Gift Your Child an Ornament Every Year

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There are some households where the Christmas tree is color-coordinated or bears a different theme each year. Not so in our house! Our tree is a hodgepodge of homemade and heirlooms and ones we’ve randomly picked up over the years. But here is one nice thing that lends tradition to the tree: making sure to gift each child a special ornament every year.

This goes back to both my kids’ first Christmas, when they received one as a commemorative gift.

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Moving forward, we’ve picked one up each year in relation to a holiday excursion. There’s the train from a trip to a holiday train show, for example…

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…and this year Travis loved selecting owls from a trip to see holiday lights at a botanical garden.

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This is definitely one of those traditions I intend to keep up, moving forward. How do your kids like to decorate the tree? Please share in the comments!

 

Cinnamon Orange Candied Pecans

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We have a tradition in our household that goes back to my childhood, of “elf visits” on Christmas Eve day. This is a chance to stop by and visit with neighbors and friends, bearing a sweet treat and often receiving one in exchange.

This year, we put together bags of these candied pecans. Kids will love helping to juice the orange and stir everything together for this quick recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small orange
  • 4 cups pecans
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  1. Juice the orange over a bowl. Add the pecans and the remaining ingredients, stirring to coat.
  2. Spoon the nuts onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, stirring about halfway through.

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Cran-Raspberry Chia Pudding Parfait

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The vibrant red sauce in this breakfast pudding makes for a beautiful start to Christmas morning!

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 cup chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen cranberries
  • 1 (12-ounce) package frozen raspberries
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup water
  1. In a bowl, whisk together the almond milk, chia seeds, maple syrup, cinnamon and salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight
  2. Meanwhile, combine the cranberries, raspberries, sugar, vanilla, and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then continue to simmer for about 20 minutes, until the cranberries pop. Use a spoon to mash the berries the rest of the way. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  3. In the morning, spoon the parfait into glasses, alternating layers of the sauce and the chia pudding.

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Red-and-Green Enchiladas

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Tofu-filled tortillas smothered in the colors of Christmas make the perfect holiday entree! Even better, this one can be made ahead of time and baked just before serving, freeing you up to host or open presents!

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons Earth Balance butter
  • 4 thinly sliced green onions
  • 1 (1 pound) package firm tofu
  • 1 cup red enchilada sauce
  • 1 cup green enchilada sauce
  • 6 flour tortillas
  • 1 cup shredded non-dairy cheese
  1. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the green onion and cook for 2 minutes. Crumble the tofu into the pan and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
  2. Spoon 1/4 cup red sauce onto half of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Coat the other half with 1/4 cup green sauce.
  3. Working with 1 tortilla at a time, spoon in some of the tofu filling and fold up tightly. Place seam side down over the sauce in the dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.
  4. Spread the remaining red sauce over half of the top and the green sauce on the other half. Christmas colors!
  5. Cover with foil and refrigerate until ready to bake. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes, removing the foil halfway through.

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Poetry Traditions

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‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house… we were having a quick poetry lesson before bed!

The Night Before Christmas wasn’t actually written as a book, of course, but as a poem, with a classic AABB rhyme scheme (lines 1 and 2 rhyme, and lines 3 and 4 rhyme). Thus it’s a great work for talking with kids about Christmas traditions, how Christmas has changed over the years, and for a mini poetry lesson, too.

First we read the book, and then laughed as we turned the pages along to a version sung by the University of Utah choir.

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As we read, I paused over vocabulary that was old-fashioned or unfamiliar to Travis, words like sash, prancing, lustre, and stirring. He instantly pinpointed that the poem was old-fashioned, based on the drawings and the language. We discussed how this “Saint Nick” differed from the Santa Claus he’s familiar with.

Do a close reading of the poem, asking questions like: ‘who were the characters’ (“The kids, the mom, the dad, and Santa Claus!”) and ‘what happens in the middle’ (“The sleigh appears!”) etc.

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Then we went through and identified some of the rhymes, like house and mouse. I gave him a word from the poem (for example ‘bed’) and challenged him to come up with his own rhymes.

