Milk Swirl Experiment

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Here’s a neat STEM experiment that Travis tried once before (aiming to imitate the look of the Northern Lights), but this time we were more focused on the science of surface tension and why the experiment works as it does.

I can’t vouch for every type of non-dairy milk on the market, but the activity works great with oat milk.

To start, simply pour a layer of your milk into a shallow bowl. Add drops of food coloring near the center (just one or two drops of each), close together so they are nearly touching.

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Now dip a q-tip swab in a bit of liquid dish soap. Touch lightly to the food coloring…

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…and watch the colors skitter away! There is definite wow factor to this one. Here’s a quick clip of our second round (because of course we needed to test it out more than once!).

Travis and I talked about what’s really happening here after all the swirly fun was done: The soap has both a hydrophilic (water-loving) end and a hydrophobic (water-fearing) end. The latter grabs onto the fat in the milk, which means all the milk molecules start to get pulled apart and the colors go skittering along with them.

All that science aside, it’s just so fun to watch! If you use a different type of non-dairy milk, please share your results in the comments!

Dance Like a Penguin

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If a cold winter day means your kids have extra energy to burn in the house, chances are you need some movement play. To wit, today we invented this arctic animal dancing game!

Veronika has a toy penguin that she currently loves, so I’ve been showing her how to “waddle” like a penguin. The silly movement is always good fun for toddlers. And heck, it’s fun and silly for moms and dads, too.

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Then it was just a matter of cranking up the music and doing our best waddle along to the tunes!

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Veronika, of course, didn’t always stick with a waddle, but that didn’t matter now that she was getting in her movement play. Soon she was marching or twirling or knee-high stepping to the beat.

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She loved making her little penguin bounce along, too!

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This gave us the idea to think of how other winter animals would move to the beat. Could we lumber along like a polar bear? Clap like a seal? Jump like an arctic hare?

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No matter what we were pretending to be, there were big smiles and lots of movement.

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Chocolate Pomegranate Dip

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Sneak a little pomegranate into your family’s repertoire with this yummy snack dip!

Ingredients:

  • 1 package dairy-free chocolate pudding mix
  • 1 and 1/2 cups oat milk
  • 1 cup non-dairy sour cream
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
  1. Combine the pudding mix and oat milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until blended.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and beat to combine. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and chill for 1 hour.

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We love this served with fresh fruit like orange segments for dipping! You can also dunk in slices of pound cake. Or just eat it up with a spoon!

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Kwanzaa Decorations

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Travis learned about winter festivals of lights in school this month, including those we don’t celebrate like Diwali and Kwanzaa. I thought it would be fun for Veronika to jump in on the lesson, and the most age-appropriate way to do so for a toddler is to introduce a holiday’s colors or themes. These two easy Kwanzaa decorations fit the bill.

For the first, I cut shapes from black construction paper. For extra sparkle, we used construction paper that already had glitter on it, which Veronika loved! She helped dot glue all over the paper.

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Next, we ripped up tissue paper in traditional Kwanzaa colors of green and red, and I showed her how to stick these onto the glue.

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Once the glue dries, punch a hole in the top of each shape and hang up for a sparkly decoration. If your family celebrates the holiday, these would be perfect to give as gifts, too, since handmade gifts are another Kwanzaa tradition.

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When she saw the shapes dangling, Veronika was thrilled. “It’s the shapes! Look at the circle! And the rectangle!”

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For the second craft, we once again used the traditional Kwanzaa colors, but this time to make a paper chain garland. I cut strips of red, green, and black construction paper, then looped a red piece into a circle and taped it shut. (Note: You can also staple or use glue for this step).

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I showed Veronika how to thread a second strip through the first, and loop that one into a circle. She loved helping with this step.

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For an early pattern lesson, I helped her arrange them in order: red, green, black, repeat! She named all the colors as we worked, and loved that we were making circles.

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She also was a big helper with the tape!

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Make as many of these garlands as your family likes, and hang up as decoration!

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Happy Kwanzaa to those who celebrate!

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Corn Husk Dolls

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All you need to make these adorable dolls is a package of corn husks from the international aisle of the supermarket. They’re easy to make and turn out so cute!

To start, Travis helped layer four husks for each doll. Secure near the top with a rubber band.

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Now fold the husks over so they hide this first rubber band. Attach a second rubber band near the top, so the doll is now divided into a head and a skirt.

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For the arms, the kids helped roll up one husk tightly. Secure with three rubber bands: one in the middle and one near either end to form two “hands”.

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Slot this arm piece up the middle of the doll’s body. Add a final rubber band under the arms, delineating where the waist would be.

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Time to decorate! Veronika loved coloring a rainbow shirt on hers, while I drew eyes and a mouth on the face.

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Travis turned his into Baby Yoda with some green marker and black eyes! The dolls were soon involved in inventive games for the kids, meaning this project was fun both as a craft and for the imagination.

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Box Flap Car Bridges

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Leftover flaps from Christmas packages were the perfect way to mix up Veronika’s car play today!

For set up, I simply pulled out an assortment of box flaps I’d saved, having cut the longest ones from packages we received in the run-up to the holiday. Ideally I would have liked to prop all of these flaps on top of still more cardboard boxes, but I only had one box left that was tall enough. In a pinch, chairs from our craft table could be additional supports for the ramps and brdiges.

