Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Simple Last Minute Christmas Craft for Kids To Make

Paint Sample Christmas Trees -- Easy Christmas Craft for Preschoolers

I know it's not the best photo in the world, but we're in family time/chill out mode so I just "let it go!"

I first saw these paint chip Christmas trees on Pinterest via a round up of 20 Christmas Kid Crafts shared via A Little Craft In Your Day. We're big on repurposing items and using recycled goods or free and sustainable items to make crafts rather than increasing waste and spending money on pre-package crafting items. This type of crafting works well for our budget and lifestyle. Wild Thing (5) is obsessed with "reduce, reuse, recycle" as a motto. 

I also love that these Paint Sample Christmas Trees were something that both Wild Thing and Caterpillar (3) could make completely on their own by simply cutting rectangle paint samples into triangles (bonus: reinforces shape learning). Caterpillar wanted me to draw the triangle lines for him to cut, and then Wild Thing got creative and decided to make stockings as well. 

To decorate our stocking and trees, we used a short string of garland that we happened to have -- it was too short to go on our real tree, so it was a perfect way to add some extra decor to our trees and stockings. We simple cut it into smaller pieces and glued it on our decorations. (The key is letting them lay flat to dry for long enough to ensure the garland won't fall off.) Then, we added stars. One was cut out from an old Christmas card, another was a star sticker and the larger orange star was made by cutting out triangles from a orange paint chips and then pasting them together.

Initially, we thought we would make these DIY Christmas decorations into ornaments like Crafty Morning, but decided to go with a decorative garland instead. (I simply duct taped the decorations to some twine). Finally, we made a wreath for the boys to add their names to, as we're gifting this garland to a friend.

We love using paint samples for crafts, learning and art activities. My boys love doing scissor practice by cutting along the white lines to separate the various shades of colors. We've also used them for color sorting matching colored stickers with the same color of paint sample, and there are so many more uses for them. We've also used them to explore color combinations and made a fun color train. Here's a few of my favorites: Paint Sample Flowers and other Art Activities from No Time For Flash Cards, Rainbow Mosaic from I Can Teach My Child, and Paint Chip Mosaic Abstract Art from Happy Hooligans.

How do you use recycled or repurposed materials to create arts and crafts? What's your favorite use for paint samples? Please share! 

Check Out More Fun Activities From The Good Long Road:

Letter P Learning Activities
Letter I Learning Activities
Fun Meals and Snacks!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Picture Book of the Day: Snow Sounds + Sensory Play

Simple Snow-Inspired Sensory Play and More Letter S Learning Activities

Typically our children's book collection at home is largely dominated by library books (we'll have 20-40 out at a time) with a small collection of books that we own. Snow Sounds by David A. Johnson was one of the few books that successfully made the switch, meaning that we picked it out at the library and the boys loved it so much that I went ahead and purchased the book. Two years later, it remains a favorite of Caterpillar (3) and Wild Thing (5).

Snow Sounds is a simple picture book with few words -- all of which are onomatopoeias (words that sounds like what they mean, i.e. slush, jingle, scoop, scrape). When we read it my boys are mesmerized and love repeating the sounds with me. The beautiful watercolor paintings of this poetic book also bring the books magical feel to life for little readers. 

We don't get any snow where we live (well, it has snowed once in the last 5 years and that was minimal), but we thoroughly enjoy books that bring the snow to life for us. This book does that so well.

During our PreK Letter of the Week experience, we pulled this book out as we focused on the Letter S and used some packing peanuts to create a simple sensory play experiences inspired by snow. Not cold and wet, but still fun. 

P.S. We did purchase the book, ironically, from a library -- hence the marked out bar code. I swear we didn't steal it!

We also used our "snow" to make the letter S, adding into a winter scene piece of artwork that one of the boys brought home from school. 

When we explore a letter, we focus on each of the five senses. Our "snow" was for the sense of touch, and we discussed what real snow feels like. 

We also focused on shapes for the sense of sight. 
Our shape sensory tray and shape books.
Caterpillar (3) exploring our shape sorter.
Wild Thing (5) creating a rocket ship from shapes.
Sunflowers for the sense of smell. 
Simple Sunflower Sensory Bin.
Scooping practice with sunflower seeds and a muffin tin.

Strawberries for the sense of taste, comparing fresh strawberries, strawberry jam and strawberry yogurt. 

