Monday, 23 November 2015

Advent Elf Houses - Counting Down to Christmas with a Small World Play Scene

I'm so excited to share our Advent Elf Houses with you today, not only do they make a great Christmas Countdown, but they build into a beautiful small world play scene for kids to explore throughout December. 

Last year we created little Elves (here's how) & they were a huge hit in our house. They're just the right size for a small world play scene, or to pop into a coat pocket & take out on an adventure. 

To add a little more magic to our Christmas countdown I created 24 houses for the elves to visit, each with a house number which corresponded to the date. (Before you think I'm completely craft crazy & made 24 elves to occupy the 24 houses... I didn't! There are only so many hours in a day! :-)  Instead I made 6 little elves who popped up every now & then to explore each house as it appeared.)

To make this Christmas countdown more of an adventure we placed the Elf  Houses under tables & chairs, under our Christmas tree, & around our house so it was like a treasure hunt each day to find the new Elf House. Obviously we added a little encouragement with 'warmer / colder' clues to help with the daily search.

Alongside the houses were little notes written by the elves which either suggested an activity to share during that day, or offered a few words of encouragement or praise. If Minnie had done something helpful or kind the day before then the elves would say how impressed they were, & encourage her to do something similar that day.

Sometimes the elves were a little tired (!) & didn't always leave a note, so instead a chocolate coin or small toy were left inside the house to discover!

Some days the elves left notes asking Minnie if she could look after their pets.This proved very popular & the imaginative play that followed was just wonderful to watch.

Some days new additions appeared like this simple Christmas tree made from a small piece of pine, & the elves would ask for help in decorating it with a few coloured beads.

On one occasion an elf went missing from the play scene & it prompted this gorgeous note that I found under the Christmas tree. (The elf reappeared the next day... after he was found under the sofa!)

As each day passed during December the number of Elf Houses increased, & soon we had an Elf Village & a new magical small world play scene to explore! Over Advent the elves would visit the different houses & Minnie was soon creating adventures for them, & giving them each names.

The Elf Houses are just simple card creations, but the seasonal magic & wonder they've inspired in our house has been a joy to witness, & I can't wait to introduce them again this year. 

To make the Elf Houses you can download & print off our free Printables here & follow the simple instructions on the sheet. All you need are scissors & a glue stick to build the houses.

You'll find the first printable is a plain house (like those in the photos) & the second is a decorated Elf House complete with Christmas tree & elf gifts.

We used patterned paper to create the roofs for our houses, & if you wish to do the same you could use our roof printable as a template.

I printed 24 copies of the Elf House on thin card, & then 'built' a few of the houses each evening, keeping the ones I didn't need for the next day tucked away out of sight. 

If your kids are feeling creative they can decorate the Elf Houses themselves either with pens, paints, or stickers & make them truly unique. 

These simple card houses really are a wonderful way to countdown to Christmas & offer so may opportunities for imaginative & creative play. If you don't have time to create the elves we used in our play scene you can buy similar mini elf/pixie figures from Tiger Stores or Amazon.

I hope your Elf Houses bring you as much fun & excitement as ours did in the countdown to Christmas. For more Advent ideas you might like to visit our Advent board on Pinterest


Looking for more creative countdown to Christmas ideas? Checkout these great activities from the other participants in the Countdown to Christmas Blog Hop:
Story Book Advent Calendar from Adventures of Adam
DIY Christmas Tree Advent Calendar from Crafty Kids at Home
Christ Centered Advent for Preschoolers from Tales of Beauty for Ashes
Free Printable Advent Calendar from The Creative Pair
Winter Snowflakes Advent Calendar from My Bright Firely

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Make Your Own Gold, Frankincense, & Myrrh Soaps & Explore the Gifts of the 3 Kings

Looking for an activity which introduces children to the gifts brought by the 3 Wise Men? This soap activity not only offers children a chance to explore the gifts in the Christmas story, but also creates a special little gift to share with family & friends.

I often wonder what children make of the gifts given by the 3 Wise Men to the baby Jesus. When they sing the classic carol "We Three Kings" it's no wonder they create alternative lyrics like "Gold, Frankenstein & Fur!" The gifts are unusual to say the least, & with no explanation they can seem strange & meaningless. This sensory activity sets out to introduce each of the gifts to children & explore their meaning a little further.

To make the soaps you'll need: 1kg soap base (found in craft stores or online), silver & gold glitter, silicone moulds (we used heart & star shapes), Frankincense & Myrrh fragrance oils.

