Teach Your Child To… Play Chess

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Travis has been learning the basics of chess, but I confess I’m a poor teacher; I simultaneously try to beat him and let him win, which results in a lot of stalemates and missed opportunities. That’s why I was delighted to find a feature in Parents magazine with tips and tricks to help your budding chess master; we couldn’t wait to test them out!

The first trick will help a child remember the moves of each playing piece by making up a story about why it moves the way it does. It helps that Travis’s chess is Star Wars-themed. So the “castles” (droids in our case) can only move in a straight line because they have rigid robotic movements.

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The duo of Fett “knights” (Boba and Jango) can leap in an L-shape because of their jet packs of course.

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And the queens (Rey and Kylo Ren) can move however they like because they use the Force! This tip will work whether your kit has a theme or not (think of leaping knights on horseback or scared kings who only limp forward one square at a time).

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You can also coach your child to watch your eyes before each turn, then see if they guess which piece you intend to move. Travis practiced some deep eye-gazing!

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After playing a few matches, we turned to chesskids.com. Travis had a blast playing against a robot, which turned out to be a far better opponent than mommy! There are also many videos on the site to give kids a deeper understanding of the game.

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What tips have you used to teach your kids a classic game like Chess or Go? Please share in the comments!

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Breakfast on a Stick

It’s a truism that food on a stick just tastes better, right? This fun tweak on weekend brunch is perfect for little kids; even preschoolers can help assemble the items onto the skewers, once you’ve prepared all the different foods. If you’re worried about little ones pricking their fingers, considering using straws instead of kebab sticks.

Our breakfast stick included:

Berries

Mini waffles

Vegan breakfast sausage

Just Egg

Sweet potato tots

Drizzle with maple syrup as the finishing touch.

Winter Flower Garden

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Snow is always a bit less fun after that initial fluffy white turns to muck and slush outside. Here’s one beautiful way to bring the snow play indoors and prolong the fun!

The first step is to scoop some relatively fresh snow onto a tray and bring it inside. Next, simply set out the snow along with mini flower pots and a few flowers. (Note: You can use fake ones or real but we chose the latter to add a hint of future spring to a frigid day!).

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The kids loved filling the little pots and making pretty arrangements.

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There’s the added tactile element of playing with cold snow in a cozy indoor room.

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In fact, the kids thought the little flower pots were so cute that they continued playing with flowers and pots long after our indoor snow had melted!

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Celebration Sponge Cake

A sleety winter day had us craving a colorful celebration inside, so Veronika threw a birthday party for her stuffed animals!

To make a cake worthy of this celebration, we started with kitchen sponges. I cut them into triangles that could be stacked into a “layer cake”. Our cake was two layers high, but you can make yours three or four layers tall for a big splash!

For frosting, we colored pieces of paper and glued on top; triangles cut from colorful craft foam would work great, too. Small pieces of sponge were perfect for sprinkles on top, and Veronika was so proud to squeeze out the glue all by herself and press these down.

For a rim of frosting, I suggested we add cotton balls, but Veronika declared these too fluffy. Our candles were snipped pieces of straw with a little bit of yellow sponge sticking out from the top for the flame. I think her turtle loved his cake!

She kept so busy with this even after I stepped aside, gluing down small pieces of sponge continuing the fiesta. Thanks to her latest issue of High Five magazine for this neat idea!

Snow Fun for Little Kids

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As a big kid, Travis loves big drifts of snow (more on that later!), but all that powdery white stuff can be a bit intimidating for little sister Veronika. Here are a few fun ways we played off our patio when we got the first storm of the season!

First, carve out a maze. Use a wide shovel to make paths through the snow, bonus points if they connect in multiple ways…

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…or go up a hill! This allowed Veronika to safely tramp around without being up to her knees in the stuff!

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Next, we made a snowman with a twist. Pile a little snowman together, then use the accessories from a Mr. Potato Head to add features.

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She loved the cuteness of this, and how easily she could poke the eyes and other items into the snow.

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Next up, it was time for some sneaky snow science. Make a big mound of snow, then hollow out a crater in the center. We dumped in baking soda (nearly a full box), followed by a few drops of red food coloring.

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When the kids are ready, add white vinegar and watch it explode.

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Travis also loved filling in the crater of the volcano, after!

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As for those big kids, the bigger the hill the better! We got a head start thanks to the neighborhood snowplow, then piled on extra snow so Travis could be king of the mountain!

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Christmas Science Kiwi Crates

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The kids tackled two holiday-themed crates from Kiwi Co as we decorated for the holiday season. Check out our unboxing review below!

First up was Santa’s Light Up Workshop. Their favorite part by far was decorating the wooden sides of the workshop with markers first, Veronika delightedly scribbling and Travis taking great care to make everything red and green holiday colors.

