Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) Preschool Craft: Hanging Fish

The New Year has already begun according to the Gregorian calendar, but Chinese New Year won't be until January 31st this year, since the traditional Chinese holidays still follow their solar-lunar calendar. Everyone here is gearing up for Spring Festival, their biggest holiday of the year.

Last year as part of our study and celebration of Chinese New Year, we made a bunch of the decorations that are commonly used over here for the most important Chinese holiday.

Because all of their decorations are associated with bringing in good luck or keeping out bad luck, we didn't display them in the front of our house, but used this as an opportunity to talk about how these decorations can't actually help anyone.

The decorations are pretty and if you are wanting to learn more about Chinese culture and their Spring festival this is a fun way to introduce the topic for young children.

Fish are a symbol of plenty and prosperity for the new year. At spring festival time fish is commonly served at family gatherings and fish decorations are commonly seen every year, regardless of the zodiac animal.

These cute little fish won't bring you prosperity, but might liven up a room for a Chinese New Year celebration.

Chinese New Year Fish

  • Red paper
  • Pencil
  • Pen or markers for decorating the fish
  • Glue and glitter or glitter glue if desired
  • String
  • Scissors
  • Stapler and staples (or some other way to attach the fish to the strings)
  1. Trace an outline of fish on your red paper. I did a profile view of the fish with a flat bottom, and hung them in pairs, because that is pretty similar to the standard fish decorations here.
  2. Cut out or have your preschooler cut out the fish.
  3.  Decorate the fish. We wrote the Chinese symbol for fish (鱼, pronounced Yú) because I am always looking for fun ways to practice writing characters. You could also write happy new year (新年好,Xīnnián hǎo if you wanted. Or just decorate the fish in some other way. We also did a little bit of gold glitter, because glitter is pretty and fun.
  4. Cut a length of string.
  5. Staple or otherwise attach the fish to the string. Punching holes and stringing them fish could also be a good fine motor activity.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Mandarin Mondays: AR. Drane (The Chinglish Files)

This toy is also more than one month's rent

Friday, January 3, 2014

DIY Cake Mix

I know in America you can sometimes buy cake mixes really inexpensively, so this might not be a money saving recipe for everyone. However, it can be really useful to know the ingredients in a basic cake mix, in case you need to make a cake quickly and don't have a mix on hand.

You can make mixes ahead of time and store the dry ingredients in a zip-top plastic bag in the pantry or freezer, or you can just use the recipe to make a from scratch cake similar in taste and texture to a cake mix.

For us, since we can't get a cake mix for less than about $3.50-$4.00 USD, this is a huge money saver. I use these recipes all the time for these basic cakes and other recipes that call for a standard cake mix. This recipe makes about the same as a standard cake mix (1 9x13 rectangle, 2 8-9in circle layers, or 24 cupcakes) and of course baking time will vary according to the size of your pan(s).

Homemade Cake Mix Recipe

Start by adding:
  • 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder (for a chocolate cake only obviously)
 Now you have a choice of adding these now or later:
  • 1/2 cup shortening cut into dry ingredients like for pie crust (or you can add shortening, butter, or oil when you are making the cake)
  • 1/3 cup powdered milk so you just have to add 1 scant cup water later (or you can just add 1 cup milk later) *
 When you are ready to make the cake you have to add
  • 3 eggs (or egg whites for white cake)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Place dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl
  3. Add your choice of fat and milk if you haven't done so already. (Add water now if you have already mixed in milk powder).
  4. Beat in eggs (or egg whites) and vanilla. Beat until smooth.
  5. Pour into greased pan(s) and bake (30-35 minutes for 9x13 rectangle,25-30 minutes for 8-9 inch circles, or 18-24 minutes for cupcakes).
*If I am using this cake mix for another recipe that simply calls for cake mix, I don't add the milk powder or any milk, unless the new recipe calls for it and never noticed a difference.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

DIY Sweater Sleeve Snowman

These cute sweater sleeve snowmen are a quick and easy winter craft project. This project similar to the sleeve pumpkin I made, is a great way to upcycle a old clothing into cute decorations.

