Starry Holiday Table Runner

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This project is a great way to get kids involved in holiday d├ęcor! The result is charmingly homespun and sure to delight relatives or other visitors at your holiday table.

To start, I prepped a star stencil. Ideally, you’ll want to use a real star stencil from a craft store. I printed a star template on paper and cut out the star shapes, which worked in a pinch; if you use this method, however, be sure to have several templates on hand, as each one can only take a coat or two of paint before tearing.

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Next we prepped our workspace, unrolling a large length of craft paper, and pouring white paint into a foil pie plate.

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Travis loved helping thin the paint with just a touch of water, for a creamy consistency.

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Next I showed him how to hold the stencil in one place on the paper, and paint over the exposed open star shapes. He loved the challenge, and although his paintbrush sometimes slopped over the edges, this only added to the charm of our final runner.

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Keep moving your stencil until you’ve covered the entire length needed with star shapes. He even pretended he was a professional painter as he worked!

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We left the paint to dry, and then I cut the craft paper to form a thinner rectangular runner, with a triangle snipped from each end for a banner-like effect.

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The runner is perfect under our advent calendar display while we wait for the day to actually celebrate with relatives, and then we’ll move it to the buffet table!

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Green & Gold Couscous

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There are sophisticated flavors in this couscous salad, and if you’re looking to challenge your little one’s taste buds, it introduces new foods in a kid-friendly way.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cups dry pearl couscous
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 cups arugula
  • 2 cups shredded raw yellow beets
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the couscous and toast for 4 minutes. Add 3 cups water and bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until tender. Drain any excess liquid and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk together the mustard, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and 1/3 cup olive oil to make the dressing.
  3. Place the couscous in a large bowl. Add the arugula, beets, walnuts, and raisins. Add the dressing, stirring until well coated, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Note: You can cool the couscous completely before assembling all the ingredients together, but I actually prefer to add the couscous while it is still a touch warm. This wilts the arugula slightly, which suits my preschooler’s tastes better, and helps plump up the golden raisins.

Missing-Mitten Puppets

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We loved this suggestion from our December issue of High Five magazine! What parent of small children doesn’t have an odd mitten or two lying around? Kids always seem to be losing just one of a pair. To prolong the fun, I also purchased a cheap three pack of gloves, so our imaginations could run wild with puppet making. Although mittens would have been ideal, gloves worked just as well for our new puppet friends.

First, we followed the two suggestions from High Five. An old yellow glove received orange thread as a mane, which Travis loved gluing to the fingertips.

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We added googly eyes and felt pieces for the nose and mouth. Black thread was perfect for little whiskers.

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Felt ears (in pink and blue), a blue felt nose, more googly eyes, and more black thread as whiskers turned an odd blue glove into a mouse. Squeak!

From there, I left Travis’s imagination take over. We had a very abstract elephant covered in orange thread and yellow felt, shown here in the foreground:

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He next asked to make a porcupine, so I got out “quills” from brown felt and Travis added a pom pom nose.

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Then he decided we needed a black cat, with pink felt ears and facial features. Travis insisted that the cat needed a sparkly pom pom, too.

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Then of course it’s time for a puppet show!

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What color mittens do you have on hand to turn into animals? Please share ideas in the comments!

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Making a Rocket

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An extra mailing tube from the post office spurred this idea, and turned out to be a huge hit.

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To turn a simple mailing tube into a rocket, the first thing you’ll need to do is paint it silver using a metallic acrylic paint. Travis has his own agenda more and more these days, a busy three-and-a-half year old. He normally isn’t so into painting, but when I told him we were using “big boy paint” (i.e. non-washable) like real astronauts, he leaped to the task!

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Cut two fins for the rocket from cardboard and paint those as well. Let dry completely.

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For the flames of the rocket, you can trim lengths of orange and red fabric into strips, hot glue the edge of the fabric onto plastic piping, and insert into the bottom of your rocket. Or you take a vast short-cut, cut strips of orange and red construction paper, and glue them in. Yup, we went the simple way!

As the final step, I hot glued the two cardboard fins to the body of the rocket, and then made the cap. Cut a piece of shiny craft paper into a circle, and cut out 1/4 of the circle. Fold into a cone, and hot glue onto the top of the rocket.

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As soon as the glue was cool, it was Travis’s toy to zoom, and oh boy was he exited!

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It was his suggestion that we launch the rocket off a launch pad, so we repurposed an old cardboard box as our launch site.

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Definitely a big hit with this three-nager.

Duct Tape City Bus Playset

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This was a project that sounded daunting, and so I put it off for a while. But it turned out to be very easy and very cute. My hesitation stemmed from the fact that I needed to purchase magnet sheets and duct tape sheets (note: not a roll of duct tape), which I couldn’t find at my local craft store. Both are readily available on Amazon, so armed with these supplies, we were off and running… er, driving!

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To make duct tape vehicles, peel the sticky side off the duct tape sheet and line up evenly with the sticky side of the magnet sheet. Cut out rectangles to be your cars, buses, and trucks.

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Travis loved the idea of drawing our vehicles. We used permanent marker, and he scribbled away with imaginative designs.

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Meanwhile I added a few vehicles that he could readily recognize, including a city bus…

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…and a propeller plane (Travis’s current obsession). Garbage trucks and cars rounded out our city neighborhood.

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To make your cityscape, tape down two pieces of paper to the back of a baking sheet. Adults and older kids can map out streets and buildings.

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Travis was thrilled to help decorate, and was very focused on drawing a crossing guard. I was so proud when I saw him draw in a nose and smile, his most true-to-life people yet!

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Once your city is drawn, add your magnet vehicles and zoom them along however you like!

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This playset is one your kids can return to over and over again.

