Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent Calendar Traditions - Writing Out The Christmas Story And Activities - An Unplugged Project

This weeks Unplugged Project theme, at Unplug Your Kids, was writing. I thought the timing of the theme was perfect, as this is the time of year when we're all writing. The kids are busy writing lists of the things they want for Christmas, and the things they'd like to give (but mainly of the the things they want - I mean, they are real kids, after all). And, I'm busy writing out "to do" lists.

These lists of mine are true works of fiction. You could find them in the fantasy section of your local library, or bookstore, if they ever happened to be published. Or, they might be shelved next to the volumes of Greek mythology, as I'm sure it would take an act of herculean effort to actually complete one of them. But, you have to start somewhere in a day, and making a list is where I start. At least with a list, I know if something remains undone, it's only because I didn't have time to get to it, and not because I totally forgot about it.

At the top of my list today, happened to be another writing project. That is, it's my project today, but over the course of the next month, it will become the children's project. Today, I'm writing out the Christmas story, dividing it up into 24 sections, cutting it apart, rolling up the slips, and stuffing them into an advent calendar.

We actually have three different types of advent calendars. One holds a fun Christmas related activity for each day until Christmas. Another type, holds little pieces of chocolate, to make our holidays that much sweeter. And, the last, which I already mentioned, will hold a bit of the Christmas story for each day.

Just to mix things up a little, I'm starting off with the version of the story found in Revelation 12. You know the one with the dragon waiting to devour the baby as it's being born. It's not the usual telling, but it gives a nice fresh point of view. Then, we'll transition to Luke, and end off with Isaiah, for three different perspectives on the same story.

Finally, because the children normally have a verse as part of their copy work each day, I'll have them copy out the story, little by little, and encourage them to illustrate it, as they go. So, by Christmas Day, they should each have their own, handwritten, version of the story to keep.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas Tree Identification

We decided today, to combine our traditional Christmas tree decorating, with science Sunday, a weekly link up over at Adventures in Mommydom.

Since our Christmas tree came from the woods (with a permit purchased from the Forestry Department, of course), and not from a Christmas tree lot, it didn't come with a tag telling us what sort of tree it was.

Instead, we turned to a publication by the Montana State University, entitled "Trees and Shrubs in Montana". With it, we worked through a key of needle types, and distribution, and cone sizes, and shapes (luckily, our tree still had a few cones attached). These observations led us to identify our tree as an Engelmann Spruce, or Picea engelmannii.

It took us a bit to get the hang of the key. So, just to double check ourselves, I worked through it first, and then my husband followed. When we saw that we agreed, we brought in the children, and worked through it with them. Of course, all this came between the tree decorating, and the sugar cookies, so we only had a brief window of their attention. But, it was a fun activity, and everyone agreed, that it was nice to know what sort of tree we have. If the kids are interested tomorrow, we might google the Engelmann Spruce, and see what else we can find out about it.

And, if the weather stays clear this week, I'm hoping to be able to fit in a nature walk, to try to identify more of the trees in our neighborhood. Now that we've figured out the key, we might as well put it to use.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Coffee Filter Christmas Flowers and a Tissue Paper and Starch Covered Jar Vase

It's time to deck the halls for Christmas, which means good-bye to all the fall crafts, and decorations around the house.

So, while the older children were out with their Pops looking for the perfect Christmas tree, this morning, the little ones and I, were clearing out the pumpkins, and turkeys, and working on remaking our fall vase, and coffee filter flowers, in Christmas greens and reds.

For a step by step how-to on either of these projects, check out our post on the starch and tissue paper vase, or the coffee filter flowers for fall.

Oh, and I do realize, that looking at these pictures, the fall, and Christmas versions of this craft look very similar - but in real life, taking away the browns and oranges, makes a big difference.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Matchbox Doll House and Rocket Ship - Recycled Cereal Box Craft

I don't know if you've seen the tiny travelling doll's house, made by Trixi, at Coloured Buttons, but it's absolutely adorable. I knew as soon as I saw it, that I would have to make one for each of the girls. My only problem was a lack of matchboxes. We had one box in the kitchen, but it was full of matches, and I thought my husband might frown on me dumping it out, to use for a craft.

I was completely roadblocked, and had just about given up on the thought, when it occurred to me, that if I could make a round box out of cereal box cardboard, I could probably just as easily make my own matchboxes.

I actually ended up temporarily dumping out the kitchen matches, so I could take the box apart, and use it as a template. Though, I was very careful with the box, so I could glue it back together, and refill it with matches, when I was done.

The nice side effect of making my own boxes, was that I was able to attach the fabric I wanted on the inside, and outside of the houses, while they were still flat pieces.

I used a combination of Elmer's glue, and hot glue, for putting my houses together.

I love the little button flowers that Trixi used on her house, but I'm pretty sure my little ones would rip those off, and eat them, so I went with some fabric kittens, cut from a printed piece of material, instead.

For the boys, I made rocket ships, leaving the boxes fairly plain. I added tinfoil to the interior, and a few geometrically cut pieces of fun foam to the outside.

The boxes are a pretty tight fit, and the triangles on the rocket bottom holds them in as well, so I don't think they'll fall open, even if worn on a string around the neck.

