New Year’s Eve Noisemaker


I was skeptical that this homemade noisemaker would produce the right kind of sound, but by golly, it works! Not as loud as the noisemakers you buy at party stores, it’s the perfect pitch for little kids’ ears.

First, cut a piece of paper to a little bit smaller than two large craft sticks. Travis had fun cutting out shapes with his safety scissors while I set this part up. Sandwich the paper strip between the two craft sticks.

noisemaker-1Cut 2 (1-inch) pieces of toothpick. Place 1 toothpick over the paper on one end of the craft sticks, and the other toothpick under the paper on the other side; secure with washi tape.

Now put it to your lips and blow – you’ll get a great party blower sound! You could add tassels or stickers as additional decoration, if desired.


For a rockin’ New Year’s eve dance party at home, here’s our playlist, care of “Family NYE” on Spotify:

Happy by Pharrell Wiliams

Firework by Katy Perry

Can’t Stop the Feeling! by Justin Timberlake

Theme from New York, New York by Frank Sinatra

Everything is Awesome!!! by Tegan and Sara

All of Me by John Legend

The Final Countdown by Europe

Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson

I Gotta Feeling by the Black Eyed Peas

Twist and Shout by the Beatles

Party in the U.S.A. by Miley Cyrus

Rather Be by Clean Bandit

Auld Lang Syne by Susan Boyle

Happy New Year by ABBA

This Will be Our Year by The Zombies

Happy 2017 to all!


J Week!


Travis and I had just enough time between Christmas and New Years to fit in J-themed games and learning, as we continue our Letter of the Week journey. We found lots of joy in letter J words!


Jungle: A jungle Duplo set from Santa was a timely gift to kick off our week, including elephant and tiger figures. We constructed a big jungle from all the pieces, and included green paper clip “vines” for the monkeys to swing on. Play with any other toys you have that feature jungle animals, whether stickers or puzzles…


Or just dance around like jungle creatures! We like to shake maracas and pretend to be monkeys.


Jump: We certainly got in exercise with jumping this week! You could set up bean bags or other jumping points along the floor as an obstacle course, or set up several books and jump from story to story before beginning storytime!


Or just have a good old-fashioned jumping party.


Jack-in-the-Box: A perennial favorite, but every time I pull out our jack rabbit in a box, Travis is further able to use the toy himself. He now winds through the whole song, and stuffs the rabbit back in to begin all over again without needing my help.


Juggle: When we were done jumping on all those bean bags, we picked them up and juggled them. Tho Travis tried perhaps a few more than he could handle…


Jeep: Pull out any toy vehicles you have that fit the definition of a jeep. We also have a neat jeep track, so of course that had to be set up this week. If you don’t have jeep toys, see if you can spot real jeeps driving around town!


Jewels: We attempted to make homemade jewels with a salt and glue recipe I found in 365 Toddler Activities that Inspire Creativity. I made the mistake of purchasing kosher salt, however, not rock salt, which meant our jewels didn’t set enough for play! Hopefully you make the recipe correctly and can use the jewels once they dry, whether your child pretends to be royalty or a pirate. Nonetheless, it was good messy fun to make our jewels. To make your jewels, combine

2 cups rock salt

1/2 cup glue

Drops of food coloring


Jars: Lids and jars never fail to amuse toddlers. We set up a few jars with quiet objects (ribbon, cotton balls), and some with loud (marbles, buttons), and shook them to decide which was which. As always, jar lids are great practice for fine motor skills.

And here are some weekly extras…

Fine art: A jellyfish craft was good jiggly fun. Travis’s favorite part was coloring in the body on a paper plate, after which we added string as the tentacles.


Poke holes in the top of the plate and thread a final string through, so your toddler can jiggle the jellyfish around.

Food: Travis dined on jam on toast, and ate a few nut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Although normally not available in our house, juice was a special treat for J week, and Travis was delighted!


Books: Our picks from the library this week tended to be interactive ones – Jump by Scott M. Fischer makes for great jumping play, and Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban is the perfect book to read over a jam snack. You might also want to act out any version you can find of Jack and the Beanstalk.


Songs: As with our books, songs this week were very interactive! Jingle Bells was still timely, here only a few days after Christmas, so we played the song and shook jingle bells along to it. Another interactive song to try is Jack and Jill; using a xylophone, move up the scale as you sing each note of the following:

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.

Then descend the scale of the xylophone as you sing the following:

Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.

