Sibling Picture Book

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Here’s an adorable activity that can make older siblings feel important and special, as they craft a book just for a little brother or sister.

Travis and I sat down to look through magazines and I encouraged him to find pictures that would appeal to little sister Veronika. He was most interested in a Halloween magazine, so picked out lots of frightfully spooky images, like carved pumpkins, silly witches, and snacks in the shape of ghosts and goblins.

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Veronika wanted to help go through the magazines too!

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Travis cut out the images, and we used a glue stick to attach one picture per piece of construction paper. I cut the construction paper in half so the book would easily fit into little hands. Staple your pages together, and then it’s story time!

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I absolutely loved watching Travis “read” this to Veronika. Older kids might want to craft a careful narrative, or write words below the images. Travis just loved flipping through the pages for her and making up a silly story based on what he saw, sillier each time the kids looked at it.

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Veronika clearly adored being the center of his attention.

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This was a beautiful bonding activity, and one we can repeat the next time we have a batch of magazines on hand.

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Bendy Straw Experiments

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I have a pack of bendy straws at home, and this morning Travis and I used them in 3 experiments! Try one or all three, and see which is your family’s favorite.

Pom-Pom Popper:

For the first, poke a small hole in a dixie cup. If your cup is paper, kids can punch through with a pencil tip. We had plastic cups so I used a craft knife to make the slit.

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Cut the tip from a bendy straw just before the bend. Insert the bent end into the cup’s hole and tape on.

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Place a pom-pom in the cup and blow. Some good lung power can really make these jump!

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Travis was so proud when he was able to do it.

Floating Ball:

The next experiment was similar, but we got a little craftier. Cut circles from colored construction paper, and cut a slit in each to the center. Fold up into cones, securing with tape.

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Snip a small hole in the tip of each cone and insert the bent part of a bendy straw; tape on for extra security.

For extra fun, make them monster mouth cones! We cut out teeth and eyes from additional colored paper and taped on the features. If you want a cleaner look, use glue to attach, but Travis was eager to get to the next step of making the monster eat a silver ball!

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Crumple up a small piece of aluminum foil and place just over the opening of the straw. Huff into the other end and your ball will pop and spin and dance just where the monster can’t eat it.

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Bubble Valve:

The final experiment was the simplest, but still fun. Cut a tiny slit in the top of an uninflated balloon, just large enough for a straw to fit. Insert the bottom end of a bendy straw. If your hole is a little too large, ideally get a new balloon and start again. This was the last balloon in the house, though, so I taped over a small gap between balloon and straw.

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Insert into a clear glass of water, then blow into the straw to make bubbles. Try and suck up to get a drink through the straw, too, which is much harder!

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Travis loved that he was able to do this one, too.

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Make Your Own Oat Milk

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As an extension to his Lunchtime Love recipes from Raddish Kids, Travis was excited to learn how to make his own oat milk today!

The idea here was to show a child how food goes from raw ingredients to finished product. Of course we had to skip the growing and harvesting of the oats, but we came home from the store with a bag of organic rolled oats that certainly didn’t look like milk yet.

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We first watched a few how-tos online to see if we could make the best oat milk possible. Tips include using the coldest water possible and blending for the least amount of time possible. Armed with that knowledge, Travis combined the following in a blender:

4 cups cold water

1 cup rolled oats

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Skip the vanilla if you don’t want the milk sweetened. We ran the blender for about 30 seconds.

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Travis was ecstatic that now it was white like milk!

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I don’t have cheesecloth, so the best we could do was strain it through a fine-mesh sieve. He immediately needed a big glass and a straw. Little sister wanted a taste, too!

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Well, he turned to me and said, “Actually… it’s not that good.”

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Bonus points for honesty! I guess we’ll stick to almond milk as a family. But now Travis is determined that we should make a homemade batch. Thanks Raddish!

School Milk Flipbook

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Travis helped make several lunches this month thanks to his Raddish Kids Lunchtime Love crate, a perfect theme for back-to-school in September. We finished up with this lesson plan.

To start, we played “I’m going on a picnic” to get thinking about different foods in a lunchbox, particularly those that travel well. A basket of toy food as prompts helped initially, but Travis was bored after a few rounds of back-and-forth. Instead, we turned to the web for the next part of the lesson.

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Raddish provided links for a read-aloud about how common lunch foods get on the plate. Because the book was heavy on dairy, we also watched vegan-friendly videos about almond milk and soy milk.

