Caterpillar Crush Valentines

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Travis helped make these critter cards for class valentines this year, and we hope his classmates won’t mind getting bugged at all!

To start, cut squares from cardstock that are 4×5 inches. We chose pink and blue shades for the background.

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Cut a green leaf template from green cardstock, then trace to make the desired amount of leaves and cut out. For a fancy effect, cut out with pinking sheers instead of regular scissors! Glue one leaf onto each cardstock square.

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At this point, you’ll want to write the message on each card. Ours said: “Just thought I bug you to say…” on the front and “Happy Valentine’s Day!” on the back. I was proud of Travis signing his name a full 20 times for all classmates.

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Now it was time to add our pom pom caterpillars. Use hot glue to attach caterpillars that are 5 to 6 small pom poms long. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can also glue on tiny wiggle eyes.

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Your critters are complete, and so cute! Not into these buggy Valentines? Check out our past creations like mustache pops or punny tacos.

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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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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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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Little Passports Round-Up

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Travis took an extended pause from opening Little Passports packages when life got a bit busy, but this month we dove back into it. It was incredible to see the difference in his ability to tackle booklet activities as a second grader rather than a first grader. Here’s our unboxing review of the final 5 packages from his World Passport subscription:

Poland:

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Travis loved following a code to learn about the Polish alphabet (which has more letters than ours!), but a color-by-symbol in the booklet was so tough even my grown-up eyes went a little cross-eyed.

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The souvenir in this kit, on the other hand, was a big hit: Polish sticker art. Follow the pattern to create a double layer of beautiful folk art. We also cooked potato pancakes!

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Turkey:

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The booklet included great information on everything from the mythical (a Trojan Horse dot-to-dot) to sightseeing in Istanbul (a great activity for telling time), to spotting patterns in Turkish tiles. The souvenir was a memory card game, featuring images of Turkish items like spices from the Bazaar, Turkish delight candies, or the Hagia Sophia.

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Finally, we cooked Turkish hummus.

Italy:

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Travis was great at shading in one of Michelangelo’s sculptures using an alphabet code. Gelato mazes and pasta word searches on the other hand, were a bit tricky for him.

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The souvenir was a 3-D puzzle of the Rialto Bridge which even had a mini gondola. This was tricky even for grown-up hands to put together, but had us laughing! Don’t forget to cook marinara sauce!

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Iceland:

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For the land of ice, the booklet included a fun “fishing voyage” that taught kids to read a map, as well as word puzzles about Icelandic holidays. The big hit was the souvenir, a northern lights art kit. Travis used pastels on the provided black paper, then smudged with a sponge for a neat aurora borealis effect.

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Then we cooked Cocoa Soup. Chocolate for dinner? Yes, please!

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Canada:

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Oh Canada, our final stop! This booklet seemed particularly tricky including hockey score mazes and a spot-the-difference image.

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We made cookies sweetened with maple syrup, of course. The souvenir was a wooden moose 3-D puzzle.

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For all of the above countries, we checked out photos online and listened to phrases in each language. There’s so much more you can do for a deep dive; perhaps check out a book on each country from your local library, or watch a kids’ movie in the native language. What country would your child want to visit most? Please share in the comments!

International Recipe Round-up

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Travis and I have had so much international fun in the kitchen over this past month, making five recipes from five different Little Passports country packages, all of which we adapted to fit our vegan family. Our culinary journey took us all around the world!

Turkey: Turkish Hummus

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Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup tahini
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Vegan jerky
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic; saute for 5 minutes. Add the chickpeas and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minuets; the liquid should be nearly all evaporated.
  2. Meanwhile, zest the lemon, then cut in half and squeeze the juice.
  3. Transfer the zest and juice to a blender, along with the chickpea mixture, tahini, cumin, paprika, and salt. Process until smooth.
  4. Spoon the mixture into an oven-proof dish or skillet. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes, until warmed.
  5. To serve, drizzle with the remaining tablespoon olive oil and garnish with slices of vegan jerky, our nearest approximation to Turkish dried beef. Skip the bread and eat directly with a spoon!

Canada: Maple Sugar Cookies

Maple Sugar Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Earth Balance butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the softened butter and brown sugar until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile whisk the flaxseed into the water to make 1 egg.
  3. Add the flax mixture, vanilla, and maple syrup to the butter mixture; beat until combined.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat gently until combined.
  5. Roll the dough into one-inch balls and roll in the sugar, then transfer to baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Poland: Potato Pancakes

Potato Latkes

Ingredients:

  • 4 baking potatoes
  • 3 vegan eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons flour
  • Vegetable oil
  • Non-dairy sour cream
  • Applesauce
  1. Peel and grate the potatoes and place in a large bowl.
  2. Make your favorite vegan eggs of choice and add to the potatoes, stirring to coat. Add the salt and flour, adding up to 2 tablespoons until the mixture sticks together.
  3. Coat a skillet with canola oil and heat on medium-high heat.
  4. Add the potato mixture by spoonfuls. Cook on both sides until brown and crispy, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to plates lined with paper towels to drain and repeat with the remaining potato mixture.
  5. Serve warm with non-dairy sour cream and applesauce!

