Saturday, December 22, 2012

Easy Felt Board & Felt Christmas Tree

Here is a simple felt board tree that we have all been enjoying for the past few weeks:

This tree has been decorated and redecorated many times, and the kids have also had fun cutting out some of their own ornaments and presents.  I made the tree in sections so that they could assemble it themselves.  Here's how:

Do you have a felt board?  I made a very easy one last year.  I covered a 20"x30" piece of foam board with grey felt, stretched it tight and taped it on the back with packing tape.  It was a gift for a two year old, so I also made some very bold, geometric shapes in black, white, red and yellow: squares, circles,  semi-circles and rectangles, all about 1 to 4 inches in size.

I intended to mount it on the wall or find a better way to attach the felt to the board, but it has held up very well as it is, and the lightness and portability of the foam board have made it easy for small kids to carry it around and lay it on the floor or lean it against the wall.  Here's the "temporary" taping on the back:

I highly recommend this toy for two to five year olds.  It gets played with a lot at our house, and over the past year it has had many different scenes on it, including: a bear family with tree house, an autumn tree with falling leaves, jack-o-lanterns, children with pets, farm animals, and more.  Usually I cut out the shapes that my kids request, but sometimes they make their own.  They love moving the pieces around and acting out scenarios with the characters, so if you are looking for a gift for a child who is often playing with little animals or figurines and making up voices and actions for them, this is perfect.

I made our felt board and pieces using inexpensive acrylic felt, but have since learned that felt that is at least 50% wool clings better and is less likely to fall off on the floor. If you don't have foam board, I'm sure a thick cardboard or a thin plywood would work as well.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hardware Store Bath Toys

Are you getting ready to start making some holiday gifts?  We've got a few home made ideas that I would like to share with you.  Here is one that would make a fun gift for a little water and construction lover:

If you can, add some small pvc gutters or other shapes.  The piece on the bottom in that last picture is a plastic bowl in which I drilled a dozen small holes to make a rain shower.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Halloween 2012

After changing his mind daily for weeks, Julio finally settled on a character from his favorite movie.  His idea for the costume revolved around the scene where he carries a torch into a cave, so the torch was most important.  Fortunately, everything else was already in our dress up arsenal.  He is not unhappy in this picture, by the way, just seriously in character.

 Diego underwent a major transformation on Halloween.

Wasn't he scary?

Monday, October 8, 2012

2 Gallons and a Half Pint

Me: I've gotta' stop in this gas station and put five bucks in the tank.
Julio: What tank?
Me: The gas tank.
Julio: Why do you have to put five bucks in the tank?
Me: 'Cause we're almost out of gas and I want to make it home for naps.
Julio: And if you don't put in five bucks then we won't make it to home?
Me: Probably not.
Julio: But why do you have to put money in there?
Me: Oh, I see. I'm not really putting the money into the tank. I'm going to use the money to buy gas and put the gas in the tank.
Julio: Are you going to use five dollars?
Me: Probably ten. Actually, I'm going to use my debit card.
Julio: Oh. (pause) Does Deb have a debit card?
Me: I don't know.  Probably.
Julio: DOES she?
Me: Yes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Game Night

While I was in the kitchen making dinner, a family game night started spontaneously in the living room.

There was backgammon...

... and chess!

Friday, September 21, 2012


We have been using this system for packing ever since we installed our chalkboard:

I used to draw little pictures next to the words so that Ruben could pack without assistance, but this was the first time that Ruben read the words and drew the pictures for Julio.

After some helpful suggestions from Ruben, Julio was very proud of writing his first "X."

My friend, Melissa, suggested using these very lightweight reusable grocery bags for packing.  They are perfect for our weekend trips.  I hang them on the doorknobs in the hall, right next to the packing list, and the boys run back and forth to their dressers, collecting items from the list and filling their bags.  As soon as they are done, I check their work, tie the bags shut and throw them all in a big duffel bag.  This bag system makes it so simple for the boys to keep track of their own clothes once we reach our destination.

Packing for everybody used to be a dreaded chore for me, but now the boys get excited when they see me working on their list and they treat packing more like a game.  It doesn't exactly save time yet, but I can see that they will be very good at packing for themselves before long, and I look forward to the day when they will be able to take charge of the whole process.

Do you have any favorite packing tips?  I'm so curious about what other families do to get ready for a trip.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Photocopied Toys

Yesterday, while I was printing out some pages for the boys to color, I thought that it would be fun to surprise them by making photocopies of their favorite soft toys.  Our printer has a built in scanner/copier on top, so I made some quick low quality black and white copies of their most beloved stuffed animals by laying the toys directly on the glass of the copier.  They were so surprised and happy about these prints!  They really did look fantastic.  Ruben wanted to color his in, so we got out some watercolors, and he set to work.

After he painted it, he drew some thorns and a cape on it, but eventually he cut it out without these additions.  It is now on the wall by his bed, and I'm looking around the house and thinking about what else I can photocopy for them.

It might be fun to copy some other toys, or to do these soft toys again enlarged at 200%.  We haven't even started copying hands and feet and faces, but I have a feeling that soon we will have a LOT of fun doing that!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Strange Characters

I think I've mentioned a few times that our boys like to dress up.  We've got an overflowing bin of capes and scarves, homemade Halloween costumes and strange antique dress-up bits (wigs! cowboy vests! lederhosen!!!).  They often disappear for long stretches, shouting "DON'T LOOK!" every few minutes.  When they reappear, they're wearing something like this:

Or this:

Or this:

Diego was the designer of all of these wild get-ups, aren't they amazing?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Oh, Those Dinosaurs.

