Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Decking The Halls

I wanted to include Jonah and Eve in the Christmas decorating as much as I could, so this year we used a lot of decorations that they could help make. Last year, Jonah helped make a handprint wreath.  I wanted to add some more handmade decorations this year. These two decorations were easy for my kids to help with, and they are extremely proud to show them off to visitors!

Paper Chain Garland:
Holiday themed scrap paper or colored construction paper
School Glue
Lots of patience!

This is a classic. And also happens to be a wonderful activity for honing hand-eye coordination and other crucial fine motor skills. I cut strips of holiday colored paper, 8 inches long and about 1 inch wide (I eyeballed it, no need to be exact!) It would be really fun to use holiday patterned scrapbook paper, but we had construction paper on hand. Older children can cut the strips themselves. I tried to let Jonah help cut some, and his were- well, not strips! So this year, I did the cutting. I demonstrated to Jonah how to put a dab of glue on one end of a paper strip, and how to bend it around to create a loop.

I then demonstrated how to put a strip of paper through that loop, and create a new loop, so that we had two attached loops. Jonah was thrilled and very eager to try.
and try....

 and try!
With a lot of guidance and help, we finally had a chain long enough for our mantel.

Jonah had a bit of trouble coordinating both of his hands in this task. It was wonderful practice for him to use fine motor skills that he needs to strengthen and really work on. After doing this craft, I will be making a "busy box" for him with paper chain making as an activity. With this as a busy box activity, he can practice these skills year round!

Coffee Filter Snowflakes:
White coffee filters
poster paint or magic/washable markers
work surface such as a plate or art tray
paint brushes

As many times as I have done coffee filter art, it never occurred to me to cut them into snowflakes until this year. There are many variations of this craft, turning coffee filters into butterflies or flowers; some use washable markers and others use food coloring. For school aged children, you can mix this into a chemistry lesson about chromatography or how colored ink is mixed, if you choose to use markers. Just have the kids color the filters with washable marker, spray or drip water onto the markings, and watch the color spread out and the ink seperate colors. We used this as an introduction to our wintery weather unit. Since it had flurried that morning, it seemed appropriate that we create our chilly weather craft in our nice warm PJ's!

We chose to use watered down poster paint. I wanted the snowflakes to look icy, so I picked purple, a shade of teal, and dark blue. I mixed a very tiny bit of each color into bowls of water. The less water you use, the more vibrant the color, but it will be harder for the colors to spread if it is too thick. Then I gave the kids paint brushes and coffee filters, and let them go at it!
I put the filters onto plates, to keep the paint from getting all over the place. You can also use pie tins or art trays. The surface needs to be wiped between each coffee filter.

I was absolutely amazed at how absorbed my kids were with this activity. They painted for nearly an hour. Had I not told them that time was up, then they would have gladly kept painting!
After we were done painting each coffee filter, I set it on a plastic sheet to dry. This process can take a while, depending on how enthusiastic your child was about painting the filter. If it is saturated, you can speed up the process by using a hair dryer (just keep the dryer moving back and forth, don't let it sit in one spot on the paper.) But, a hair dryer may cause the paper to curl.
Once the filters are dry, fold the circle into fourths, eights, and sixteenths  and begin cutting shapes on the folded edges. Unfold the paper and you will have a lovely snowflake to hang in your windows!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Home Made Gifts: Instant Chai Mix

When I was working in nursery school, I would often get sweet little tokens of appreciation from the kids and families that I cared for, especially around the holidays. It always touched me to see how much thought parents put into these typically home made gifts. They always had a personal flare on them from the child, whether it was a simple card that the child had drawn on, or a sloppily finger painted ornament. They all made me smile from ear to ear. But one family touched my heart especially. I had cared for all three of the brothers in the family, babysitting them as well as having them in my nursery room. I had really grown to know and love them right down to every red hair on their head and cute little brown freckle on their cheeks! On Christmas Eve, all three boys marched into the learning center, red heads covered with red and green santa hats and freckled cheeks turned up in smiles. The oldest shouted excitedly at my classroom door "Miss Jessie! We made this for you! It's a SECRET SURPRISE, but it's TEA!" The mother explained to me that we had bumped into each other at Borders a month earlier and I had been drinking a chai tea. I told the oldest boy that it is one of my favorite drinks. When the mom asked what the boys thought they should make their teachers for the holidays, the oldest boy had said "We need to make Miss Jessie some chai, because she really loves it." The family presented me with a mug, and tucked inside was a cellophane bag and a tag with pictures of all three boys. The boys had helped their mother scoop and measure ingredients to make homemade chai mix, just for me. I was so touched that the boys wanted to do something so personal for me, that they had recalled our chance meeting and had really put thought into what they wanted to make.

This year we had quite a few gifts to give as tokens of appreciation. When thinking of something that the kids could help me with, I immediately thought of the chai tea mix. It is a very nice and unique homemade gift to show someone that you appreciate what they do in your life. And it is easy to make in large quantities. Young children can easily help you scoop and measure, as well as mix the ingredients. We handed them out to teachers at the Little Gym (there were 15 of them!) our postal worker, neighbors, various friends, and hosts of parties. The ingredients were a bit more expensive than I had anticipated, but this is because of two factors: 1. our grocery store didn't have a generic brand of unsweetened, unflavored tea. The larger boxes were all flavored or sweetened, so I had to get smaller containers of brand name tea, which was twice the cost; and 2. the cardamom was $15 a bottle! If you can't find it cheaply, omit it to save money if you want to make this economical (although it will NOT taste the same, cardamom is a very unique flavor. It will be missing something, but will still taste very good without it.) Of course I also made enough for us to have extra to enjoy at home!

Instant Chai Tea Mix:

2 cup nonfat dry milk powder
2 1/2 cups white sugar (Vanilla sugar is nice if you have it. Store white sugar in an airtight container with a vanilla bean stuck in the middle. Perfect for this recipe!)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened instant tea
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon nutmeg

(If you don't have all of the spices and don't want to spend a ton of money, pumpkin pie spice in the same amounts of the substituted spices will do, but again while it will taste yummy it won't be identical to coffee shop chai)

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Make sure all of the ingredients are incorporated evenly. Blend in a blender until the mixture is a fine powder. I did this in batches of about two cups at a time, to make sure it blended evenly. Spoon into small ziptop bags, keeping in mind that two tablespoons (meaning the flatware, not the measuring spoons) makes one cup of chai.I put enough in for three cups per bag. Wrap the zip top bags in festive cellophane and tie with a bow. This part is not necessary, but is a nice touch. I ended up skipping it because I couldn't find my cellophane and couldn't make another trip for more. Put each bag into a mug, which can be found inexpensively at dollar stores. Tie a tag to each bag, or insert it between the mug  and bag, that says "Homemade Chai Tea Mix: Mix two tablespoons into a mug of hot water." and whatever other message you would like.