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Next Travis got to be an author! The assignment was to make a flipbook about the journey of an almond from the tree to the carton at the store. I encouraged him to put on his imaginative cap and pretend the story was from the point of view of the almond, although this was a bit of a stretch for my first grader.

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He concentrated more on just drawing the pictures, and I added words.

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There were also fun videos to watch on school lunches around the world. Big kids can extend the lesson much further, here, perhaps by designing an international menu for their school cafeteria

For a hands-on extension, we returned to an old favorite: growing new vegetables from kitchen scraps. This works fantastically with green onions, so after we used a bunch from the store, we placed the bulbs in a small dish of fresh water. You should see new growth by morning!

Regrow Food Scraps

Finally, Travis was in charge of designing his own perfect after-school snack in Raddish’s Create-a-Snack Challenge. I showed him the list of possible ingredients, and he selected: hummus, cheese slices, tortillas, strawberries, and tomatoes. The possibilities were growing already.

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After a trip to the store, he created the following: Hummus-Cheese-Tortilla Bites.

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I loved watching him turn into a little chef as we layered hummus on small squares of tortilla, topped each with a piece of Violife cheddar, and then topped that off with tomato.

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He got fancy and added strawberries to a few. An interesting flavor combination!

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I haven’t seen him enjoy snack so much in ages, so this was a great activity on the part of Raddish.

You Pick Popcorn Mix

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Kids can mix and match to make the version they like best for this fun popcorn snack mix. It packs up great for snack at school, or just keep it on hand at home if you need to fuel through a marathon Zoom session.

Before even eating, this recipe was so fun to make. First, Travis loved watching the bag of popcorn pop in the microwave. I fooled him into thinking we had a dud bag in the first minute, until all those pop pop pops began, and then he was ecstatic.

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Now add mix-ins to taste, using a ratio of 1 cup popcorn to 1/3 cup nuts or seeds, 1/3 cup dried fruit, and 1/3 cup healthy sweets. Here were the four variations that we tried.

Version 1: 1 cup popcorn + 1/3 cup peanuts + 1/3 cup dried cranberries + 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips + 1 tablespoon melted butter

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Version 2: 1 cup popcorn + 1/3 cup sunflower seeds + 1/3 cup banana chips + 1/3 cup coconut flakes + 1/2 teaspoon salt

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Version 3: 1 cup popcorn + 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds + 1/3 cup raisins + 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips + 1 teaspoon cinnamon sugar

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Version 4: 1 cup popcorn + 1/3 cup slivered almonds + 1/3 cup dried cranberries + 1/3 cup coconut flakes + 1 tablespoon melted butter

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You can even throw in a few math problems as you nosh so this counts toward math home school of the day! For example, count the number of kernels in 1 cup of popcorn, then multiply that by a factor of 2.

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Big kids can try making up their own equations! And the littlest kids can just enjoy the taste.

Flying Balloon

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There’s some neat science behind making a balloon fly with a hair dryer, whether the push of the air on the balloon that directs it up, or using “fins” to catch the air and make the balloon hover and spin. But truth be told, Travis and I went light on the science this morning, and more just had fun because, well, balloons + hair dryers = excitement!

Travis was stoked when he saw me pull out the hair dryer for an experiment. After I inflated two balloons, he just liked scooting them along the floor with a flow of air.

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Meanwhile, I rolled two pieces of construction paper into tubes, securing with tape. Cut the bottom into fringe and then tape onto the balloons. These will act as weights for the balloons.

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If you want the balloon to spin as well as fly, you’ll need to add fins. Cut strips of construction paper, then fold in half. Bend the ends, so they make little tabs.

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If you’re going for exact science, you’ll need to wind string around the center of the balloon to mark the equator, then draw two meridians (the horizontal and vertical lines that intersect the equator) with a sharpie. Glue your fins along this equator at a 45 degree angle.

Well, we weren’t that exact. We just used double-sided tape to add the fins in a circle roughly near the balloon’s center.

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So… it wasn’t perfect, but it did get some spin and some air. It was unfortunately difficult to hold the camera and the hair dryer and launch the balloon, so we never got great photos or videos.

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But we did have fun!

