Wrapping the Block

Do your kids love any opportunity to wrap gifts?  Mine do.  Especially using tape.  Tape is SOOO exciting if you’re under 4 ft. tall!  So, I decided that since ’tis the season for gift-wrapping, I’d let them have some practice – and get to use tape.

I decided that wooden blocks would be ideal for wrapping practice, so I figured out exactly what size of wrapping paper would perfectly fit one block.

Then The Brain was kind enough to cut out a whole stack of wrapping paper rectangles that same size.  I gathered several blocks in a basket, then put the basket on our art shelf next to a tray with the papers and two tape dispensers.

Of course, in the morning they were very excited to find out what this new exciting-looking thing on the shelf was.  It actually was one of those “she’s getting it!!” moments:  I overheard Drama Queen tell Mr. BANG, “Remember not to touch it until Mommy shows us what to do with it.”  Woo-hoo!  🙂

In the lesson, I first carefully demonstrated how to pull a small amount of tape from the dispenser, push downward to cut the tape off, and stick the end of the tape onto the art table (former breakfast-in-bed tray).  I instructed them to cut off four pieces of tape to hang from the art table.  (This step has continued to be tricky for them.  I had to help Drama Queen for awhile, and still am helping Mr. BANG tear the tape.)


Next, I showed how to place the block in the center of the paper.  I used the pincer grip (thumb against index and middle fingers) of both hands to pick up the two left corners of the paper and fold them over the block.  While the left hand held the paper in place, the right hand grabbed a piece of tape and taped the paper onto the block.  As an adult, that step is unnecessary, but it makes a big difference to a child trying to get the hang of keeping the object in place and keeping the paper held down.

I showed the right side the same way – use pincer grasp of both hands to pull the right corners of the paper into place, and use a piece of tape to hold them together.

The ends are a bit trickier.  I modeled how to fold the top down, fold the sides into triangular shapes, then fold the bottom up and tape.

At that point, they were ready to place the wrapped present under the tree.  However, they usually wanted to “write” the name of the recipient on the present first.  Then they would run to place the present under the tree and come right back for the next one.


They loved this activity so much, they actually used up all our rectangle wooden blocks of that size.  I then got out soft blocks of the same size.  When they had wrapped all those, they started experimenting with two blocks that would combine to make the rectangle.  Then Drama Queen started experimenting with completely different shapes, such as the cylinder blocks.

It was clear that this activity was VERY successful!  That afternoon, we celebrated a “practice Christmas.”  We all sat by the Christmas tree and handed out presents to each other.  The kids were so funny, saying things such as, “(gasp) What is it?!”  and “This is just what I’ve been wanting!!”

They were eager to start the wrapping over again the next day.  I decided to add another step in the process, however.  It occurred to me that this could be wonderful cutting practice.  So instead of cutting the wrapping paper, I drew bold lines with a black Sharpie on the back of the wrapping paper.  They got to cut their own paper!  Again, this was a thrill to them.

Mr. BANG unfortunately got frustrated because he wasn’t able to cut his paper very well.  (He seems to be left-handed.  Left-handed-experienced people, do I need to buy him special scissors?)

Drama Queen is perfectly happy cutting paper for both of them, so the thrill of wrapping presents is on-going!

  My little tree-hugger


Why We Don’t Do Santa

I’ve been planning to write a post on why we don’t do the “Santa thing.”  I was going to explain that Drama Queen and Mr. BANG are very interested in differentiating reality from make believe.  For every book we read, every story I tell, every show we watch, they ask at least once, “Is this real?”  They also love pointing out make-believe things themselves, with the joy of being able to show that they know it isn’t real.  It would be rather odd to then convince them that this fictional gift-giving magical man (and his colorful, short, toy-making helpers) are real.

I was going to describe that we don’t ignore the Santa items all around during the Christmas season.  I have cheerfully pointed out to them the enormous inflatable Santa that we regularly drive past.  We read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” as well a few other stories involving Santa.  (Given to my kids by others, incidentally.)  When Drama Queen and I were in a mall recently, she asked “What’s that?” as we passed the “sit in Santa’s lap” area.  I said with enthusiasm, “Oh!  It’s a man in a Santa costume!  Children are taking turns sitting in his lap and talking to him.  Would you like to go sit in his lap and talk to him?”  Not surprisingly, she answered, “No.”  Sitting in the lap of a strange man who isn’t a friend of Mommy’s or Daddy’s?  Awkward.