And we compared lots of difference sounds (S is for Sound!) by exploring our homemade instruments and some typical household objects to see what sounds we could create.
Our Sound Sensory Tray. Caterpillar loves clapping lids together to make cymbals.
A bonus letter S activity the boys loved was our simple sock sensory basket and sock sorting (which also was very helpful for me). I loved this as well because it allowed us to focus on counting and to teach the boys what a "pair" was. 

For more photos of our Letter "S" experiences and activities, please check out our Tot School/PreK Photo Album at The Good Long Road on Facebook where I add even more pictures of our learning activities. 

More from The Good Long Road:
Holiday Books + More
Winter Sensory Tray

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

{Giving Tuesday} Hope for the Hungry: Making a Difference for Children in Haiti

When engaging our children in service or in charitable giving, we always talk to our children about the work we are doing. It's important to us that the boys understand (at their level) those we are supporting. When we collect food for a food drive, we talk about hunger. If we make a donation to support children in another country, we learn about that country. I'm proud to highlight Hope for the Hungry, a non-profit that a childhood friend of mine is deeply involved with. She is directly tied to the organization's work in Haiti and recently did a teacher training there. I asked her to share with me some ways that individuals could get involved and support their work.

As we support Hope for the Hungry this holiday season, we'll also be learning about Haiti using some of the Children's Books About Haiti shared by Kid World Citizen.

There are many ways to get involved and support Hope for the Hungry. I'm excited to discuss them with Caterpillar and Wild Thing and see which we way we decide to get involved and give back. I'm grateful to my friend, Stephanie (who has a lovely blog, the process of becoming not me), for sharing these details on ways to support Hope for the Hungry.
1) Child home sponsorship - $100 provides for one of our orphans for one month. Any amount is helpful, however pledging to give $25 a month and giving consistently is a HUGE help and blessing. To be honest, we really need 40 commitments of $100/month sponsorships in order to adequately fund our orphan care and take care of those who are continuing their studies. We currently have 5 attending a university but by next October, that number will increase to 10. University study is expensive but we have committed to seeing them through their education...Consistent sponsorship is key!
2) Educate Haiti Fund - $12 educates and provides a hot lunch for 1 child for 1 month. We have over 900 students enrolled in our schools.
3) Purchase books for me to take to the teachers in Haiti. Literally...they don't have ANY literature or any access to literature. Can you even imagine it? They need French language books. I will be hand delivering these myself in February:) 
(Leave a comment or message me at The Good Long Road on Facebook if you want to connect with Stephanie to give books).
4) Purchase school supplies for me to take to the teachers during teacher training next summer. See our Amazon wish list and select some supplies to give.
Stephanie also shared some of the ways Hope for the Hungry is helping children in their local community in Central Texas. They have Coats for Kids and Christmas for Kids, two holiday campaigns to to support local children in need.
Please give what you can, if you are able or support an organization or cause that is meaningful to you and your family -- with your time, talents or with a charitable donation. I'd love to know how you are making a difference this holiday season!
You might also like:
Bloggers Support Hunger Action Month
Teaching Empathy Through Sibling Play

Monday, December 1, 2014

{Giving Tuesday} Ten Simple Ways to "Be the Change"

National Day of Giving

Confession: We skip Black Friday, Cyber Monday and even Small Business Saturday (though I LOVE supporting local businesses and small businesses) because our focus on the "biggest shopping weekend" of the year is Giving Tuesday. I love focusing as a family on giving back and helping others during the holiday season rather than on buying more, more, more and focusing our children's attention on stuff. 

I invite you to join the movement and make this holiday season truly a season of giving. I'm excited to share ten ways to get involved as a family. Enjoy my "Top 10" below and then tell me how your family comes together to give back and serve others during the holidays.  

1. I'll be obvious with this first one: Just Give! Yep, pick a charity, go to their website, click donate and give. Select the charity together as a family and ask everyone in the family if they would like contribute some of their personal money. Many organizations have large companies or donors promising to match donations today, so you're $10, $25, $50 donation can go a lot further. This can be encouraging for children who may think their money won't make a difference. On Giving Tuesday, we'll be donating $42.45 to No Kid Hungry, which will be matched by Hickory Farms, so my donation becomes $84.90 or 800+ meals for children in need. 