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Big kids can go on from here to write their own holiday poem. For my kindergartner, I simply helped Travis compose a silly line or two about our family holidays.

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Fun extensions might include acting out the poem before bed!

Give Gifts – and Compliments!

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Well we’ve arrived at Christmas Eve, and in all honesty tomorrow is all about the receiving for Travis. I’ve done my best this Christmas to help my five-year-old understand the spirit of giving, too, and wrapping presents for his dad and little sister offered a final teachable moment.

Instead of using patterned wrapping paper, I purchased a roll of solid white paper. Travis enjoyed learning how to properly wrap, a first tutorial for him!

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Once everything was taped up, I prompted him to think of something he loved about each recipient. He proudly helped spell out the way his dad plays Star Wars games with him, and how he loves to play with his sister.

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Kids can do this for every gift they send this year, whether to a teacher, a friend, or a relative. Encourage them to add drawings or other marks on the solid paper, too, so the gift is not only the object inside the wrapping paper, but the paper itself.

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Merry Christmas!

Holiday Book Traditions

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Christmas stories have such a special place in my heart, memories of the books that were read year after year when I was a child, and now some that have become family favorites since my own kids were born.

One tradition we’ve started is Advent Christmas Books, a tissue paper-wrapped book under the tree each night of December, whether from our own collection or on loan from the library. Our list this year included old favorites like The Polar Express, as well as new titles, like:

Fa La La

Guess Who’s Coming to Santa’s For Dinner?

Christmas Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons

Christmas in the Barn 

and Merry Christmas Mr. Mouse

As a new tradition, I had Travis help pick out a version of The Nutcracker from the library. A special holiday excursion like this will build anticipation for the big day!

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Moving forward, I can’t wait to spend Christmas Eve with each family member reading a new book, perhaps the first gift of Christmas. This is apparently an Icelandic tradition, and we’re only a year or so away from having it be feasible in our home!

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Finally, don’t forget to read the perfect Christmas Eve book as a tradition each year: The Night Before Christmas.

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What books are a must for your family’s holiday? Please share in the comments!

Chat with Me Panda Crate

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Veronika’s third Panda Crate, which seems to be aimed at a baby aged 5 to 6 months, is about language development and babble. To tie this idea into a theme, the crate focused on farm animals and animal sounds, which are often easier for babies to say than actual words. Certainly Veronika fits this trend, with “meow” “woof” “quack” and “baa” in her proud repertoire.  So without further ado, here’s what she received in this crate!

One: Mooing Cow

This was a very silly cow stuffed animal that moos when you turn it upside-down. Veronika wasn’t quite sure what to make of this little fellow!

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I tried playing pass back and forth with her, but she was a little scared of the cow! Instead, I encouraged her to moo along, and brought the cow back for later books and games (read on).

Two: Stacking Animals

These wooden animals – a pig, a sheep, a duck, and a bunny – are fantastic. They are just the right size for little hands, lightweight but sturdy, and lend themselves to numerous games. We lined them up in a row…

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…and then I showed her how to stack them flat on their sides, easier than standing them upright.

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When I stacked them atop one another, she was eager to topple the animal tower over! I can definitely see how this toy will grow with her, once she’s able to stack them herself.

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Three: Peek-A-Boo Barn

The farm fun continued with this neat vocab-building toy. Because each of the three barn doors opens in a different way (twist, lift, or slide), you can emphasize these verbs while your little one plays. Certainly Veronika didn’t waste any time getting her hands busy with it.

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She even played peek-a-boo with the duck up top!

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We returned to the theme of animal noises as she played, and I asked prompting questions like, “Where is the horse?” to build her animal vocabulary.

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Four: Pull-Along Truck

This gross motor toy was a welcome addition to the crate. The fabric upper body Velcros around the wooden wheel base, although ours was a bit droopy. That didn’t deter Veronika from zooming it everywhere!

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There’s room for onomatopoeia here, making truck sounds like vroom vroom and beep beep as you play. It’s also just right for loading in the wooden animals and giving them a ride.

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I can’t wait until Veronika is old enough to pull it as she walks, but for right now she was more than happy to push it along at a crawl.

