Easy Peasy Gingerbread Houses

Milk carton gingerbread houses.

These milk carton gingerbread houses are so easy to make.  They are quick and fun, an activity that we were first introduced to when my kids were younger and attended a weekly play group. We’ve been making them ever since.

You will need:
***A pint sized carton (or cut a quart sized carton in half)
***Graham crackers
***Spreadable frosting

Start with a half-pint carton and a stack of graham crackers.  [Read more...]

25 Days of Character for Families

A simple tradition. A valuable connection.

Gratitude.  Patience.  Courage.  

These traits, and many more, are the focus of our Character Advent.  I wrote that post two years ago and this year, I had an idea. I wanted an easy way to incorporate this into our days in December and I wondered if other families might want to join me, to share together how we can encourage character in our children and ourselves.

So here’s the plan:  Each day, on the Creekside Learning facebook page, I’ll post one of the character traits, starting December 1st and going through the 25th.

The facebook posts will be a reminder to you for the day, to share with your families.

Share it any way you like:
*discuss it over dinner
*add it to a list on the fridge
*include it in another Advent calendar tradition
*write it on a window with dry-erase markers in festive colors
*any way you like

25 days of Character:  A Trait a Day on Facebook from Creekside Learning

When you talk about it…
***Define the trait.
***Together,  come up with an example (or 2 or 3 or as many as you like) of someone you know that embodies this trait. Maybe it’s a historical figure you’ve been learning about, a character in a book or video game (one year we used Harry Potter characters for most of our examples. Whatever makes it relevant to your child, do that.), a person in your extended family, a way your child showed that trait recently. Maybe your child showed perseverance by learning to ride a bike, even when he fell off over and over again.  Maybe you admire a world leader, who shows the quality of leadership.

If you want the daily Facebook reminders, here’s what to do:

  1. Like Creekside Learning on Facebook.
  2. While there, hover over the “liked” box  and click “show in news feed”. This will ensure that all the Creekside Learning posts are shown in your daily feed.
  3. Each morning at 7 a.m. EST I’ll post that day’s character trait and perhaps, a quote or an example.

I’d love it if you’d share in the comments on facebook: “We talked about how Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrated peacemaking.” or “We remembered our Great-Grandpa who was so very brave when he left his country to make a better life in America.” Share once or daily or as many times as you like.  You can share photos, too.

Don’t get to it each day? No worries. This is designed to be a peaceful and easy addition to your day, not another taxing way we all do too much during the holiday season. Do it on the days it fits in, let it go on others.

I so look forward to hearing how this goes in your families, the things you come up with, the insights your children have.

Pin it to share it, or so you won’t forget it:
25 Days of Character A Simple Tradition. A Valuable Connection.

If you’d like to do the Character Advent on your own, rather than follow along on Facebook, you can find a list of character traits in my original post.

Mason Jar Hot Chocolate with Dipping Spoons

mason jar hot chocolate with dipping spoons
My family is on a big hot chocolate kick lately so I’ve been having fun experimenting with new homemade mixes as well as fun fixings, like chocolate dipped spoons.

I made some mason jar winter hot chocolate layered mixes (recipe link below), packaged with curling ribbon and a couple of hot-glued buttons. A circle of scrapbooking paper covers the lid. I hand-wrote the tags and cut the tags using my scrapbooking tag punch.

The challenge was making these, as well as the fixings (see below) without having to go to the store because I didn’t feel like getting out of my pajamas for a few days between Christmas and New Year’s.  You understand, don’t you?

The spoons were leftover plastic spoons from various packages from birthday parties and such. I melted about a half cup of chocolate chips in the microwave, dipped the spoons in, let them dry on wax paper. Then I melted 1/4 cup of white chocolate chips, put them in my icing decorator and drew the squiggly lines.  To package them, I snipped off the zip-lock portion of a zip-lock baggie, trimmed it a bit to fit, then used some silver twisty-ties to close the bag around each spoon.

I made these to give to some friends and family that we will see on New Year’s day. Each person gets a jar of hot chocolate mix and two spoons. I hope to make some Valentine themed jars soon.  I also made a big batch of the hot chocolate (doubled the recipe) in a giant container to keep in the pantry for the kiddos.

The recipe for the layered hot chocolate is here.  I halved the recipe since I was using smaller mason jars.  I used mini-marshmallows instead of peppermint candy canes.


Slowing Down to Enjoy the Busy Season

We are having a relaxed month in our schooling this December. How, I wondered, did I do that? I had to stop and think.   Last year was our first year homeschooling and I suppose I put pressure on myself to continue school as usual and do all the holiday stuff: shopping, wrapping, decorating, baking, mailing packages and cards, attending every holiday related thing in a 25 mile radius.  I don’t do all that holiday stuff because I think I should or that it’s what one is supposed to do, but because I like all that stuff.  The thing is, who can do all that and educate their children and you know, feed said children? And launder said childrens’ clothes? Without losing major amounts of sleep or sanity or both? Well probably some people can, but I am not one of them.

