It was wonderful! Ever since I was in my mid-20’s, I have tried to keep this tradition going. It’s been hard with working over the years, and now with a kid to take care of at home. It’s hard to find the time for all the baking I want to do. This year, I had the added challenge of being sick and having a sick kid to take care of while trying to get my baking done. I think I managed alright.

I love peanut butter, so I decided to make peanut butter blossoms this year. This is one of those cute little cookies that are very easy to make. The recipe is quite simple, and it takes minimal effort to make.

Peanut Butter Blossom Recipe

48 HERSHEY’S KISSES Milk Chocolates
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup Creamy Peanut Butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Additional granulated sugar (for rolling cookies in)

Directions

1. Heat oven to 375°F. Remove wrappers from chocolates.

2. Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy.
Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.

3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.

4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate kiss into center of each
cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.
Recipe can make about 4 dozen cookies.

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A newer recipe I have started to use is one for Jello cookies. These are so yummy, and also easy to make for beginners. Kids will love helping with these colorful cookies. Since I was going with a Christmas theme, I used strawberry and lime Jello, so the cookies would come out red and green. The colors aren’t bright, but they are still festive.

Jello Cookie Recipe

1 pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2-1/4 cups flour
1 pkg. (3 oz.) JELL-O Strawberry Flavor Gelatin (only use half of package)
1 pkg. (3 oz.) JELL-O Lime Flavor Gelatin (only use half of package)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar

Directions

1. BEAT first 4 ingredients in large bowl with mixer until blended. Mix flour and baking soda; gradually add to cream cheese mixture,
mixing well after each addition. Divide cookie dough into two bowls. Add half of strawberry jello gelatin package to one bowl of
cookie dough, and half of lime jello gelatin package to the other bowl; mix well. Refrigerate cookie dough for 30 min.

2. HEAT oven to 375ºF. Roll dough into 60 (1-inch) balls, or 30 (2-inch balls). Place, 2 inches apart, on baking sheets sprayed with cooking
spray.

3. BAKE 9 to 11 min. or until edges are lightly browned. (For bigger cookies, bake for an additional minute or two.) Cool on baking sheets
2 min. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.

4. SPRINKLE with powdered sugar just before serving, if wanted.

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Kayla and my husband love the Jello cookies. They’ve been a big hit in our house and are super easy to make. They are a great cookie for kids to help out with since there are no raw eggs in the recipe. I let Kayla lick the spoon to her heart’s content. The kids also enjoy adding the jello gelatin to the cookie dough and watching the dough change colors as it gets mixed in.

I hope you all enjoy these simple cookie recipes. They are great additions to any holiday cookie menu. Enjoy!

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Whew, it’s Christmas, already?

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The past couple of weeks haven’t gone exactly how I planned. First, Kayla came down with a cold. Then not even a week later, I caught her cold…and was still trying to get rid of my cough from the last colds we had back at the beginning of November. Since we’ve both been sick, we never got around to doing half the stuff I wanted to do before Christmas. I barely got to bake any cookies, we didn’t get to make a gingerbread house, and I have various holiday crafts that never got done. Not to mention, all the holiday movies I never watched, and the holiday music that I never got to play. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve watched some holiday movies and listened to some music, but not as much as I normally would at this time of year. I’ve been a sucker and let Kayla watch some of her holiday shows over and over again to keep her happy. It’s hard to say “no” when your two-year-old has a red, runny nose and is coughing. So instead of watching some of my favorite Hallmark Christmas movies, we’ve watched the Curious George Christmas Special every single day for the last few weeks. I am not kidding. EVERY SINGLE DAY. Thankfully, it’s cute, and I kind of like it.

Even though there’s been a lot we didn’t get to do this year, we still managed to have some fun. We started the Elf on the Shelf tradition this year. Kayla watched the Elf on the Shelf Christmas special last year, and has watched it all year long, so I decided it would be a good tradition to start with her. She loves her elf. She named him Chippey, like in the cartoon. She enjoys finding Chippey every morning when she wakes up. That silly little elf sure gets around our living room and kitchen. Kayla likes to say, “Chippey is watching me.” It’s cute, but the way she says it is slightly creepy.

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Kayla has a countdown to Christmas tree like the one George has in the Curious George Christmas Special. Each day, she marks off a day and I tell her how many days she has left till Christmas. She was extremely happy today when I told her that she only has two days left. She’s not very good with numbers yet, but she seems to understand that two isn’t much. So instead of getting a heavy sigh like all the other days, I actually got a “yay” today.

She also has one of those countdown calendars where you open the door and get a piece of chocolate each day. This kid is a chocoholic, so it took a few days before she got used to the idea that she only gets one piece of chocolate per day. She eventually was okay with that, but she makes sure to remind me every day that she needs her chocolate. “Mommy, I need chocolate! Now!” She hasn’t quite grasped the concept of “want,” not “need.” Everything is “I need” right now. The calendar she has is a Disney calendar with Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, etc. My mom bought it for her, and she absolutely loves it. I’m sure my little pack rat will want to keep it after the holiday. I think I used to keep mine for awhile when I was little, and then my mom would throw it away once I forgot about it.