To create our 3 Kings Soap we firstly cut our soap base in half (we made 30-40 small soaps with half a block) & heated this in a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water until it had melted. Try not to stir the soap too much as this creates frothy bubbles, but gently move the soap every so often with a wooden spoon. (Obviously this part of the activity is for adults, but children love to observe how the solid soap melts over the pan.)

Carefully transfer the melted soap into an old plastic jug, & then invite the children (with adult help if needed) to slowly pour the soap into your chosen moulds. We chose to use heart shape moulds to represent God's love & star shapes to represent the star the Kings followed to Bethlehem. 

Before the soap solidifies add two drops of either the Frankincense or Myrrh oil. Less is more when adding the scented oil! To create the gold soaps we added just a pinch of gold glitter to the moulds & no fragrance. If children wish they could add silver/coloured glitter to the scented soaps, or keep them plain to contrast with the gold soaps.

The soaps offer children an opportunity to create something that smells similar to the gifts offered by the Kings, & a chance to explore what each of those gifts represented.

Frankincense (when it is in a solid form) is often burned as incense & used when worshipping God. This gift represented a Holy Person.

Myrhh is a scented oil that was used in Jesus' time when someone died. This represented that Jesus was human & would one day die.

Gold is a precious metal & a expensive gift that would have only be given to someone very special. This represented a King.

The soaps take around 30-50mins to solidify & then they are ready to be popped from their moulds! If children are making these as gifts, add 3 soaps to a cellophane bag & secure with a little ribbon.

At this point you could introduce the names of the 3 Kings & the gifts they each gave.
(The following names are traditionally used in Western countries)

Caspar gave Gold
Melchior brought Frankincense
Balthazar offered Myrrh

You might like to ask the children what gifts they would offer to baby Jesus, or what they are giving to special people this Christmas.

These soaps make great gifts, & little reminders of the 3 Kings in the Nativity. ♥ 

If you're using this activity with a group of children why not have carols or Christmas songs playing which relate to the 3 Kings, or share the Nativity story with them. Looking for more activities relating to the 3 Wise Men? You might like our Epiphany Gift Hunt, Activities Celebrating The 3 Kings, Advent Activity: Follow the Star!

Friday, 13 November 2015

DIY Santa Night Light

Turn a plain Ikea battery light into a cute Santa Night Light! 

These Santa lights are super simple to make, all you need are a pack of Solvinden lights from Ikea, marker pens, double sided tape / glue gun, & a couple of small pompoms. 

To add the details to our Santa we used oil-based Sharpie markers. These are great pens to use on almost any surface & gave our Christmas lights a neat glossy finish. 

Children can have fun designing their own Santa & adding as much detail as they wish. We went for quite a minimal design leaving a rather blank space in the centre for Santa's face. Once the lamp is lit your design really glows & the plain section adds a nice contrast. We found the ink dries relatively quickly on the plastic which was handy as eager little hands wanted to play with the light as soon as possible!

To finish our Santa we attached a couple of small pompoms, one for the nose & one for his hat. We used a glue gun for this as we wanted it to be secure, but double-sided tape would hold pretty well if you're looking for an alternative.

The other fun thing about these Santa night lights is that they 'dance' as well. They have a curved base so if you gently tilt them to one side they'll sway & rock backwards & forwards. 

Minnie loved her new light but was a little worried that her Santa would get cold so she made a red felt cloak to wrap around him. I love how simple activities like this can spark so much imagination in a child. She's since made a chair for him to sit in & a sleigh! ♥ 

These make great little Christmas gifts for kids to make, or bedside night lights to use alongside favourite bedtime Christmas stories. 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Edible Nativity Scene

Share the Christmas story with the help of a few sweet treats. This Edible Nativity Scene is ideal to make with a group of children or individuals, & offers a great opportunity to discover & discuss the key characters from the story.

To make each Nativity Scene you'll need:
6 jelly babies (assorted colours)
3-5 mini white marshmallows
1 pink mini marshmallow
4 Small liquorice sweets or any small brown/chocolate sweet to make feet for the sheep
A handful of desiccated coconut (coloured with a few drops of yellow food colouring)
3 Rectangular shaped biscuits
Ball of yellow fondant icing or marzipan (approx the size of a mandarin orange)
A small ball of white fondant icing
4 pretzels
1 drinking straw

Start by separating the yellow icing/marzipan into sections for the various parts of the scene. You'll need to roll out 3 lengths the same size as the edge of your biscuits (for the stable), create 3 grape size sections (1 for the manger, 2 for the star) & roll out 3 pea-sized sections for the 3 wise men. All will become clear soon!