(Can I add a little side-note here on behalf of young children?  Forcing children to sit in Santa’s lap when they don’t want to is quite selfish.  Just because a parent cherishes this annual cutesy photo, even thinking it’s funny when the child is crying in it, she demands that her young child sit in a stranger’s lap when he wants the comfort and security of Mommy.  I encourage you to please think about it from the child’s perspective.  And, yes, the child’s perspective does matter.  Even at one year old.  But I digress.)

I was going to share that, as a Christian, I really want to keep Jesus’ birth at the center of all the fun and celebration of Christmas.  We read about his birth daily and the children repeatedly act out the story with our nativity set.


As God generously gave by allowing His Son to leave the wonders of heaven to come down to our screwed-up world for the sake of us, I teach Mr. BANG and Drama Queen to be givers.  They’re continuing to pile up toys to give to other children.  They’ve been making Christmas cards and ornaments to take to a local retirement home on Christmas Eve day.  They’re practicing wrapping presents, and excitedly declaring who each one is for.


So I was going to write out full descriptions of all that.  Then articles and videos started popping up on my facebook feed.  As I read/watched them, I became increasingly challenged.  Am I really making Christ the focus of the season?  Am I teaching my children to be materialistic?  I’m still sorting through the thoughts that these articles and videos have created in my mind.  I don’t know yet how my own family’s Christmas experiences will be shaped by these people’s experiences.  I haven’t even shared the details of the articles/videos with The Brain yet.  But they’ve definitely got me thinking.  In case you’re interested in taking a fresh look at what the holiday is about and how to express that as a family, I want to also share some of them with you.


The Rich Family in the Church

Apparently this one has been circulated quite a bit, but I had never read it before.   It’s the story of a widow and her three daughters.  In 1946, despite getting by eating only potatoes for a month and wearing cardboard in shoes to cover the holes, they were told they were poor for the first time.  They had never thought of themselves that way, and it stunned them.  It’s a powerful look at what being “rich” and being “poor” truly mean – and what importance material possessions really hold.  If you decide to read this one, also read “Update on the author’s life” in the blue box on the right.  Amazing!


When Christmas Gets Radical:  Whose Birthday Is It Really?

(Warning:  this site has continuous music in the background.  If that drives you crazy, as it does me, be ready to push the pause button in the top middle or go ahead and mute your computer now.)

This is from the blog of Ann Voskamp, author of the much-talked-about and incredibly-loved “One Thousand Gifts.”  Which I haven’t read yet.  But I WILL!  I promise, at some point I will!  For now, though, I am absolutely loving her blog.

In this particular post, Ann receives a challenging question from her five-year-old son:  “What does Jesus get for his birthday?…Why don’t we give things up so we can give to Jesus for his birthday?”  From that Christmas on, ten years now, they have given gifts to Jesus instead of each other.  They flip through catalogs, selecting things such as milk, blankets, or mosquito nets for the needy.  “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”


The Christmas Conundrum

This blog is by another author, Jen Hatmaker.  I don’t know anything about her books, but I found her ideas to help “pull out of the system” to be very powerful.  Early in the post, she writes, “What happened to Christmas? What on earth happened to it? When did it transform from something simple and beautiful to what it is now? How insidiously did the enemy work to slowly hijack Jesus’ birth and hand it over on a silver platter to Big Marketing, tricking His own followers into financing the confiscation?”

The bulk of the post focuses in on five ideas for making the Christmas season more meaningful.  I’ll share with you the main points of those ideas, and let you read the full explanation on her page:

1)  “We’ve pulled out of the Santa charade.”

2)  “Spending.  Whatintheworld?”

3)  “Let’s MAKE DADGUM SURE the products we do buy don’t come to us courtesy of slave labor.”

4)  “On the other hand, we can do so much good with our dollar!”