We have baked some cookies this year. Not as many as I planned, but we still got in a few. We’ve done chocolate chip cookies, toffee butterscotch chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter blossoms, strawberry jello cookies, and lime jello cookies. We also did some toffee butterscotch chocolate bars today. And since Kayla and my nephew like them, we’ve done some store bought holiday sugar cookies with Frosty the Snowman on them. It’s been fun having Kayla in the kitchen helping me bake. She likes using the hand mixer and mixing stuff with a spoon. She also helps by adding ingredients to the bowl, but most of it tends to end up on the counter. I remember helping my mom bake cookies at Christmas-time, so this is very special to me to be able to do this with my own daughter now. It’s nice to carry on traditions.

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Kayla and I have watched a lot of Christmas cartoons together, including shows from when I was little. It’s nice to see that she enjoys watching Mickey Mouse’s Christmas Carol, Yogi Bear’s First Christmas and Cabbage Patch Kids Christmas. Those were some of my favorites when I was little. We’ve watched Christmas classics like Charlie Brown’s Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and Frosty the Snowman. She also enjoys a lot of the newer Christmas specials with Scooby Doo, Curious George, Mickey Mouse, etc. I’ve spent the last few weeks watching tons of Christmas cartoons with Kayla and enjoying every minute of it. No, I really didn’t need to watch them repeatedly, but it’s fun to watch her eyes light up when she sees Santa. The look of wonderment on her face is worth every minute to me.

I did most of my Christmas shopping early, and had the majority of the presents wrapped and under the tree by Thanksgiving Day. I did have a few extra things I bought after Thanksgiving that I let Kayla help me wrap. This is the first time I’ve really let her help me wrap anything. I usually just try to keep her away so she won’t mess it up, or unwrap it. She was uber excited to help me, however, her wrapping skills need some work. She randomly puts tape all over the present, not necessarily where I need it. She has a very unique placement of gift tags, and likes to scribble with a pen all over the wrapping paper to sign her name. And her idea of wrapping the gifts is more like rolling them in the wrapping paper. It’s been an interesting experience. Both funny and frustrating at the same time. I’m sure if I asked my mom about how I did when I first started helping her wrap presents, she’d have some stories about me too. We all have to start somewhere.

It will be nice to wake up Christmas morning and finally let Kayla open her presents. She’s been eyeing them like crazy. When I first started putting presents under the tree, with a baby gate around them, she kept reaching over and taking them out. Then she would unwrap them or empty the Christmas bags. Some of the presents were hers, some were not. This is what happens when your kid’s birthday is so close to Christmas. She’s in unwrapping mode and thinks every present is hers for the taking. I was getting very frustrated with re-wrapping presents all the time. Luckily, after a week or so, she stopped doing this. Then she moved onto ripping just a small corner off of a present and giving it to me. She’d say, “I rip it, mommy.” After a few more days, I pretty much got her to stop doing this as well. But then she just started picking stuff up to shake it, or trying to rearrange everything. She’d try to tell us, “It’s Christmas!” and hand us a present she knew was ours. I think in her mind she thought if she gave us a gift and we opened it, she would get to open one too. It didn’t work. Now she likes to stand by the tree and stare at the presents longingly. I’m starting to feel sorry for her. I know it must be hard to be patient when you’re only two. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas can feel like eons. I am very proud of her for being as patient as she possibly can for her age. It will be a delight to see her finally get to open all of her presents, and to see her face Christmas morning when she realizes that Santa finally came.

Looking at the presents

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you all have a wonderful holiday with family and friends.

* I will be adding recipes for some of the cookies listed above in a separate post.

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Going to see Santa

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I’ve been meaning to take Kayla to see Santa, but I’ve been struggling to find the time during Santa’s business hours.  In my family, it is a tradition to take the young kids to see Santa every year.  (And truth be told, sometimes when we’re not so young anymore.)  They can tell Santa what they want for Christmas, get their picture taken, and wish Santa a Merry Christmas.  The kids in our family tend to not be afraid of Santa, so it’s a fun experience that we look forward to each year.  I have very fond memories of going to see Santa when I was little.  By the age of about 4 or 5, I knew that he wasn’t the REAL Santa, but just a guy who worked for Santa at the malls.  His job was to meet and greet the kids, make sure we’re being good, and to get our official Christmas wishlist.  I believed this with all my heart.  And a part of me has never stopped believing in the magic of Christmas. A magical time of miracles, giving, forgiveness, thankfulness, hope, and joy.  It’s a time to put your faith into things that you can’t see, and believe in something bigger.  Greater.