To create the basic triangular shape for the stable we took our 3 lengths of icing & used these to join the biscuits together. We found it easier to add the fondant to the edges of the base biscuit first, & then attach the sides. This can be a little tricky for some younger children as the sides need to be fairly level to hold the shape in place so an extra pair of hands may be helpful.

To make the manger we carefully snapped two pretzels in half & used the unbroken halves to push into a small section of the yellow icing. You may need extra pretzels for this as sometimes eager hands can break them into a more than 2 pieces.

Next we added the pink marshmallow to the manger & moulded the small section of white icing to create a blanket for our baby Jesus.

For our straw we sprinkled a handful of the coloured coconut over the base of the stable & around the blanket on the manger.

For our shepherd we used a jellybaby & a section of the broken pretzel to create his shepherd's crook. We used a little hot water to stick the crook to the shepherd! The mini marshmallows made perfect sheep, & to create their legs we added small sections of the liqurice sweets, using a little hot water to attach.

Our 3 wise men were again super simple to make with the 3 pea-sized balls of icing moulded into crown shapes & placed on top of 3 jellybabies.

To complete the Nativity scene we added 2 more jellybabies to the stable to represent Mary & Joseph.

If you wish to add a star shining above the stable, cut the drinking straw in half & stick it to the back of the stable with a little of the remaining icing. The rest of the icing can be moulded into a star shape & pushed onto the top of the straw. (This part of the activity worked really well with the older children but younger children found it rather fiddly.)

I made these last year with several groups of children ranging from 4 year olds to teenagers & it was great to see the various creations they made, each beautifully unique & individual. Not one scene was the same, some had more sheep, 1 had lots of shepherds & no sheep, & one had a large party of wisemen! They were each exploring the Nativity in their own way & following their interest in particular characters. 

To extend the activity further you could read parts of the Nativity Story as the children are making their scenes, or invite the children to tell you the key parts of the story as they make their creations. Or why not have Christmas carols playing in the background for the children to sing along to.

Looking for more Nativity activities? You might like our Nativity Small World Play Scene, Nativity Tree, Nativity Printables, Nativity Picture Books, Advent Box

Monday, 9 November 2015

Nature Art Autumn Owls

Over the last few weeks we've loved collecting the many multicoloured autumn leaves that have been covering local footpaths. The variety of shades, shapes & contrasting colours have appealed to my girl & we regularly come home with a good collection of leaves, thankfully the dry ones not soggy ones. 

We thought we'd use our latest leaf collection to create some art. We've gone owl crazy here recently & our collection of leaves was perfect for a little nature art.

To create our nature owls we started with a basic owl shape cut from recycled cardboard & then Minnie covered the card with glue. We discovered PVA glue worked best for this activity & held the leaves really well once it was dry.

She selected her leaves for each owl, ripping some larger ones into smaller shapes & sticking them to the card. A few other additions from the garden were added, & I love how she used the orange flower petals for the eyes on this owl.

Once each owl was decorated we left them to dry for a few hours until the glue became transparent.

The small multicoloured leaves from our Winter Jasmine looked adorable & very featherlike on this owl template, & I think the addition of the dandelion eyes was just genius! 

Leaf wings were added at the last minute to the back of this owl so he was ready to fly! 

During her search around the garden my girl discovered that lavender & daisies make great owls too, & the scent of the lavender remains after the glue has dried.

This is a neat seasonal art activity & one which can spark a child's imagination. With so many natural materials available at this time of year children can explore & design with a variety of colours, textures, shapes & scents, making it a multi-sensory experience too.   

To extend the activity further you could invite children to create a tree shape on the ground using branches, twigs & logs, & then add the nature owls to the branches of the tree.

They may like to give their owl a name, or certain characteristics, explore what it may be thinking & feeling, or perhaps they could write a story with their owl as the central character. 

However you create your nature owls, I hope you have as much fun with them as we did with ours.

Looking for more Owl Activities? You might like: All About Owls, No Sew Sock Owls, Edible Maths Owl Activity, Nocturnal Animals Small World Play Scene.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Paper Plate Poppy Wreath

This simple Poppy Wreath can be made by a variety of ages & used to explore the significance of Remembrance Sunday or Armistice Day. 

To create the basic wreath shape we cut a circle from a paper plate, (smaller hands may need a little help with this) we found it easier to cut the centre into sections first.

We used red paper napkins to make our poppy flowers & folded them over a couple of times so when we cut our poppy shape we had four or more identical poppies each time.  If you have no napkins, coloured tissue paper would work just as well.

Once we had enough flowers we covered the plate with glue & attached our poppies. We found a glue stick worked best for this craft as the gloopy (PVA) made the flowers curl. 

