Thursday, July 31, 2014

Happy Birthday Harry Potter!

Wait... you didn't know that July 31st is Harry Potter's birthday? Ok, I'll admit it, I didn't know until last week either. A bookstore nearby was hosting a Harry Potter birthday party last Saturday and I took T. We had an awesome time!

I started reading the Harry Potter series aloud to T when he was about 4 years old. We had been reading aloud to him since birth and he became quite advanced in his ability to comprehend complex story lines. At first I thought it might be too old for him but we gave it a try. He really enjoyed the story, as did I, so we continued. As we continued, we discussed the story line just to make sure that he was actually understanding the plot. We took breaks between books to explore other pieces of literature but we always came back to Harry Potter. I have to admit, I didn't expect that I would love it as much as I did. After each book was completed, we would sit together (sometimes Dad joined too) and watch the movie that went along with it. We would then discuss the similarities and differences between the book and the movie. Of course, the movies were never as good as the books but they did do a really good job on the movies as well.

In honor of Harry Potter's birthday we attended the bookstore's party which included the children being sorted into houses by the sorting hat. T was sorted into Ravenclaw, which disappointed him a bit because he wanted Slynterin or Gryffindor. Each child received a goodie bag with a coloring page of their house crest, stickers, a word search, a maze and two bookmarks. T's favorite part was the glowstick wand each child got. The served birthday cupcakes (the one pictured below was mine, T got one with green frosting for Slytherin but he ate it so fast, I didn't get a picture). They also served pumpkin juice which was sort of like a pumpkin latte but without the coffee. I thought it was yummy but T didn't care for it. 

While we ate, one of the employees read from the book "The Tales of Beetle the Bard", which we really enjoyed as we haven't read that one yet. They also had a Harry Potter trivia with prizes for the top two winners. We didn't win but it was fun just the same. Finally, we played a guessing game where the child randomly chose a character name from a jar. Everyone except that child got to see who the character was, then the child had to ask "yes or no" questions to determine which character they had chosen to be. T was a bit embarrassed that he first chose Hermione but he was thrilled that he chose Tom Riddle for his second character. For those who haven't read the books, the reason he was embarrassed is because Hermione is a girl. It was a really fun afternoon of Potter fun and it was all Free! 

When we got home we were on a Harry Potter kick and T suggested we watch one of the movies. I normally would have said yes, except that he had just gotten back from a week at his grandparents house where they let him watch TV all day long if we wants. I told him I had a better idea and pulled up a photo that I had pinned quite a while ago of DIY wands from chop sticks.

We collected supplies from our art closet and got to work. T decided that chop sticks were too short for a proper wand but we had some small wooden dowels that worked nicely. We slightly sharpened the tip of each dowel with a pencil sharpener. Then I used a low temperature hot glue gun to add lots of glue to one end. We didn't use many beads as in the inspiration photo we just used a 8mm round bead for the end. I rolled the glue in my hands after it had cooled a bit to smooth it out. T wanted his just smooth, I added a spiral of glue all of the way down my handle.

Before painting

Close up of my wand handle with spirals.

T mixed some red and green acrylic paint to make a nice dark brown for his wand. After his was painted, I added a little white and yellow to the brown to make a lighter brown that is almost gray once dry. Once painted and dry, they actually look like solid wood. We thought they turned out really nice. The wand with the longer handle that is lighter in color is mine, the darker wand with the shorter handle is T's.

T proceeded to dress in his Death Eater halloween costume from last year and enjoyed playing with his new wand.

If you or your children are interested in magic or other fun fantasy novels, consider reading the Harry Potter series. T is planning to reread the entire series soon on his own. The movies are really good too. I feel like the first few movies are fairly tame for younger children but you may want to pre-watch the second half of the series as they get quite dark. We read these and watched the movies over several years. I was comfortable with him, at 4, reading/watch the first books but he was 7 before we finished the series. Even if you aren't interested in Harry Potter, this wand craft would be super fun for any sort of magical play. Just supervise young children because these can be dangerous.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Frozen Felted Necklace

The Disney movie Frozen has been a huge hit with kids everywhere and B (2.5yrs) is no exception. Frozen was the very first movie she ever saw at a movie theater. She has been obsessed ever since! She knows the words to all of the songs and sings them all day long. We are not big on characters in our home but every once in a while the kids are just so into something that we just go with it.