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Pizza Pockets

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Today is one of those wacky random holiday, National Kids Take Over the Kitchen Day! It was the perfect excuse to prepare the final recipe from Travis’s Lunchtime Love set from Raddish Kids. Travis and Veronika sure did take over with this one, including a messy buffet of all the different types of vegan cheese we needed to make the recipe!

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We needed to make a few vegan adjustments to Raddish’s original recipe, including the use of prepared pizza dough instead of puff pastry, whipping up a batch of vegan tofu ricotta, and using tempeh bacon in place of pepperoni.

Ingredients:

For the ricotta:

  • 1 (1 pound) package firm tofu
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the pizza pockets:

  • 1/2 cup chopped baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup shredded non-dairy mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup vegan Parmesan
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 slices tempeh bacon
  • 1 pound pizza dough
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  1. To prepare the ricotta, combine the tofu, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic powder, oregano, basil, nutritional yeast, and salt in a blender; process until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  2. To prepare the pizza pockets, spoon 1/3 cup prepared ricotta into a large bowl; reserve the remaining ricotta for another use.
  3. Stir in the spinach, mozzarella, Parmesan, garlic powder, oregano, and salt.
  4. Cut the tempeh bacon into 12 pieces; set aside.
  5. Divide the pizza dough into 6 portions on a lightly floured surface. Roll each into a rectangle.
  6. Top each portion of dough with 2 tempeh pieces, 1 heaping tablespoon ricotta mixture, and 2 teaspoons tomato sauce. Fold in half, and press a fork around the edges to seal.
  7. Transfer the pizza pockets to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes. Let cool before serving.

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Little Passports: England

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Travis enjoyed learning about England in this month’s kit from Little Passports, not least of all because it involved lots of puzzles (and I mean lots!). As with the India package, he had a personal interest, too, because he has some English heritage.

After familiar finds in his package like a world coin and stickers for his map, passport, and suitcase, we turned to the booklet.

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This month’s booklet allowed him to tackle a crossword puzzle, spot four-of-a-kind images, and do a mapping activity.

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That last is the only one I would say was beyond his grade level.

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Souvenir:

The souvenir was a 3-D puzzle of Big Ben, a huge hit because Travis once had an obsession with this clock tower (yes, we used to watch videos of it chiming). Now we could build it!

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The puzzle slots together easily, but a parental note of caution: it didn’t last long because Travis wanted to play with it more like an action figure.

Further Activities:

I was happy to see a wide variety of activities this month, both in the booklet and continued online. For science, we printed out a template for Newton’s color wheel. After learning briefly who Newton was, Travis colored in the provided circle in a rainbow.

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Glue onto cardboard for sturdiness and then thread onto a string that is 30 inches long. Wind the string up and then let it spin until unwound; it rotates fast enough that the colors blur back to white.

The website also had a printout of a British afternoon tea spread to color, which you can then cut apart and re-do as a puzzle.

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Travis wasn’t terribly interested, but it was nice to color side by side.

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There were two available add-ons from the company with the England kit, and we opted for both. To extrapolate on the theme of Shakespeare and the theater, Travis made shadow puppets. He loved slotting together and decorating the cardboard theater first.

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Turn on the battery-operated lights, and then it’s time for felt puppets to take center stage! This is sure to be a great toy to play with even completely separate from this Little Passport’s package.

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The second add-on circled back to themes of mapping and puzzles: a 3-D puzzle of London.

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The puzzle was far beyond my 6 year old’s ability, but he loved slotting the landmarks into their spaces, and we read about each one in the provided insert.

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And after all that, the neatest project by far was to make Stonehenge from homemade play dough! We mixed 2 cups flour and 1 cup salt in a large bowl. We wanted to make it black, so added red, blue, and green food coloring to 1/2 cup water. It turned our mixture more gray than black, but that’s probably closer to Stonehenge’s hue anyway. Stir until the color is incorporated, then add an additional 1/4 cup water. Knead until you have a workable play dough.

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We arranged the plinths and monoliths on a piece of cardboard and left it to dry for about 1 day. Not only did this look awesome, but it was a great background for his Lego figures to play in, too!

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Recipe:

We always end these country kits in the kitchen. This month’s recipe was for Awesome Apple Crumble, which lived up to its name!