As you play, your child rises up on the first line, from a little ball until standing tall with arms up high. In the second line, he or she shrinks back down into a ball.

After that lesson on the octave, sing John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt for an easy introduction to dynamics – start out loud, and finish off with the verses in a whisper.

Finally, Travis fell in love with the song Hey Jude this week, completely by coincidence!

Math: My intention was to count jellybeans, but I didn’t have time to buy vegan ones before J week sneaked up on us. Instead, I dubbed a bag of Surf Sweets gummy bears as “jelly bears.” Travis started with a plate of 20 and got a kick out of counting down as he ate. “How many are left?” he’d ask, hiding one behind his back, before moving on to the next bite.


In sum, a week of joyful fun. What other J games can you think of? Please share in the comments!

Advent Christmas Books


We didn’t have a proper advent calendar for Travis this year, but here’s a neat idea I nabbed from Parents magazine. Each night of December leading up to Christmas, set one holiday book under the tree for a special storytime.

The first night that Travis noticed a tissue-paper wrapped item under our tree, his eyes popped with delight. It soon became his favorite part of our bedtime ritual, rushing up after dessert to discover what awaited under the tree.


There’s no need to buy 25 holiday stories! You no doubt have a few at home, but supplement the list with picks from your local library.

Some of our books were hits and some were misses (the pickings grew a bit slim at the library towards mid-December), but that didn’t lessen Travis’ delight tearing through the tissue paper each evening.


Save favorites for the final week before Christmas. In our house that includes The Polar Express, Twas the Night Before Christmas, and The Snowman.


Other books, ranging from the silly to the sweet, included:

Little Blue’s Christmas

The Animal’s Santa

Where is Baby’s Christmas Present?

Gingerbread Christmas

Santa Shimmy

and Christmas Parade

What holiday books are favorites in your household? Please share in the comments!

Snow Paint

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This homemade paint is deliciously goopy, and as thick as snow after a blizzard, but it won’t melt away!

Place a can of foaming shaving cream and a bottle of glue in the fridge for 1 hour to chill.

Combine 3/4 cup shaving cream and 1/2 cup glue in a large bowl, mixing well. Travis was instantly enthralled with the texture.


Next we added heaps of icy blue sparkles because of course we needed sparkly snow!


Then it was time to paint a winter scene! With Travis so young, his was very abstract, but as he worked he told me he was painting first a horse, then an elephant, and so on. I loved the imagination at work.


Meanwhile, I painted a proper snowman, so Travis could enjoy the final result. He helped me press down cardboard cutouts of buttons and a hat – they will stick right to your gluey paint mixture as it dries.


We also added extra blue sparkles as the finishing touch.

Gingerbread Cookies


We’ve made gingerbread men ornaments and played with pretend gingerbread cookies, so it felt like time to make the real thing, before this Christmas season comes to a close. As with the sugar cookies we made, kids can play a large role in mixing ingredients, rolling the dough (or just playing with a portion!), and using kid-friendly cookie cutters to cut out shapes for this recipe.


  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance butter
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 3 cups flour
  1. Cream together the butter and molasses in a large bowl; set aside.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, ginger, cinnamon, and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing until a dough forms. Finish kneading the dough with wet hands.
  3. Divide the dough into portions and roll out to 1/4-inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Use gingerbread men cookie cutters, and place the shapes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
  4. Let cool for a minute on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

We sprinkled half of our gingerbread people with a dusting of sugar before baking, to give them a sparkly appearance.


For the others, we added a bit of frosting and vegan chocolate chips as buttons, for a cute finishing touch!


Snow Crate

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Just in time for the first winter storm of the season, we received our snow-themed crate from Koala Crate. Travis enjoyed some projects more than others, but overall I found this crate to be nicely educational, a timely prompt for talking about weather and winter, and featuring a diversity of projects.

To my surprise, Travis was not interested in the first craft, a clay snowman to place inside a homemade “snow globe.” He normally loves clay, and the project was very toddler-friendly, with a plastic container instead of glass, paper confetti for the whirling snow, and convenient air-dry clay.


But Travis insisted that I make the snowman, so I put the craft together while he played, including cardboard decorations pressed into the clay. He only briefly helped shake the provided confetti into the snow globe, after the snowman had dried overnight.


But once complete, he loved shaking the globe to make our “snow” fall down.


The second craft was a much bigger hit – ice painting! First we had to mix the paints, and Travis enjoyed using the provided spoon to measure powdered paint into molds. We let the paint freeze overnight.