5)  “Instead of just pulling old habits off the shelf and leaving a vacuum of void and guilt, let’s replace American practices with – and I mean this in the most sincerest sense – Christian practices.”


What Mark Driscoll Teaches His Kids About Santa

This article contains historic information about Saint Nicholas and origins of the legends of Santa Claus.  This part in particular was interesting to me:

“In Germany, Martin Luther replaced him [Nicholas] with the Christ child as the object of holiday celebration, or, in German, Christkindl. Over time, the celebration of the Christ child was simply pronounced Kris Kringle and oddly became just another name for Santa Claus.”


What about you?  What is your approach to the Christmas season?

Sweep Away, My Son

One adult activity that many young children absolutely love to imitate is sweeping.  They’re eager to grab that broom and brush it along the floor just like Mommy and Daddy.  So fun!  Unfortunately, they’re not actually very effective with their sweeping.

You as the parent have the opportunity to give them a very special gift – teach them how to really sweep!  Of course, they enjoy just waving the broom around, but to be able to really clean an area of the floor like Mommy and Daddy do makes them feel confident and proud that they can accomplish such an important task.*

I recently gave Mr. BANG the sweeping lesson, which involves purposefully “dirtying” up the floor, allowing him to practice anytime he wants, regardless of whether or not there’s something already on the floor.

In preparation for the lesson, I cut up small pieces of construction paper to be the items he sweeps.  I set those in a Christmas container I had on hand, and placed those on a tray along with a small stack of stickers.  Those small colored circle stickers are ideal, but I chose some small square stickers instead, just based on what I could easily find in my sticker drawer.  (As a former teacher and current scrapbooker, I have no shortage of stickers!)  We already had a child-sized broom which I had purchased from Montessori Services.


Here’s the lesson, as I showed it to Mr. BANG.

1.  Carry the container of confetti to an empty space.

2.  Sprinkle one pinch of confetti over open area, then return container to shelf.

3.  Pull backing off of sticker and throw it away.  Place sticker in center of scattered confetti.


4.  Bring the broom to the confetti area, holding it vertically with two hands.


5.  Holding the broom with two hands, set bristles on opposite side of the sticker from you, and slide it toward the sticker.

6.  Walk in wide circle, pushing confetti toward sticker.

7.  Look around to see if there are any remaining pieces not on the sticker.

8.  Carry broom back.  Return with dust pan and brush.


9.  Sweep all bits into the dust pan, moving it as needed.

10.  Pick up sticker, fold it in half, and set in dust pan.


11.  Lay brush on top of dust pan; hold it like a tray in front of you.

12.  Sweep into trash can.

13.  Return brush and pan.

Mr. BANG loved this lesson, and proceeded to immediately repeat it on his own twice.  I did need to frequently check on him, though.  (As he repeated the work in the living room, I was working with Drama Queen in the playroom.)  The first time, he dropped a large amount of confetti on the floor and became overwhelmed by cleaning ALL of it up.  Both times, he had trouble getting those little paper pieces to slide onto the dust pan.  In retrospect, I actually think Cheerios, beads, or some other small 3-D item may be easier for a very young child to practice with.

Drama Queen also became re-energized with the thought of sweeping after watching Ethan.  She sometimes uses the confetti, sometimes just cleans up crumbs she sees on the floor.  She usually doesn’t bother with the sticker at this point.

*Do not immediately turn this into a chore that your child must do on a regular basis.  Just let him enjoy the experience of sweeping things up for now.

Surprise Discovery

So, do you remember my ordeal last week on my miserable day when I tried to let the kids watch A Charlie Brown Christmas but it kept not working out?  Well, take a wild guess what I found today…

In my massive collection of about 15 DVDs, there’s A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Right there.  Still wrapped in cellophane.  Never watched.  Already purchased.  Nice.

Product Review: Hisss

On Mr. BANG’s 3rd birthday a couple weeks ago, we gave him a card game called Hisss.  I had never played it before, had never seen it in person before, and had never personally known anyone with the game.  But somewhere along the way I had come across it in some list of great toys for young children and added it to the dozens of other things on my Amazon Wish List.  When choosing his birthday gifts from the list, that one caught my attention.