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Ingredients:

For the topping:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup Earth Balance butter, cubed

For the filling:

  • 1 pound Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  1. To prepare the topping, combine 1 and 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup brown sugar, and the salt in a bowl. Add the Earth Balance butter and use your fingers to mix until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs; set aside.
  2. To prepare the apples, place the slices in a large bowl. Add the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon flour, and the cinnamon, stirring to coat.
  3. Spoon the apples into a 9×9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the topping over the apples and bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes.
  4. Serve warm and drizzle with a little non-dairy creamer, which is closer to how the Brits would serve it than serving American-style with ice cream.

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Back to School Week

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180 days after COVID-19 upended everything, Travis walked back into a school building this week. Ahead of the first day, we brainstormed a list of goals for the first week. Then we added in a few fun activities (and eats!) each day to make the week feel truly special.

Goals:

  • To make a new friend
  • To make a fresh start/improvement
  • To start a new activity
  • To learn something new

Meanwhile, each day we tried to include something fun to eat, something to do, and something to make. Our week started on Tuesday, so here is how the four days went down.

Day 1

To eat: An A is for Apple Smoothie!

To do: Have a treasure hunt! I scattered school supplies (new pencils, new highlighters) as well as candy (Twizzlers) around the apartment, and Travis got to find them the moment he woke up. It made it feel almost like Christmas!

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To make: A self-portrait! Travis drew a very small version of himself, which wasn’t exactly what I was imagining. But oh well, the idea is to see where your child is at with regards to art, here in September. It will be interesting to repeat this activity on the last day of school!

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Day 2

To eat: Double-Pumpkin Muffins!

To do: Receive a schultute. I put together a simplified version of this German tradition by wrapping a piece of sturdy decorative paper into a cone. Tape shut and then trim the edge so the top rim is an even circle. Stuff with tissue paper, and then with school treats.

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We included supplies he’ll need (crayons, pencils), COVID-era extras (his favorite mask, hand sanitizers), and treats – Twizzlers that is!

To make: Decorate a chalkboard with school-themed stickers. Write in your child’s new grade, and pose for pictures of course!

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Day 3

To eat: A special snack! Decorate your child’s snack bag with stickers from a favorite show or movie. Don’t forget to add a little note of encouragement.

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To do: Make it Backwards Day! Whether you extend this theme all day long (like wearing clothing backwards or doing a silly activity backwards) or just add a few backwards points here and there, it’s a great way to keep kids positive and playful mid-way through the week. To wit, Travis was about to turn grumpy about school until I told him we were having dinner for breakfast and vice versa. He started the day with a favorite meal: hot dogs!

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To make: A vision board! Flip through magazines and have your child cut out pictures that provide inspiration or goals for the year ahead. We were a touch limited with only a few doll catalogs on hand, but actually this worked out well. Travis selected images to go with: making new friends, having his own locker, playing sports, and taking care for our cat. Your child could also draw their goals if you don’t want to be limited by magazines.

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Day 4

To eat: Fruit Faces! This can be as simple as banana slice eyes and an apple wedge smile on a piece of toast, but it’s sure to make kids wake with a smile even after a groggy start.

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To do: Make it Spirit Day! Even if no one else in school is doing so, get rah rah and show school spirit by dressing in school colors.

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To make: Start a video! Capture these moments of first-week-back excitement with little video clips. You can then take several mini clips and edit them together into one longer video, if you have access to the right app or software.

Recap:

At the end of the week, I checked in with him on his goals.

Regarding a new friend, he’s already bonded further with a girl he only knew from the cafeteria last year, who is now a classmate.

For a fresh start, he’s improved on his Zoom behavior markedly!

For a new activity, he’s all signed up to join our local Cub Scouts.

For learning something new, the class has already learned a new math game.

Happy Back to School!

Spongy Pencil Toppers

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These fun pencil toppers were the final craft Travis and I put together to round out his new school supply swag. They’re perfect for any pencils where the eraser is completely worn down to a nub.

I had a bag of makeup sponges that we use for face paint, and the triangle shape made them the perfect candidates to turn into painted miniatures of triangular foods. Think: slices of cake, wedges of cheese, or sandwiches.

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A little puffy paint was all we needed.

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This one was a piece of cake (heh).

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Then we tested out other ideas, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (blue and yellow paint). Travis wanted a mint chocolate cake, which we made with black and green paints.

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Let the puffy paint dry completely, then add details like beads on top for cherry garnishes.

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Once the glue dries, poke the sharp end of a pencil into the bottom of the sponge to make a hole. (Note: You can also secure the sponges with hot glue for added security). Insert onto the eraser end of the pencil and write away!