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Sight Word Train

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I’m on the lookout these days for snekay ways to get Travis to spot his name among a jumble of letters. This time the learning made its way into train set play!

Set up any train track pieces you have (you don’t need anything complicated, just a simple loop), and then set out train pieces. Affix a small post-it note with a letter to each individual train piece.

As mentioned, our first game was to hide the letters of Travis’s name, and see if he could spot them among a jumble of train cars.

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The next step was to line those letters up in order!

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We also spelled a few simple words; think of easy sight words like yes, no, cat, dog, mom, dad, etc. Because Travis currently loves airplane pilots, we spelled out a-c-e.

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Travis is still more comfortable with upper case letters than lower case, so I focused just on the latter today. But really the only limit here is when you run out of post-it notes!

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For bigger kids, you can even write full words on the post-its and have them line up their train cars to form a simple sentence.

Sand Pendulum

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We snagged this idea from an old Parents magazine article, highlighting STEM projects for kids. The game provides a neat visual introduction to gravity, using the simple concept of a pendulum. Pendulums – any suspended weight that swings freely from a pivot – will always come to rest at an equilibrium position, because of gravity of course. Using colored sand makes it purely fun for kids!

Make sure to cover your work surface with a roll of craft paper or other paper, both to catch your sand designs, and to save you from a big mess at clean-up time.

To set up the pendulum, tie three strings at even intervals around a thick rubber band. Travis had fun exploring the materials while I put this step together. Older kids can help with the tying!

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Fit the rubber band tightly under the lip of a kitchen funnel. Gather the three strings together and tie in the middle so the funnel hangs evenly.

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Slip the strings over a dowel – whoops, not quite balanced yet!

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The next step was a bit tricky, since it requires two sets of hands, and my three year old had his own agenda. But ideally, have your child plug the hole at the bottom of the funnel with a fingertip while you fill it with colored craft sand.

Give the pendulum a slight push, and watch the sand go back and forth. It will swing in increasingly smaller motions until it comes to rest.

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As mentioned, ours didn’t exactly work as planned…but leftover sand sure is fun to play with!

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If you capture really pretty sand designs, please share in the comments.

Crunchy Cucumbers with Hummus

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Make a go-to snack of veggies with hummus even more fun with this bite-sized snack. What kid can resist the chance to eat potato chips in a healthy way?


  • 1 cucumber, sliced
  • Hummus
  • Crushed potato chips
  1. Arrange the cucumber slices on a plate or platter. Thinly spread each slice with hummus to taste.
  2. Sprinkle a few crushed potato chip pieces on top of each cuke.

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Phoneme Week 10: IR

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As with the AY phoneme, we’re now doing a much-simplified version of our original plan to explore letter pairs. We’ve had the IR poster up on our wall for nearly two months now (!), giving Travis ample time to enjoy with how the two letters together say “errrrr!” Here’s some fun we had along the way.

Words of the Week:

  • Birds: This was loosely our “theme” for the unit, so we made bird feeders from pine cones and old milk containersPinecone Feeder (6)and enjoyed quirky games like a bird beak buffet. Bird Buffet (8)In addition, we made sure to head out bird watching one afternoon! IR Phoneme (4)We also started a collection of Audubon bird friends. IR Phoneme (8)And of course checked out library books on the subject.IR Phoneme (5)
  • Birch: Believe it or not, I found a craft to go with this word – birch tree tape resist pictures! Fall nature walks resulted in the chance to see the striking smooth bark of these trees up close and in person.BIrch Tree (6)
  • First: Find a toy – old baby ones are good to pull out for this purpose – that stacks or nests, and count them “first,” “second,” and “third,” instead of one, two, three. Since it was the holiday season, we also sang ‘The First Noel.’IR Phoneme (1)
  • Skirt/Shirt: For these two clothing words, we made a batch of craft stick doll, wearing a variety of fashions!
  • Birth: Like many toddlers and preschoolers, Travis is developing a fascination with babies. It’s a good time to introduce the concept of birth in an age-appropriate way. Check your library for cute books on the topic.IR Phoneme (6)
  • Stir: This word got us into the kitchen of course! First we did some real stirring to make a pie together. Then it was time for something even more fun: magic potion spoons, where stirring unlocked a secret color ingredient. “Mom, can I still stir?” Travis asked while we played the game, wanting to do it over and over again.
  • Virtue: Hmm, this was a hard word to teach to a three year old, so we tested out the old adage that “patience is a virtue” … By waiting for a batch of cookies of course!
  • Dirt: To end our IR fun, we brought a big bag of dirt inside (well, potting soil), and created a dirty mud pie kitchen.

Chances are we won’t get to the next phoneme until well into the New Year, so stay tuned!

Mud Pie Kitchen

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In an ideal world, we would have done this activity outdoors in beautiful summer weather; it’s the kind of activity that can keep your kids happily occupied while you garden or do other outdoor chores. But if a kid needs dirt in the winter, then you bring the dirt inside!

To set up our “kitchen”, I spread an old shower curtain liner on the floor to contain any mess. I then set up a variety of kitchen items. We used disposable foil pans, but you can also use items from a flea market or thrift store. Add in spatulas, spoons, ladles, or other kitchen utensils.

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If it’s summer, simply scoop up dirt from your yard and get to work! Here in the winter, we used a leftover bag of potting soil. Travis loved adding water, until we had a nice muddy consistency.

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Then it was time to make mud loaf cakes!

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Cupcake liners were a whimsical touch, so we baked a batch of mud muffins.

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Travis kept up an imaginative narrative as he played; here is a cake inside of an “oven.”

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When he was done, I simply folded the old shower curtain over the muddy pots and pans and put everything into a trash bag – easy as mud pie!

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