Five: Board Book

As with every crate, this one featured a book about our friend Panda. In this one, Panda says hello to different animals on the farm.

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The book features numbers as well as animal sounds, and we recruited our new friends (the mooing cow and the wooden animals) to act out the story!

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Now it was time to check out this crate’s Wonder magazine. There were linguistic tips for every age, including activities we did when Veronika was 0 to 3 months old (sitting close and cooing back), 4 to 6 months old (repeating single-syllable sounds) and 7 to 12 months old (narrating the day). I liked the tip about praising language use instead of correcting it, which we’re prone to do as parents.

Wonder also had a page about baby signing, featuring 6 signs that Veronika already knows: milk, eat, more, all done, play, and help.

The suggested “Beyond the Crate” activities were mainly ones Veronika and I have done before. First up: Sounds All Around i.e. playing with onomatopoeia. She loves to copy sounds, so I thought of some fun new ones. While playing with her tea set, I added a  “pssssh” pouring sound.

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She was soon eagerly pouring for our tea party and shoving the cup in my face for a “sluuurp!” We also love to “beep boop” our light switches and to “choo choo” our trains.

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And of course, animal toys are ripe for onomatopoeia play, so we circled back to the new wooden ones.

There was also a recommended game of Tot Talk (responding to your baby’s babble as if having a real back-and-forth conversation). We do this often, and Veronika loves to monologue at me!

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Lastly, we played In Full Swing, a cute way to teach hello and goodbye as you push your baby on a swing. Veronika is just starting to wave and say hi to other babies, so she loved this game. Add other words like “forward” and “backward”, too.

Hello Goodbye Swing

For musical fun, the natural song to sing with this crate is Old Macdonald Had a Farm.

Finally, we checked out three recommended books:

  • Farmyard Beat by Lindsey Craig
  • Listen to the Pets by Marion Billet
  • Who? A Celebration of Babies by Robie Harris

Family Flashcards

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Holidays are full of visits from family and friends, but that can be overwhelming to little ones in their first or second Christmas.

One helpful activity you can do ahead of time is to make family flashcards. For a variety of family members, I had photos printed at the drugstore, and then taped each picture to an index card.

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Write the name of the person or people on the back, then slip into a snack-sized zip-top bag.

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Now the flashcards are tear-proof!

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Veronika loved them right away, simply for the feel and visual stimulation.

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Then she noticed that she recognized these faces! She paused to point, babbling “mama” or “dada” in particular.

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Be sure to include those nearest and dearest, including siblings. Family pets count, too!

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For now, I simply showed her each card and then said the person’s name. As she gets older, we can go through them like a deck of flashcards, seeing if she’s able to say the name (and some day read it, too!).

If your baby is still young enough for tummy time, consider arranging all the pictures on a piece of sticky contact paper to make a floor mat.

Old English Crackers

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Every year at Christmas dinner, we pull about old-fashioned Christmas crackers. If you don’t know what these are, it’s a British holiday tradition, featuring a cardboard tube wrapped in shiny paper. When pulled apart, it makes a loud “crack!” (hence the name) and the recipient finds a joke or toy inside.

This year, Travis and I made a homemade version! I bought a few trinkets at the toy shop that could fit inside toilet paper tubes. Mini tins of putty, mood rings, and jingle bell necklaces were all perfect!

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Cut a 12-inch square of holiday wrapping paper, and wrap around the empty toilet paper tube. Twist the edges and secure with pretty ribbon.

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Now cut the tube in half. Travis helped place a toy inside each tube, as well as a joke from his Raddish Kids Holiday Traditions crate; you can also write your own jokes on cardstock. Tape the two halves of the tube back together.

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Cut a second piece of wrapping paper, this time measuring 12 inches by 4 inches. Wrap around the tube to conceal that you’ve cut it in half. Your cracker is now ready to pop!

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We repeated 6 times so everyone at Christmas dinner will receive one… But Travis already stole one mood ring because he loved it so much, which means one unlucky Christmas Goose is going to receive an empty cracker! Chances are that’s going to be mommy.

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