Italy: Marinara

Marinara

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 5 fresh basil leaves
  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 4 minutes, until lightly browned.
  2. Add the tomatoes and oregano. Simmer for about 15 minuets, breaking the tomatoes apart as they cook.
  3. Just before serving, tear up the basil leaves and stir into the sauce.

We tried this sauce not just over pasta, but also vegan meatballs, Italian bread, and sauteed eggplant Note: Next time we would use a can of diced tomatoes instead of the whole ones, which resulted in some fairly large chunks.

Iceland: Cocoa Soup

Cocoa Soup

It was hard for us to believe that this rich thick chocolate soup is a main course in Iceland, not just a beverage. We had ours for a snack, but if you add warm bread on the side, it definitely could make a meal.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups unsweetened coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon cold water
  1. Heat the coconut milk in a saucepan until warm but not boiling. Mix together the cocoa powder and sugar in a small bowl and add to the milk, whisking until combined. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in the cinnamon and vanilla.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and cold water. Add to the cocoa mixture, then bring to a boil and cook for an additional minute, until thickened.

Which country did your family like visiting in the kitchen best? Please share in the comments!

Roller Coaster Science Kiwi Crate

A day off from school was the perfect opportunity for STEM fun in a roller coaster crate from Kiwi Co., focusing on the scientific concept of centrifugal force.

The first project, obviously, needed to be the Roller Coaster itself and this one was heavy on woodworking and engineering.

Travis lined up all the pieces to make sure we had the right number of each part (some with notches, some with slots, etc.). These attach with wooden connectors, followed by spacers, followed by a second layer of the wooden track, and then it’s all held together with clear rubber bands. To be honest, the pieces were tough to notch together and Travis grew frustrated after doing the first couple connection. Luckily mama was on hand to help out – and little sister, too!

Once the track was complete, we placed a water bottle inside the empty Kiwi box, and turned it upright. A wooden track mount notches into the ga; on the side of the box, held in place with a wooden rod and more rubber bands.

The roller coaster sits on a foam and felt base. Time to release the provided silver marbles and watch them loop the loop! Kiwi also provided a paper cup to aim for, and it was fun to move it closer or further until the kids could make the marbles land just right. Travis enjoyed launching the marbles, but the track is very wobbly and needs to be just right for the marbles to stay on it.

For some artwork after all that engineering, he made the Roller Coaster Signs. The kit included color-changing markers; write your roller coaster name of choice on a cardboard sign, then flip the marker around the white tip. Green becomes yellow, purple becomes blue etc., which got a big wow from the kids.

This being Kiwi Co., they even included a “name-o-matic” game of chance for kids to use. Roll a dice and match the pips to an adjective or noun. We ended up with a coaster named the Iron Fury! The signs then stand up with cardboard posts and a foam base, which was also wobbly and another slight criticism of this particular crate.

Finally, Travis made a Spin-o-Tron. Attach foam bumpers to a wooden stick and place two small white balls inside.

If you spin the stick between your hands, the white balls sit in the notches on either side of the bumper thanks to – you guessed it – centrifugal effect again.

Spooky Halloween Science Kiwi Crate

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The kids have been loving Halloween-themed crates from Kiwi Co this spooky season, and we had time for just one more before the big night. The final crate we unboxed featured multiple projects, all relying on static electricity. The crate was the perfect combination of the explicable (science!) and the supernatural (witches, and ghosts, and eyeballs, oh my!).

The first experiment was Rolling Eyes. Travis helped wrap foam balls with foil, then attach cooper sticker dots at the top. The eyes are then placed inside a spooky box graveyard covered in clear plastic.

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Travis loved rubbing the provided fabric square across the plastic for a slow count of 15 seconds. Let the eyeballs drop and… They roll! One half of the eyeballs is repelled by the static charge and the other is attracted, meaning they skitter about on the surface.

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This was frightful and delightful to watch!

Next up, Travis made Dancing Ghosts. He decorated the provided thin paper shapes, which then attach into wooden gravestones and trees with foam dots.

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We pressed the provided air-dry clay down into a wooden base, and then all the spooky wooden parts can stand upright. Travis even arranged a skeleton out front!

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This time, we rubbed the fabric square on the provided wand. Once again, your child will generate static electricity, and when it’s held near the tissue paper ghosts and bats, they “rise up” from the grave.

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The final experiment didn’t work well for us, but the idea is to slide two provided lightbulb wires through the eye sockets of a tiny wooden pumpkin. Blow up a balloon and rub on your head for static electricity, then hold the balloon near the tips of the lightbulb wires, and the eyes should flicker! We must not have generated much electricity, because we only got a faint spark or two.

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To test out a few other ways that the static electricity on the balloon could work, we held it near running water (spoiler alert: the water bends away) and used it to separate salt and pepper! If you sprinkle salt and pepper on a plate, then hold the static-y balloon over them, only the pepper will rise up because the salt is too heavy!

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What other static electricity experiments have you tried? Please share in the comments!