This is a fun project to involve kids in. Younger kids can help draw on the snowman's face or stuff it, and the sewing part is easy enough that a child old enough to be trusted with a needle can do it themselves.

Sew Easy Sweater Sleeve Snowman

  • White sweater sleeves
  • Needle and thread
  • Something to use for stuffing
  • Permanent or fabric marker to draw on face and buttons (or you could use tiny real buttons and sew them on)
  • Fabric scraps to cut for scarves
  1. Cut out the sleeve or sew a long tube of white knit fabric.
  2. Gather the bottom of the tube, and stitch closed tightly.
  3. Stuff the bottom ball of the snowman.
  4. Gather the section of the tube directly above the stuffing, and stitch closed tightly.
  5. Repeat until you have the desired number of balls and are at the top of the tube.
  6. Gather the top of the tube, and stitch closed tightly.
  7. Draw on the snowman's face or sew on buttons.
  8. Cut a strip of fabric for a scarf, cut the ends to resemble tassels and tie onto the snowman. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

DIY Snow Globes

A fun winter project to involve the kiddos in is making snow globes. After you finish your project you have a new decoration and toy to enjoy.

Last year when we made snow globes, me kids played with them for hours and hours.

Homemade Snow Globes

  • Small figures or objects that are water safe ( I used buttons to create a snowman, but if you had extra Christmas ornaments that you didn't want for your tree, this would be a great way to use them)
  • Water tight jar and lid
  • Hot glue (I used crazy glue, but Hot glue would be much better)
  • Glitter and/or sequins
  • Water
  1. An adult can glue the figure or objects into the jar or to the inside lid of the jar.
  2. After the glue is dry a child can sprinkle glitter and/or sequins into the jar.
  3. Fill almost to the top with water.
  4. Screw the lid on securely, glue if desired to make more secure.
  5. Enjoy the winter wonderland.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Preschool Holiday Activity: Play Dough Christmas

If you need an activity to keep your little ones busy for a while you are preparing for the holidays or while you are in the middle of entertaining and trying to keep a lot of little people happy and out of trouble, grab some play dough and tell them to make anything they can think of related to the holiday.

Last year my boys spent an entire morning building Christmas trees, Nativity scenes, gifts, Christmas food etc. They even made play dough relatives and a bunch of stories in the process.

You can also have them make letters and try to spell out holiday words. But that might require more adult involvement.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

DIY Indoor Snowball Fight Gift

One of my boys' favorite gifts we gave them last year, was the gift of an indoor snowball fight. We live in an area that doesn't really get any snow, so that made is even more special, but I think all kids would like this gift. This could also make a good rainy day activity for January.

I wrapped up mittens and "snowballs" for each of my two older sons and labeled them indoor snowball fight. We had them open the gifts at the same time, and then off they ran chasing each other and throwing their soft fleece balls.

The quickest, easiest way to make this gift would be to pick up some mittens or gloves and white socks (roll them up in balls) for each child. If you want to hand make this gift there are lots of great mitten patterns for free or sale on the internet. Or you can even just trace around the child's hand with enough margin for seam allowance.

You can quickly sew up soft fleece balls by cutting 4 ovals the same size. You want elongated ovals, not to round or you will end up with funny pumpkin shaped snowballs like some of mine were. Although in the end my kids did really like that, because they could stack them up and build "snowmen: as well (like in the top picture), so it is your call. Sew them together right sides together halfway around the oval top to bottom (the long side of the oval). Continue sewing ovals together until you have all four sewn together with only a small opening to turn and stuff. After you turn and stuff the fleece ball whip stitch or invisible stitch it closed, very securely since these are going to be thrown all over.

Either way kids will have a great time with this simple gift and get useful mittens (and perhaps socks) out of it as well. It might just be the most fun way to package mittens and socks for gift giving. :)

I think this would be a great gift if you needed to give something to all of the children in the extended family, unless the gift exchange takes place at Grandma's house in the living room full of crystal. Only Grandpa can bounce a tennis ball off the wall in that room and not get yelled at.


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