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These pieces notch together easily in a foam base. At the same time, you’ll need to attach the strip of LED lights in the bottom of the workshop with sticky foam, and adhere the battery pack to the back wall. Well, it turns out our battery pack didn’t work no matter how we toyed with it! That was a bit of a disappointment, but there was still more to do.

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Making the roof required some very deft fingerwork! Kiwi provides thin cord to string shiny pony beads along two wooden roof pieces. Veronika couldn’t string the beads, but she could help me put the roof in place!

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For a few final decorations, we twisted the provided pipe cleaners together to make a candy cane, and piled the provided cotton balls into a little snowman!

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The second project was all about aerodynamics, using candles to heat the air on a Christmas carousel to make the apparatus spin. Travis got to learn the history behind these creations (which started with miners in Germany!) before we dove into building.

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The project is easy to fit together with wooden pieces, sticky foam pieces, and a few thick plastic nuts and bolts. Veronika loved helping decorate the mini Christmas tree with stickers. “It’s a baby tree!” she said proudly.

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There are also four little figures to decorate with stickers, and the penguin was her fast favorite. The tree and figures notch into a wooden stand that goes in the center of the wooden frame.

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We added the fan pieces on top, then placed the provided tea lights below the frame. We don’t light candles often, so the kids were thrilled seeing the wicks catch fire, and then sure enough the fan begins to spin, twirling the tree.

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Pretty and scientific!

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Family Movie Night Smorgasbord

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Chances are that at some point between Christmas and New Years, you’re going to want a family movie night, especially now that quarantines and closures are (alas) back in vogue. Here’s the perfect spread to make the night feel extra special no matter what movie is playing!

To build our smorgasbord, we relied on suggestions from Parents magazine to fill out food in four categories. All of our options below were vegan.

Smorgasbord (5)Salty:

  • Thin pretzels
  • Tortilla chips
  • Popcorn

Sweet:

  • Chocolate candies
  • Dark-chocolate raisins
  • Red licorice

Hot:

  • Spanokopita
  • Corn dogs
  • Cauliflower bites

Spreads:

  • Ranch dip
  • Marinara sauce
  • Yellow mustard
  • Hummus

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Don’t forget the holiday napkins!

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Veronika loved checking out all the offerings.

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Mix, match, and let everyone choose what they want to eat! As for the movie, some favorites around here include: Home Alone, The Polar Express and The Happy Elf. Or, if it’s just the grownups watching, we’ll probably be screening It’s a Wonderful Life and Die Hard!

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Ginger Cake Squares

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Instead of more traditional gingerbread cookies, we made ginger cake this year. This cake will make your whole house smell like Christmas as it bakes!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Earth Balance butter, melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups blackstrap molasses
  • 2 vegan eggs
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups boiling water
  1. In a bowl, whisk together the melted butter, sugar, molasses, and vegan eggs of your choice; set aside.
  2. In a second bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring until combined.
  3. Add the boiling water and whisk until well blended.
  4. Pour into a greased 9×13-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 to 50 minutes; a wooden pick inserted in the center should come out clean.
  5. Cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes on a wire rack, then serve warm or cool completely.
  6. We love this dolloped with non-dairy whipped cream for serving! And yes we’re going to leave one piece out for Santa!

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Yarn Ornaments

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These pretty homemade ornaments are easy enough for even preschoolers to help put together. The resulting gift-shaped decorations also make – hint hint – a great gift for friends or relatives!

To start, cut squares out of cardboard (which is also a great way to reuse boxes from holiday deliveries). You could also cut out different shapes like circles or stars, but I found that the squares were the easiest for Veronika to help wrap, whereas stars were a bit tricky.

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Use a glue stick or glue dot to make the center of each square sticky, then simply begin wrapping with yarn. We found a pretty one that changed from shades of red to pink to white and back again, which made us think of holiday candy canes!

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Keep wrapping until the squares are thickly covered and the cardboard doesn’t show. Use a second strand of yarn to tie a bow around the center, a neat little gift ready to go under the tree! Or in this case, on it.

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A final loop of yarn works perfectly to hang these from the nearest bough.

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Chewy Chocolate Coconut Treat

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Our original plan was to bake a chocolate mochi treat, using a recipe from Veronika’s latest High Five magazine, but we couldn’t find sweet rice flour at the store. In a pinch, we tried coconut flour and up with this delicious chocolatey treat!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 and 1/2 cups coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 vegan eggs
  1. In a bowl, combine the coconut flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and baking powder.
  2. Add the coconut milk, vanilla, and vegan eggs of choice, stirring to combine; the batter will be thick.
  3. Pour into an 11×7-inch baking dish lined with parchment paper and bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes. Let cool completely, then cut into squares to serve.

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We left our treat plain, but a dusting of powdered sugar would be pretty on top!

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