So I bought it.

I am SO glad I did!  It was pretty much love at first sight for Mr. BANG.  I mean, it’s a card game where you build long snakes.  What’s not to love?

First, I’ll describe the product itself, and then how to play it.  The game consists of 50 sturdy cardboard cards, each 3.5″ by 2.5″.  (Yes, I know you don’t care about that much detail, but just humor me, okay?  It makes me feel like I’m really sharing important information!  😉 )  That’s it in terms of materials.  There’s no dice, no markers to move around a board.  Just the 50 cards.





You can kind of see the thickness of the card here.


Each card shows part of a snake – either the head (7 cards), tail (7 cards), or mid-section (how quickly can you do the math…36 cards).  All but one each of the head and tail cards show that section of the snake as one specific color.

One head and one tail are rainbow-striped showing all the colors used in the game.  Each mid-section card consists of the same curve shape, with half of the mid-section in one color and half in another.

The cards also have drawings of little rocks and insects around the snake parts.  Those have nothing to do with the game, but just make it more fun visually!

To play the game, you shuffle the cards by mixing them around on the floor, stack them all face-down in one pile, then fan the pile out.  In this card game, there is no need for little kids to try to hold cards in their hand and no need to try to keep a straight, upright card pile!  That alone makes this game fabulous in my book!

One card is set out face-up as the starter card.  The first person chooses any card from the fanned out pile and looks at it.  If the color of snake section matches a color of the starter card, the player connects his card with the other.  If the colors do not match, the player simply lays that card down to start a new snake.

A rainbow head or tail can connect to any color of mid-section.  As turns rotate around the group, each person either matches their card to a preexisting snake or starts a new snake.  Any snake is available to any player to add to.  A snake can either be really long or really short (at least three pieces) based on when the head and tail pieces are found.

When both a head and tail have been placed on a snake, the player to complete the snake claims it by making their best snake impersonation:  “Hisssss…”  That, of course, is one of the best parts of the game for anyone under 4 ft. tall!

Oh, one other aspect of making snakes is that you can connect two partial snakes if you have a card with two matching colors.  For instance, if there’s a partial snake with a red at the edge, and another partial snake with purple at the edge, and you draw a mid-section that is red and purple, you can pull those together.  The Brain always seems to claim snakes by that method.  I told you he’s smart!  😉

When you claim a snake, you stack those cards with the head card on top in your snake pit (which means you stack them next to you or behind you so they don’t get mixed up in the ongoing snakes).

Continue playing until all the cards have been played; you’ll most likely end up with some partial snakes left over.  At this point, the official rules say you count all the cards in your snake pit, and the person with the highest number of cards wins.  We haven’t dealt with that aspect yet.  We just focus on the fun of making the snakes, and we cheer each other on when someone gets to claim a snake.  Of course, Drama Queen is definitely focused on getting to claim snakes, but even with that, I don’t think she’s been very concerned with counting who has the most at the end.

I see four wonderful benefits of this game:

1)  It involves matching colors, so it’s fun practice for color recognition.  It also naturally works into the conversation of the game to mention the names of colors and ask the child to name what colors he has on his card.

2)  You have to think spatially in terms of how to position the card to make it match up with another card.  This was the most challenging part for Mr. BANG, but within the first game, he got it down.  At first, he would have to turn the card all around, trying to figure out exactly how to place it to make the colors line up.


3) While we didn’t make counting cards an official part of our game, sometimes as the snakes got longer and longer, it was fun to count how many cards they took.  So it was great counting practice as well.

4)  It’s a fun way to spend time together as a family.  All four of us genuinely enjoy playing the game.  We get to work together to build snakes, cheer each other on as someone claims a snake, and throw in some tickles here and there.  Because you have to have tickles.

If you have a child between the ages of maybe 3 and, um, I’m not sure how old, that you haven’t bought a Christmas present for, I can give my full recommendation for this game.  Durable, fun, and easy to clean up*!  That makes it a perfect fit for our family!