I love seeing Kayla’s eyes light up when she sees Santa, or even just talks about Santa.  Yes, my 2-year-old is quite the talker, and you can’t grow up in this family without knowing all about the big guy.  By last Christmas, when she was just over 1-year-old, I already had her referring to the big guy as Ho Ho.  And by this past Summer, she was already well aware that Ho Ho is Santa Claus,  and that he has elves and reindeer.  We even took her to Santa’s Village Amusement Park twice over the Summer.  (A great little kiddie amusement park in Illinois.)  So now with only a few more weeks until Christmas, Kayla is super duper excited about Christmas and the prospect of Santa coming to our house to bring her toys.  She watches all her Christmas cartoons over and over again.  I am happy to report that she absolutely loves Mickey’s Christmas Carol, which is one that I always watched when I was growing up.  We sing silly Christmas songs together, do craft projects, bake cookies, she tries to help me wrap presents, and we read meaningful (and some fun) books about Christmas.  Ah…what’s not to love about this magical time of year?!!!

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When we got to the local mall today, Kayla was ready to run right up to Santa to say “hi.”  I informed her that we had to wait in line for our turn.  There were two other families in front of us.  Going during the middle of the week at 3:00 in the afternoon was definitely helpful.  Kayla looked around at the animated figures with a look of wonderment on her face, and she patiently waited for her turn to see the guy in red.  When it was finally our turn, she ran right up to him and said hi.  She was all smiles and had no issues sitting next to him in his big chair.  (But she wasn’t willing to sit on his lap…let’s not push it.)  She happily chatted away with Santa about who knows what.  I only caught bits and pieces of what she was saying to him.  When he asked her what she wants for Christmas, the only response I heard her give him was “toys.”  I guess that pretty much sums it up.  As I fumbled to get my camera ready for a few shots, and Santa’s helper prepared to take a picture, Kayla continued to ramble on to Santa.  And of course once we were ready to start snapping some shots, she wouldn’t give us her big, cheesy smile anymore.  The pictures still came out nice, but I was hoping to get a picture with a really big smile like we got last year.  Oh well.  I was just happy to see that she never got scared of him.  She was too excited about seeing him in person to be scared.  And I think it always helps when the kids in front of you in line are also in good spirits.  There is nothing like a crier to to ruin it for everyone else.  I’ve seen it happen…not cool.

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Kayla told me she had fun, and she was all bubbly when she went home to tell grandma about her visit to see Santa.  That was more than I could have asked for today.  The smile on her face made the seven bucks I had to pay for the mall picture completely worth it.  And there is something nice to be said about the few malls that still do the traditional one picture shot for a decent price, like when we were little, compared to the big picture packages that you have to buy at most malls now.  I’m okay with keeping it simple, but making it memorable.  I’m already looking forward to taking Kayla to see Santa again next year.

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A Day of Christmas Crafts

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It’s holiday time and I love doing craft projects with my daughter and nephew to keep them busy.  They have fun, and it’s an easy way to teach them various skills.  It’s also a wonderful way to get them excited about the upcoming holiday.

I prepared a few different projects for the kids to do today.  They did some do a dot art projects, made foam snowmen, and they decorated foam picture frames that we made ourselves.  Yeah, I know it was a lot for a 2-year-old and a 3 1/2-year -old to do, but I broke it up into two separate project sessions.  One before lunch, and one after lunch.

I printed out the do a dot sheets from some websites online.  I would happily give the sites credit, but I honestly don’t remember what sites I used at this point.  I tend to prepare for these projects when I’m overly tired.  One site I tend to use though is Confessions of a Homeschooler.  If you haven’t checked out this website before, please take the time to stop by her blog.  It is awesome.  The site offers a lot of ideas for homeschooling lessons and projects.  And what makes it even better is that you can print most of the stuff directly from her site.

Kayla and Alex started off the day doing do a dot art projects.  They made two wreaths, an ornament, and a letter sheet with a tree (C is for Christmas).  Kayla tends to lose interest with the do a dot projects after a few minutes, so I have to make sure to keep giving her different color markers in an attempt to retain her attention.  Thankfully, it worked today.

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Later on, they constructed their foam snowmen and worked on their foam picture frames.  They each did two picture frames.  One frame for a picture of Kayla, and one frame for a picture of Alex.  I made the frames into ornaments so they can hang them on the tree.  The kids were excited to be able to create their own personal picture frames.

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The thing I really like about craft/art projects is that they don’t have to be perfect.  You don’t need to have the most expensive materials, and the kids don’t have to follow all the rules.  They can make it their own by doing things their own way.  Yes, I’m aware that when they are older they will need to learn to follow directions, which they do to a certain extent now, but it’s not absolutely necessary all the time.  I like to see them have fun with the projects and put their own mark on it.  Sure, they don’t always turn out the way I envisioned them in my head, but the kids are so proud of them.  That’s all that really matters.  Happy crafting!

The kids ended our Christmas crafting day with a game of memory.  Well...all they do is find matches, but they think they are playing the game.  :)

The kids ended our Christmas crafting day with a game of memory. Well…all they do is find matches, but they think they are playing the game. 🙂

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