To complete our poppies we drew small black circles to the centre of each flower, & then secured a length of thread with tape to the back of the wreath so it was ready to hang up.

This simple wreath takes very little time to create & is an ideal way to introduce Remembrance Sunday & Armistice Day to young children, & the significance of the poppy.

If you're looking for more information about the origins of the remembrance poppy then this film from The Royal British Legion is a great place to start.

Creating these wreaths with older children offers them a chance to remember all those who have lost their lives in conflicts (past & present) & opens up an opportunity to talk about thanksgiving, respect, justice, peace, & reconciliation.

Last year we made Remembrance Lanterns & we'll be using these again this year as we light a candle to remember.  

If you're looking for more Remembrance crafts you may also like our poppy prints with poppy seeds.  

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Paddington Bear helps explain the refugee crisis to young children

"Mummy, what's a refugee?"

With our current media depicting the plight of thousands of refugees it's no wonder that children are starting to ask these questions. Every day they overhear conversations, see images or catch snippets of news. Trying to explain the current global situation to young children is of course by no means easy, but I don't think that means it should be ignored, or seen as irrelevant to them.

A simple & meaningful way we've used to explore the subject of refugees with young children is with the help of a special little bear who has a particular penchant for marmalade sandwiches. Paddington Bear is known & loved by children the world over, & of course one of the special things about Paddington is that he leaves his homeland to begin a new life in another country.

Michael Bond's classic story tells how Paddington bear fled from 'darkest Peru' as a stowaway in a lifeboat taking with him only his hat, briefcase & marmalade. It goes onto explain that Paddington was orphaned in an earthquake which destroyed his habitat & he was then cared for by his Aunt Lucy. When she could no longer look after him & moved to a home for retired bears Paddington sets sail for England.

Why did Paddington choose to go to England? His Aunt Lucy reassuringly told him:

"Long ago, people in England sent their children by train with labels around their necks, so they could be taken care of by complete strangers in the countryside where it was safe. They will not have forgotten how to treat strangers."

So with few belongings, just like the current refugees we see on the television & in the newspapers, Paddington arrives in a new country after a long & perilous journey.

To explore Paddington's story a little more with young children we found using the following questions & ideas useful.

I wonder how Paddington felt when he set off on his journey into the unknown?
Was he frightened, cold, hungry?
He must have felt alone & sad to leave his homeland & his only relative Aunt Lucy behind.
I wonder how the refugees we see in the media are feeling?
I wonder how we would feel if we had to leave our homes & everything we owned?
I'm guessing Paddington was very brave to make that journey.
I think he must have been very desperate to start a new life to take such a risky trip in a boat across the sea.

When Paddington arrived in London he still had a note attached to his coat that his Great Aunt Lucy had written for him.

"Please look after this bear, Thank you."

In the story books Paddington is found by the Brown family at Paddington Station, & although they can't understand his bear name or his bear language they decide to look after him & welcome him into their home.

I wonder how we can help those people we see in the news who are leaving their homes for different country? Those people who have left their homeland behind to find a safe space for their families to stay. What can we do?

There are lots of things we can do, here are just a few that any family, school, or group could do to help.

1. Donate money to a charity which is helping to support refugees & Syrian families. Here are a few international ones, but check your local media for any smaller local charities which maybe offering help.

Save The Children's Syria Crisis Appeal
UNHCR Refugee Crisis in Europe
Oxfam Refugee Crisis Appeal
Unicef Syria Children Emergency Appeal

2, Check your local area for any collection points for items to send to refugee camps. If you can't find one in your area check out CalAid or Kos Kindness for more information.

3. Host a bake/toy/book sale, or sponsored event. Why not ask your school if you can have a 'take a teddy bear to school day' or a 'Paddington day' & donate money to one of the above charities.

4. Share the story of Paddington. Share how strangers from another country recognised his need, & welcomed him as one of them. If you have a cuddly Paddington toy you could ask individual children or a class to look after him & consider how they could help him & make him feel welcome.

5. See if you can find where different countries are on a world map or world globe. Can you find where Syria is? If you're interested in finding out more about where refugees around the world are travelling to & from you may find this newspaper article helpful.

6. Join in with Project Paddington & share special bears with children who may no longer have theirs. Click here for more info.

Sharing the story of Paddington with your kids can help them understand compassion, like that of the Brown family in the story. The care the Browns offer to the lonely lost bear who had nothing is a way of helping kids understand kindness & concern for others, even when people may seem different from us. It's also a great story to share with kids who are starting a new school term when there may be those who are feeling lost or lonely in a new school environment. Paddington's story reminds us all how important respect, friendship & empathy are.