*Mr. Bang has been known to throw a fit if someone tries to help him clean up the game.  He loves it so much, he wants to be able to put the cards back in the box by himself!

Jesus in the Manger

The Montessori philosophy on art is to allow children to do open-ended artwork where their creativity flourishes.  That can involve pretty much any art project that doesn’t have a specific end product in mind, including painting, drawing, coloring, making collages, working with clay, stamping, etc.  Craft projects where every child is supposed to end up with the same result is too focused on the end product instead of the process.

That being said, Drama Queen created a very cute baby Jesus craft at church yesterday.  It looks very easy to make, so I thought I’d share it with you in case you would like to give your children the opportunity to make it.

You start by cutting a square.  This one is 5 1/2″ x 5 1/2″.  This has the look of wood grains; you could find a similar thing on-line to print out, draw your own, or just hand it to your child as a white square.  Give the child the opportunity to color the square.  I hear that purple is a perfect color for a manger.  😉

Fold the square in half and make a cut 1 1/4″ from the fold, about 3/4″ inches from each side.

Cut two other pieces of paper, each 2 3/4″ x 1 1/2″.  Allow your child to color these.  Insert these into the cuts.  These are the stands for your manger.

Set a tissue down into the manger.

Cut out a picture of baby Jesus (maybe like this one).  Allow your child to color him, then set him in the manger.  Another option would be to use a toy baby to fit in the manger as baby Jesus.

Within just a few minutes, your child has a sweet, homemade 3-D manger scene to play with.

Just to make sure you don’t think I have it all together…

First thing this morning, I went to investigate a strange sound.  (It turned out to be a newly closed vent in the living room.)  I went upstairs to see if it was something up there.  In the hallway, I could tell someone had made full use of the potty already.  So imagine my surprise to walk in the bathroom to see one potty with urine and one empty.  I headed into Mr. BANG’s room.  I saw one clump on the floor.  This is a boy who, since he started sitting on the potty at 9 months old, has had maybe ten dirty diapers in all the time since.

I immediately ran downstairs, told Mr. BANG to put down his camera, and rushed him to the sink to wash hands.  All ten fingernails were completely brown.  He washed, I washed him, then I left him washing more as I ran up to get the fingernail brush from their bath toys.

Once fingernails were clear, I led him to the potty.  When I took off the diaper and started doing a basic clean-up, he started crying – apparently it had caused a rash.

When I got him clean and on the potty, I went up to clean/empty his room.  There were no smears, but at least 15 clumps.  I now have piles in the laundry room and a large plastic bag of toys in the kitchen, waiting to be cleaned.  I’ve disinfected the stair railing and Roomba is working on the hallway, making his way to Mr. BANG’s room.

Drama Queen, of course, the whole time is wanting me to be fully involved in playing Santa.  I have let them watch some of the classic Christmas cartoons for the first time this year, like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  In previous Christmases, I’ve just exposed them to Christmas things that centered on Jesus, so she loved acting out the Nativity and pretending to be baby Jesus.  Now it’s all about me being Santa and her being an elf.

I go downstairs to check on Mr. BANG.  He’s still on the potty, but has ripped his new Thomas book from Katie to shreds.  He wails as he watches me put every piece in the trash.

I go to sit them down in front of the t.v., and buy “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” on Amazon streaming for them to watch and leave me alone to cool down.  I purchased it on my computer; it apparently only shows up on the t.v. if it was purchased on The Brain’s computer.  I decide to pay $20 for the movie and buy it on The Brain’s computer (it’s $10 to buy it once).  I can’t find his wireless keyboard.

They’re now watching Rudolph, one of the ones I don’t want them watching anymore.  (Disclaimer:  no, it’s not a bad movie.  It’s very cute and I loved it as a kid.  I just want them geared back toward focusing on Jesus as the reason for and purpose of Christmas.)

Roomba just fussed at me that he’s hanging off the stairs.  I thought he was supposed to be built to avoid those.

We haven’t had breakfast yet.

I’m thinking I am not in an emotional state to handle the kids in preschool today.  I don’t know what we’re doing instead.  Maybe let them watch bad-for-them movies all day.

Other than that, it’s a fabulous day.