Last year, I saw the true power of Giving Tuesday as our donation of $42.45 grew and grew. We gave that amount because it was the amount my two young sons raised through a coffee can challenge for Hunger Action Month that year. When I shared on social media about our gift (all derived from collecting change for one month), various friends and family members decided to match their gift and also give $42.45 to No Kid Hungry. In the end, I believe there were at least 5 additional donations -- all of which were matched by Tyson last year for Giving Tuesday. So, in the end, that spare change made quite a difference.It resulted in $212.25 being donated, which was matched for a grand total of $424.50 or nearly 4,500 meals for children in need. I learned a lot about the value of small gifts (it all started with spare change) and of sharing about your giving, which inspires others. Remember...

No gift is too small. 

2. Do something cool! I have lots of friends who run for charity. Why not decide as a family that you'll do a run for charity in 2014? It could tie in well with a "get fit and healthy" New Year's Resolution. You can also play games. Freerice.com is a favorite site of students I've worked with who love to show off their skills while also earning rice to be donated to those in need and dosomething.org has loads of ways for children to get involved and give back.

3. Cook - I love cooking and baking with my sons. When I heard from a fellow "giver" that their family always bakes extra homemade bread and pasta dishes to have on hand to give to tenants, friends, or colleagues in need, I was sold. Perhaps who know a family with a loved one who is ill or someone who recently lost a job, giving them a meal or even a batch of cookies made at home with love can go a long way. For me, Giving Tuesday is about showing you care and not necessarily spending money. 

4. Commit a Random Act of Kindness - Buy a stranger coffee. Give candy canes to everyone you see until you run out. Take the time to acknowledge and respond to those you encounter in your day to day actions. Encourage your child to eat lunch with someone who is sitting alone at school. For some additional inspiration, check out this Random Acts of Kindness Printable Advent Calendar from Coffee Cups and Crayons.

5. Invite others to give too - I love the way that Pennies of Time made one of their family service projects a community engagement activity by creating posters and asking neighbors to join them in supporting Captain Hope's Kids. It worked. This allows two levels of giving: 1) giving more to Captain Hope's Kids, 2) giving others the opportunity to give. (People really do enjoy giving and helping others. It is literally proven to make people happier). This year, we've invited friends to come over on Giving Tuesday for a special playdate where we'll be making Homeless Care Kits to have on hand this holiday season.

6. Swap out the Elf on the Shelf for Kindness Elves like the Imagination Tree did (you have to pop over and see how cute her elves are too!) These elves leave notes of kind acts that children can do and encourage kids to help others and to practice kindness and generosity. I personally prefer this emphasis on acknowledging good behavior, rather than threatening to tell on kids that are bad. Celebrating your children's kindness nurtures their interest in giving to others.

7. Volunteer - Even if you can't jump up and volunteer today, contact a local non-profit in your community and see how you can get involved and help. PBS has some great tips for volunteering with kids. We discovered that visiting nursing homes is something that is often encouraged and welcomed even with small children (or especially with small children) and it would be a great way to brighten someone's day this holiday season. 

8. Shop - This year, I created a gift guide highlighting some of my favorite gifts that give back highlighting TOMS Shoes, children's books, gifts from the RED campaign, gifts for foodies and much more. I also love this Top Ten List of Gifts that Give Back from She Lives Free

9. Focus on Gratitude - Focusing on gratitude as a family has helped my sons understand the value of what we have and the importance of helping others and spreading kindness. We have a simple daily gratitude practice. Each evening during our family dinners, we all share one thing that we are happy for -- it's become something we all enjoy and look forward to. In fact, my husband and I forgot one night, and our 5 year-old son emphatically reminded us. It's his favorite part of our dinners together. We also love these easy Gratitude Postcards.

10. Share - This one is so simple! Whatever you decide to do to give back on Giving Tuesday or throughout the holiday season, take a moment to let others know. Sometimes, we hesitate to spread the word that we are giving back because we don't want to sound like we're bragging or are worried about how it might make others feel, but what I learned from Giving Tuesday last year is that sharing what you are doing often inspires others. So, don't hide your light, shine it -- brightly and boldly. When you do, you inspire others. It's always nice to also mention some simple ways people can give (holding a door for others, putting away a grocery cart for someone, calling a friend in a nursing home, smiling at everyone you see, etc.) so that the message of kindness gets passed on and everyone feels they can be involved regardless of their personal circumstance. We can all make a difference -- for me that is what Giving Tuesday is all about. 

Need more ideas? Follow my Season of Giving Pinboard, which features family service projects, inspirational activities, and other simple ways to make a difference this holiday season. Please also share what you're doing, especially if you have a blog post so that I can pin it and share it on Facebook and Twitter! 

*This post is an updated version of last year's Giving Tuesday post.