Kids aren't the only ones into costumes around here.  Just look at what I found our plastic dinosaurs wearing:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Maurice Sendak

 Thank you and goodbye to the best of the best of the best.

Maurice Sendak  (June 10, 1928 - May 8, 2012) 
Illustrations from just a few of our many beloved Sendak books: In the Night Kitchen, Chicken Soup with Rice, Alligators All Around, The Wheel on the School (by Meindert DeJong) and Little Bear (by Else Holmelund Minarik) all published by HarperCollins.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

More Fun with Superhero Paperdolls

Do you remember this post from a long time ago?  It turned out that it was just the beginning of our continuing adventures in paper hero-making...

We keep coming back to this project over and over.  The kids do love to play with these figures.  Since they are all laminated, they have withstood quite a lot of heroic crime-fighting action.  And, as we all enjoy making them, we now have quite a collection!

Here are a few (easy to make) special add-ons and accessories that have made our characters even MORE fun to play with:

As you can see, the boys have learned to draw some of their own, relying on me for just a little help with cardboard cutting and laminating, and that has made some of our characters even more weird and wonderful.  They have fantastic names, too, like: Dr. Eye-Distance, Star Chest, Thumper, Glow, and Captain Red-Flash Thunder-Side.

These two were added last weekend:

                                                                                   "Glow" by Diego, and "Robot" by Ruben

You can go back to the original post here, for the basic instructions and a printable template.  If you do make your own, please link to your pictures in the comments.  I'd love to see them!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wooden Robot

Ruben and I made this lovely toy robot last week:

After building some robots out of blocks, and then taking them apart to move them a few times, Ruben asked if I could help him glue the blocks together.  He had some specific ideas about how he wanted them stuck together, pointing to each joint and telling me, "Hot glue here and here and hinge this so it swings like this and hinge this so it bends like that..."

I love it when we make toys together.  While he drew on the face and body, I figured out how to make the joints that he wanted.  I drilled some holes and threaded elastic through them. 

This would probably be a lot prettier if I had attached the elastic to some buttons or something like that, but we were on a roll and wanted to play with it as soon as possible.  I tied some sloppy knots, and it worked just fine.

I got the idea to wood burn Ruben's drawings onto the blocks from this post on Made by Joel, and I think that this is the best part of all.  It was so easy, too; he drew on the blocks with a pencil, and I carefully traced his lines with the wood-burner.  (If you have a chance to do this with a child's drawings or handwriting, please do it!  It looks so good, and I'm sure it will age beautifully.)

Ruben and I are both so proud of this spontaneous project!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Praying Mantis

I could imagine a farm life with cats and dogs and chickens and a goat.  Maybe rabbits, and horses too.  I know that living with animals is good for all people, and the responsibility of daily maintenance and witnessing the life cycle especially abound with deep lessons for kids. 

But, this is no farm life, so we do what we can.  Just a few days after releasing Ruben's caterpillar-turned-butterfly, we took our second tentative step into the world of pets with this graceful praying mantis that Diego found on our front lawn:

She is an elegant insect, don't you think?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Are you a collector?  When I was a kid, my three brothers avidly collected: comic books, bottle caps, license plates and banana stickers. 

Look at what I found in the "secret compartment" of Diego's special pencil box:

I've always seen myself as more of an accumulator than a collector, but now I think I'll start collecting these:

So, what did you collect when you were seven and a half?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Tonight in Our Kitchen

A flubber party!

Our preschool teacher told us that hanging flubber in a plastic strawberry basket and giving the kids scissors would provide hours of fun, as this gluey fluid drips and stretches slowly and cuts so easily.  We also blew bubbles in it, made hilarious noises with it, and watched our hand prints melt away.  It was amazing!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Paper Heart Valentine with Pencil Arrow

Here is a quick and easy Valentine that is fun for kids to make and give out at school:

1. Cut red card stock or construction paper into strips.  (This one is 1" x 11".) 

2. Fold each strip in half and staple it right next to the fold.  Bend the ends back until they touch and staple them together to make the bottom point of the heart. 

3. Use a standard hole punch to make holes on each side of the heart for the pencil. 

4. Thread the pencil carefully through the heart and your note.  It should be a little tight, so take care not to tear it. 

5. Add an eraser tip, tape on a paper fringe for the arrow, and you're done.

We are going to make A LOT of them!

Fortunately, Julio is very interested in stapling and hole-punching these days.  Did you see his hand in the top picture?  He really was my photo assistant this time!

Here are some other Brooding Hen Valentine posts that you might like:
Kissing Thaumatrope
Tiny Bow and Arrow (This project wasn't originally for Valentine's Day, but I see that people are using it for little Cupid's arrows.)

Tips and Tricks:

1. You can make this a lot simpler by writing your note or name directly on the heart before stapling it, and by just sharpening the pencil so that you don't need to add an eraser tip or fringe. 

2. You can make them even splashier by using a shiny pencil, a ribbon for the note, a heart-shaped eraser tip, or adding feathers or other decorations as the fringe.