And I surely can’t do it all and still relax and enjoy my family. So this year, I scheduled “light school” from Thanksgiving to the new year.  We stopped history  altogether.  Our science co-op finished up until we reconvene in the Spring and I didn’t rush to fill this spot with other science stuff, even though I have a fun book about experiments that Firefly and I both have been wanting to delve into.  I scheduled all the fun holiday things  we want to do, and then sprinkled schooly stuff around it.  So a typical day in our house this month has gone something like this:

9:30ish Advent calendars. We have three. One has activities, one is a character advent, and the third is just a fun felt Christmas tree with a numbered decoration for each day and a musical star that plays Jingle Bells, which we press and then dance around with the dog each morning.

10:00ish Depending on what our Advent activity is, we might do that (bake, read a Christmas book, make a card for someone), then we do a little school work (reading and math).  We throw in a few fun activities like our Gingerbread Man theme or a Grinch theme. We practice some of the things we’ve been working on over the past few months, a review of sorts (telling time and math review for Firefly, calendar stuff and money counting for The Queen Bee).

11:30ish The kids play. I make lunch. Then if it’s warm enough and not raining we might go outside to play in the yard or the woods or take the dog for a hike.

2:00ish We seem to always have afternoon activities of some sort.  The Queen Bee has ballet, Firefly has piano lessons. Or we play with friends. Or we go run errands. Or the kids scamper upstairs to play whatever elaborate pretending game they have going on while I get some time on the computer or catch up on laundry.

Eveningish The Husband comes home, we have dinner. Some nights we have Lego Club or Basketball for Firefly. We read some Harry Potter before bed.

It’s a really nice rhythm that we’ve gotten into, now that I see it all written down.

Firefly gives Love Bug a boost to reach the Character Advent calendar.

And in between, we have done so many fun things:  made little gingerbread houses with Daddy, gone to a holiday show, hung out with the grandparents. And perhaps the highlight of our month so far has been, not all of the holiday stuff, but the celebration of Love Bug. He has turned three.  As a Mom, I am now required to make the following official statement: “How is it possible that my baby is three?”

Well, I don’t know, but I am glad that my second-year homeschooling self is slowing down a bit more to enjoy it.

Linking up with:

A Different Kind of Advent Calendar

Character Traits Advent Calendar

In addition to our regular Advent Calendar, we’re adding something new this year.  I couldn’t pass up this adorable hat and mitten string Advent Calendar at an after-Christmas sale one year, but have never used it.  Then I had an idea.  I decided to fill the hats and mittens with positive character traits, one for each day (think Gratitude, Patience, Courage and more).  I’ve talked about many of these with the kids as we’ve read various books but for some time I have wanted to focus on them more.

We do this in everyday life, too, of course, but ruminating in the back of my mind, I’ve been thinking, “Do we talk about these things enough?”   I’d like to do something more deliberate, more intentional.  I keep thinking about how learning things like self-respect, forgiveness and perseverance will take them far in life, even more important that their academic achievements. We’ve all known people who are highly intelligent, have multiple advanced degrees but who struggle to simply get along with others.  So  “character” has been on my mind of late.

I started by making a list of the values I want my children to have, the things I want us, as a family, to focus on more, even some things my kids in particular may be struggling with.   I think every family’s list will be different.   Here’s ours, in no particular order,  with more than enough to fill the 25 days of the Advent calendar:  Perseverance, Kindness, Determination, Helpfulness, Self-Respect, Respect for Others, Respect for the Environment, Honor, Trustworthiness, Sportsmanship, Gratitude, Courtesy, Creativity and Flexibility, Forgiveness, Cooperation, Acceptance, Honesty, Loyalty to Family, Courage, Patience, Caring, Giving, Peacemaking, Adventurousness, Sense of Humor, Responsibility, Giving, Hospitality/Being a Good Host, Being a Good Friend.

We could easily spend a week or more on each one of these traits and I hope to do just that in the future, but for now, I thought this would be a great way to touch on each trait, define it and look for examples in our own every day life as well as in the characters we read so much about.

UPDATE: Having used our character advent calendar for two seasons now, I’ve found that tying it into book characters, historical figures, family and friends makes this exercise even more meaningful for the kids.  Doesn’t Martin Luther King, Jr. exemplify peacemaking?  Wasn’t Great-Grandpa so very brave when he left his country to make a better life in America? 

My kids have also had moments where they identify some these traits in each other.  And that makes this Momma’s heart full.  Just in time for Christmas.