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Anywhere I needed to attach two box flaps together, I clipped them with a clothespin. Veronika loved helping out as we set up this configuration, which turned into a neat triangle of bridges. I placed her directly in the center of all the flaps and then let a few cars loose along the ramps. She got the idea right away!

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The bridges are great for kids to experiment with, getting a little STEM lesson in the process. Anywhere they sag in a downhill, cars will roll with the force of gravity. Anywhere with an ascent, kids will have to push up.

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Veronika narrowly saved this car from disaster!

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She loved pushing cars along, zooming them down, and occasionally tossing them right off the ramps.

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In addition, the “fort” itself was a delight, especially once she discovered that she could crawl under the box flaps or back in all by herself, without me needing to lift her out.

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What a super fun way to recycle boxes and fit in car play.

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Paper Plate Skating

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All the ice in town melted after an unusually warm day. So today we decided to pretend ice skate indoors, instead!

This gross motor activity couldn’t be easier or more fun. To start, Veronika and I decorated paper plates with crayons. You don’t actually even have to do this part, but it was fun to add an arts & crafts component to the game. Veronika scribbled in her favorite colors while I drew something that sort of resembled ice skates on a few other plates.

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Time to lace up! By which I mean, simple help your child place one foot on each plate and start to glide.

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Veronika got the hang of it immediately; I was impressed with how sturdy she was, and how quickly she mastered the motion.

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She loved holding hands for a few loops around the house but soon was brave enough to strike out on her own.

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The only frustration was that her feet popping off the plates. I asked her if she wanted to wear socks and have me fasten her in with a strap of tape, but she preferred bare feet. So we just dealt with this minor inconvenience.

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Here she is carefully putting her “skates” back on after coming off the plates. She was one determined skater!

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Mini Shepherd’s Pies

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Although we’re not a religious family, we do love reading the the story of the nativity each Christmas, with familiar characters like the angels, three Wise Men, and shepherds. Hence why these shepherd’s pies make the perfect entree for a special Christmas dinner!

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (12-ounce) packages meatless crumbles
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped carrot
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 and 1/2 cups frozen peas
  • 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1/2 cup non-dairy sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons Earth Balance butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. To prepare the filling, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatless crumbles, onion, and carrot; cook for 7 minutes until the crumbles start to brown. Stir in the flour, followed by the tomato paste, and cook for 1 minute.
  2. Add the broth and thyme. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and cook for 30 minutes, or until the liquid thickens. Fold in the peas and cook for 2 minutes. Divide the filling mixture evenly among ramekins.
  3. To prepare the topping, peel and cube the potatoes and cover with water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain and return the potatoes to the pan. Add the sour cream, butter, and salt; mash with  potato masher until smooth.
  4. Spoon the potato topping evenly over the filling in each ramekin.
  5. Place the pies on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for 25 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Candy Cane Cinnamon Rolls

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You’ll delight your family on Christmas morning with cinnamon rolls not only shaped like a candy cane, but flavored with them, too!

Ingredients:

For the dough:

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 and 3/4 cups flour
  • 6 tablespoons Earth Balance butter
  • 3/4 cup plain soy milk
  • 2 Ener-G eggs

For the filling:

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons Earth Balance butter, softened

For the frosting:

  • 1/2 cup non-dairy cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1/4 cup plain soy milk
  • Red food coloring
  • 2 candy canes
  1. To prepare the dough, combine the sugar, yeast, salt, baking soda, and flour in the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a dough attachment blade.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter over low heat in a saucepan. Add the milk and cook until the mixture comes to room temperature.
  3. Add the butter mixture and the Ener-G eggs to the flour mixture; beat for about 3 minutes, until a dough forms. Knead with your hands to form a smooth ball, then return to the bowl. Cover and let rise at room temperature for 1 and 1/2 hours.
  4. To assemble the rolls, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside. Roll the dough into a 13-inch square on a lightly floured surface and brush with the softened butter. Sprinkle with the brown sugar mixture. Roll up tightly, then cut into 10 slices crosswise. Arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper in the shape of a candy cane. Cover with foil and refrigerate at least 8 hours or up to 2 days in advance.
  5. In the morning, place the rolls at room temperature while the oven preheats. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare the frosting: whisk together the cream cheese, vanilla, salt, and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Add the peppermint extract and soy milk, whisking until smooth. Divide the frosting evenly among two zip-top plastic bags, adding a few drops of red food coloring to one.
  7. Arrange the cinnamon rolls on a platter in their candy cane shape. Snip a small hole in the corner of each frosting bag and drizzle the rolls evenly with the red and white frostings. Sprinkle with the crushed candy canes.

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Santa Hat Pizzas

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Put a Christmas spin on pizza night in the days leading up to the holiday with this quick recipe!

To start, we stretched out a store-bought pizza dough and then cut into triangles with a pizza rolled. Fold up the bottom edge of the triangle to make a cuff.

Next, we spooned tomato sauce over the triangles, leaving the cuffs plain. Add non-dairy cheese along the cuff for Santa’s white trim. We used vegan feta, but next time I would probably dollop on crumbled tofu instead for a fluffier look!

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Bake at 430 degrees F for 8 minutes, or until the crust just starts to brown. This made pizza night a ho-ho-holiday treat.