The next morning I laid out the provided “mess mat” and postcards, and Travis and I unmolded the paints – give them a few minutes to thaw or you’ll have trouble! Travis was intrigued with the way the paints popped in and out of the mold, and would re-cap each one in between uses.


He scribbled a few paintings, liking the way the colors melted.


I showed him examples of color mixing while we were at it – the red paint + blue paint = purple, for example.


When the postcards dried, we had fun writing make-believe postcards… but you could also really send these to a friend or relative!


The final craft was cute and silly – penguin bowling! We slipped the provided cardboard penguins into the provided stands to make “bowling pins.” Travis loved the stands… or is that a hat?


He wasn’t as in to decorating them with the provided stickers and marker as I thought he would be; after a few scribbles, he lost interest.


But since the stickers are reusable, I imagine he’ll have fun decking out his penguins down the line.


Much more fun was using the small “snowball” to knock the penguins down!


On further prompts from the kit, we also watched a video of the aurora borealis online, talked about igloos, and told silly snow jokes. Ready for my favorite?

Q: What do you call a snowman in the summer?

A: A puddle!


Wishing you a winter full of happy snow days!


Snow + Hot Water


Snow day! How could I not instantly brainstorm the best way to use Mother Nature to our advantage?


As you can tell from the picture, Travis was not a fan when I bundled him up and trundled him outside to see the flakes, but I was thrilled; the snow was the perfect fluffy consistency for what I had in mind. I spared Travis any more time outdoors and shoveled snow into buckets to bring upstairs.


He loved what came next! I asked him what he thought would happen when hot water was poured over the cold snow, and now it was time to found out.

First we tested a watering can. Travis was so delighted at the holes that melted in our snow mound that he asked if he could get right in the tub – why not?


He wanted to test everything, from a baster and a cup:


to a shovel:


to poking it with his finger.


Then he decided we needed to fill buckets of warm water from the tap and pour over the snow (which at this point was like hard slush).


All too soon, our last little chunk of icy snow melted away, but luckily winter has just begun!

Chocolate Oatmeal

Chocolate Oatmeal.JPG

If this cocoa-infused bowl of oatmeal doesn’t get kids to eat their hot cereal, nothing will! It’s the perfect decadent bowlful on a snowy morning.


  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup vanilla nondairy milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • Shredded coconut (optional)
  • Vegan chocolate chips (optional)
  1. Combine the oats, salt, water, and milk in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and gently simmer for 7 to 10 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in the cocoa powder and maple syrup. If the oatmeal is too thick, add a little more milk or water to taste.
  3. Top each serving with shredded coconut (I use about 1 teaspoon per serving) and sprinkle with vegan chocolate chips for an extra decadent treat!

Strawberry Santas


Well if these strawberries aren’t just the cutest (and easiest!) Christmas snack I’ve ever seen. Ready?

Chop the stem end off of a few plump strawberries; discard the stems.

Slice a small bit off the tapered tip of the strawberry – save that for Santa’s hat.

Place the strawberries on a plate, and top with a dollop of whipped cream for Santa’s beard. Add the strawberry cap, and a final dot of whipped cream for a pom pom.


Ho ho ho!

Cookie Cutter Ice Ornaments


These sparkling ice ornaments are the perfect way to bring joy to even the coldest of winter cold snaps!

To wit, we have weather in the teens this week, which meant the perfect chance to try out the project.

In the evening, we filled an old baking sheet about 1/2-inch deep with water. Travis enjoyed placing the cookie cutters on the sheet, and we decorated a few of them with dried cranberries and raisins.


If you’re feeling extra artsy, you could add drops of food coloring, too, but Travis said he wanted ours clear.

Drape a length of string into each cookie cutter, so the water will freeze around it and enable you to hang the ornament once frozen.


I asked him what he thought would happen when we placed the water outside in the cold. To my surprise, he knew the answer was, “Ice!” Precisely!

We left the baking sheet on our balcony overnight, while the temperature dipped near 10 degrees with the wind chill.

In the morning, I told Travis it was time to check on our ice – he was so excited. The sheet got some experimental taps and pokes first.


To liberate our ornaments, we simply jiggled the cookie cutters a little, and the shapes came free. Travis had fun playing with the leftover ice chunks for a little while.


I tied them up to our balcony, where they were a gorgeous reminder of the beauty in even the coldest of days.