I made each of the houses, and rockets, tiny pillows, and crocheted blankets, and sock doll inhabitants.

Now all that is left to do, is to add some sort of string, or necklace, for easy carrying, and they'll be ready for Christmas.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turn Black Friday Ads Into Chinese Yo-Yos For a Thanksgiving Weekend Boredom Buster

The turkey has been eaten, the dishes are done, and the kids are bored. What's a mother to do? Grab up the glossy Black Friday ads, and make Chinese yo-yos, of course. I mean really, the sales aren't that spectacular anyway, and it's like getting a door prize, without trudging out to the stores at five in the morning.

We started experimenting tonight with a mini yo-yo prototype.

We used a 4 inch piece of wooden skewer, and a strip of newspaper, one and three quarters of an inch wide, by about 21 inches, or the width of an open page of ad.

We secured the strip of paper to the stick with packing tape.

Then, we wrapped it tightly around the stick, and our yo-yo was ready to go.

Below is a grainy, no sound video, of my left handed attempt to demonstrate the yo-yo, while filming at the same time (and no, I am not left handed, so needless to say, the yo-yo works better than it appears).

We continued experimenting by taping on more strips, for additional length. And, we made a larger size with a wood dowel, and strips of glossy newspaper taped together to make a strip, that was 4'' by 7'. They don't work quite as well as the store bought variety my husband, and I remember from our youth. In fact, my husband went out to the garage for a while, and returned with his old (30 year old) yo-yo. It did work better, but only a little. And really, it had been wound tightly for a long, long time, while our new yo-yos had only been wound for a few minutes before we put them to use.

I've heard of these being made with wrapping paper. But, why waste good paper, when there are so many ads just lying around?

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Dressing Tiny Sock Dolls

The simple, no sew solution, to dressing a tiny sock doll, is to use the cuff left over from making the doll. This works especially well if the cuff is frilly, or decorative. Turn the cuff, so the frilly part is down, and cut a couple of slits for the dolls arms to fit through. Slip the cuff onto the doll, and turn down the top part, to make a collar. You might want to add a few quick stitches, to hold the collar in place, but this is not absolutely necessary.

If you do not have a pretty cuff to make a dress out of, or if you prefer a dress with sleeves to cover the arm seams of the doll, then the process is a little more complicated - but only a little.
Start with a scrap of fabric as wide as the doll's outstretched arms, and slightly more than twice the length you want for the dress. If you don't want to sew a hem, then trim around the fabric with pinking shears.

Fold the fabric in half. Cut a half circle in the middle of the fold, and slip it over the head of the doll, with the right sides in.

Hand stitch around the doll, from the bottom edge of the dress, up to, and around, the bottom of the arm, on both sides of the doll.

Slip the dress off of the doll, and turn it right side out. Then, place it back on the doll, and run a gathering stitch around the collar (just a real loose in and out stitch, all the way around, that you pull tight, and tie off at the end). Trim the sleeves with pinking shears, or hem to the desired length, and you are done.

If the dress looks too plain to you, you can always fancy it up, with a bit of lace or ribbon.

For a boy doll, or alien, follow the same instructions above, but stitch an upside down "v", up from the bottom edge, between the legs, to make pants. And, run a quick stitch, back and forth, through the middle of doll, once you have the outfit the right way out, to create a waistline.

And, just in case you are making an alien, or an astronaut, the bottom half, of the plastic bubble, that toys come in from grocery store vending machines - works pretty well, for a tiny space helmet.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

It's a good day to be...


Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name; make known among the nations what He has done. 1Chronicles 16:8

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How to Curl Yarn for Doll Hair

It turns out that transforming straight limp pieces of yarn into cute, perfect little boingable curls for dolls, is incredibly simple.

Wrap the yarn tightly around a knitting needle. I used a standard, Red Heart, worsted weight yarn. The size and thickness of the needle will depend on the size of the doll for which you're making the hair. For our tiny sock dolls, I wrapped the yarn around wooden kitchen skewers. Tie the yarn tightly at the ends - I started out with a slip knot, and ended off by casting on a stitch, as for knitting.

Wet the yarn on the needles. I used boiling water from an instant hot water tap, but because heat will be applied in the next step, I don't think the temperature of the water matters.

Place the wet, yarn covered needles, or skewers on a cookie sheet, and put them in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit. I put mine into a cold oven let it preheat while they were in. That took three minutes. Then, I turned the oven off, and left them in for an additional three minutes. Keep a close on the yarn in the oven, you wouldn't want to catch your oven on fire, just for the sake of doll's hair.

After the yarn cools, remove it from the needles, either sliding it off the end, or unwinding it, and cut it to the the desired lengths.

For the yarn dolls, I tied four, or five curls together, and sewed them on to the dolls head with the lose ends of the yarn that I had tied them together with. It took two to three clusters of curls per doll, which was about four skewers worth of curled yarn. To finish off the dolls hair, I trimmed the front curls short, for bangs.

For the yarn aliens, I used four shorter curls, tied together, and sewed to the center top of the dolls' heads. I also gave them plastic bubble helmets for space travel (we wouldn't want any one's eyes getting sucked out by the atmosphere of alien planets), but I'll tell you more about that in another post.

It's great to be a homeschooler.