I hope this little bear & his story helps you & your kids in some small way to explore the current situation, & encourages you to consider ways you might be able to make a difference.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Make a Difference #SaveSyriasChildren

Last night as I kissed my sleeping child snuggled in her bed I couldn't help but think of other mothers around the world doing the same thing. Then I thought of those mothers & fathers who have fled from their homes in Syria in search of a safe space for their family, who must be watching over their children at night, if they still had them with them, & how on earth must they be feeling. I simply cannot imagine.

Like many who have recently witnessed the horrific images of refugees washed up on shorelines, the photos of countless families fleeing their homeland, & the heartbreaking image of Aylan Kurdi the Syrian toddler on the beach, I feel I have to do something. Clearly these people are in desperate need & have risked everything in the hope of a better, more peaceful life.

We don't choose where we're born, it's the luck of the draw. We're so fortunate to have all we have. Let's never take it for granted. I don't know about you, but if I can make a difference however small to those people who have nothing, I'm going to do it.

Join me in making a difference today in these 2 simple ways.

1. Text Syria to 70008 to donate £5 to Save the Children Save Syria's Children Appeal.

2. Join with a number of UK bloggers & post a black & white image on social media of your children, family or just you with the words 'It could have been me' or 'It could have been us' along with #SaveSyriasChildren.

Please don't choose apathy, please choose at least one of the above options. Together we can make a difference.

One last thing. As you kiss your kids goodnight tonight think of other mothers just like you doing exactly the same thing, whether in a warm safe home, on a boat, or in a refugee camp.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

50 Outdoor Activities for the Summer Holidays

The Summer Holidays have started & we're looking forward to many days together outdoors. Here are 50 of our favourite activities to have fun & explore the beautiful Summer season.

1. Enjoy some shade on a nature walk through local woodland.

2. Create your own land art in your garden or local park with sticks collected on a woodland walk.
3. Design & build your own Water Wall.
4. Create a magical world at the bottom of your garden.
5. Get creative at the beach & create your own sand art. Can you make a monster, mermaid, or pirate using seaweed, driftwood, & pebbles?

6. Have a tide fight. Build sandcastles with friends near the sea & wait to see which sandcastle will survive the longest.

7. Go crabbing by the sea, or fishing in a local lake.

8. Explore rock pools.

9. Collect shells from the beach & make a beautiful wind chime.
10. Explore the flowers in your garden with these 10 activities.
11. Make mud pies

12. Discover & play in a mud bath!
13. Create your own Flower Sprinkler from a milk carton.
14. Make your own play dough ice-cream stand
15. Take a picnic & go an adventure to a local park, woodland or beach.
16. Create a coffee shop or tea room in your own backyard.
17. Roll down a hill!

18. Hold a seaweed swinging competition at the beach. How far can you throw the seaweed into the sea.

19. Cool off in the summer sun with some ice play.
20. Create your own ocean.
21. Explore a little science & make a rainbow using a garden hose/sprinkler & sunshine.
22. Create a nature wand using summer flowers & leaves.
23. Paint outside using a space hopper & patio toys!
24. Have fun with homemade spray paint.
25. Host your own Olympic Games for your toys.
26. Stay up a little later & go on a sunset walk.

27. Go camping some place new, or in your back garden.

28. Stay up late & watch a night sky & stars appear.

29. Make an outdoor Zip Wire for toys
30. Build a den

31. Explore the life of a pond & how it changes over the Summer.

32. Play with the clouds on sticks!
33. Go on a bug hunt with these bug spotter sticks.
34. Create new worlds with these magical mini doors.
35. Explore & play in the rain with these 20 Activities.

36. Wash toys outside in the paddling pool.

37. Play Poohsticks with your family at a nearby bridge
38. Create a butterfly garden, or a simple space for wildlife.
39. Build a boat or raft & set sail on a new adventure.
40. Make your own traffic signs for outdoor play. Learn about road safety & what signs mean.
41. Create simple lanterns to decorate summer evenings.
42. Go on a butterfly hunt. How many caterpillars, moths or butterflies can you find, & where did you find them?

43. Grow a bean tepee tent! Great for producing homegrown veggies & great as a natural tent to play in!

44. Make a collection of crazy play dough bugs.
45. Create a garden mosaic.
46. Climb & explore trees.

47. Make your own drumsticks from sunflowers!
48. Make your own desert island.
49. Upcycle & create garden snails
50. Decorate your garden throughout the season with these hovering dragonflies.

Wishing you a happy Summer filled with many outdoor adventures that will make magical memories for many years to come. 

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