I have been seeing some lovely chunky necklaces all over the internet over the past few years. I've always liked how they look but I was concerned about the small beads and metal connectors most of them have. I also have only been able to find the big beads that are quite heavy. When you add a bunch of these beads together, its just too much for a 2yr old's neck. I decided to try something different, and it was so easy that she could help with much of it.

T (8yrs) and I have dabbled with wet felting in our homeschool in the past. We found it to be quite messy so B was not allowed to participate. I was planning to give it a try outside this summer with both kids but then I found a pin on pinterest that changed everything. With this simple trick, even toddlers can participate in wet felting balls even in the house.

Before you begin, please remember that all children should be supervised while wearing anything around their necks, like this beautiful necklace. Also remember to supervise your children while they are using tools that may be sharp. 

You need one small plastic container with a lid that is watertight. The original poster used Ziplock brand, I used Glad because it was what I had on hand. I recommend not using Glad because they are not watertight. I still used it, I just wrapped a cloth around it to keep the water from flying everywhere. If you are buying new, look for ziplock or another brand that would be watertight. Just take a small wad (about double the size you want your ball to be) of wool roving in your choice of colors and place it in the container. Add a small amount (I used 1 TBSP) of hot water and a drop of dish soap, then seal the lid.

Now comes the fun part.... shake the container! Shake it up and down and all around! Toddlers love shaking things and B was thrilled to shake each and every ball until her little arms got tired. It only takes a few minutes for a perfect sphere to be formed. If you want to speed it up a bit, take the ball out a couple of times and roll it around in the palms of your hands squishing the water out. I did that with most of them because it really made it super fast.

You could do it the traditional way without the container by just rolling it around in your hands, but when T and I tried this, we had trouble getting the balls to come out even. There were lots of cracks in our hand rolled balls as well, this didn't happen with the container.

For our Frozen inspired necklace, we used natural white, purple, light and dark teal colored wool roving. Since B is 2 years old the necklace needed to be fairly small. We made two of each color for a total of 8 wool balls. This would be a super cute necklace itself, but B wouldn't consider it a Frozen necklace without Anna and Elsa. We decided to add a bottle cap charm to the necklace.

To make this charm you need a bottle cap (I bought ours from a craft store and it came predrilled and had a hanging ring), Mod Podge Dimensional Magic and a sticker or printout of your chosen image. Ours was a sticker from an activity book I found on clearance at Target, I just trimmed it to fit into the bottle cap. I did this part myself but Im sure an older child would have no trouble with making the charm as well.

Place the sticker or printout into the bottle cap

Add the Mod Podge to the top. It will look cloudy when wet but will dry clear. My bottle cap was not totally level so I placed a paper clip under it so it would dry even.  I let this sit for 24 hours before moving it.

Now all of the materials have been made it is just time to assemble the necklace. Grab a piece of ribbon (I had some periwinkle ribbon with shimmery edges left over from my wedding, still fine after 10 years LOL), and a large embroidery needle. Thread the ribbon through the needle and start stringing the wool balls placing the bottle cap charm in the center.

You might want to use a needle nose pliers to help get the needle through the wool balls. I found this very difficult without the pliers but it was easy with it. I consider this an adult job, even an older child might have difficulty and it can be dangerous with the sharp needle.

Once you have it all strung it should look something like this. You could leave it as is and tie a bow on the back to keep it closed. I decided to go another route.

I wanted to make the necklace a little safer for my toddler by using this type of closure. I made another slightly smaller wool ball and put a fairly large hole through the middle of it with a skewer. Then I threaded the ribbon through in opposite directions. This makes the necklace adjustable so it will fit over her large toddler head and yet not so big that it will hang too low while she is wearing it. It also has an added feature of coming completely apart if it is pulled on so that helps prevent strangulation. Of course, you still have to supervise your child while wearing any type of necklace around their neck, but this helps.

Here is our finished necklace! B was thrilled with how it turned out and she loved that she helped make it herself.

If you like the outfit, this is where I bought it Adorable Essentials

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer Indoor Activity: Building Models

A few weeks ago I shared some of our summer reading and mentioned the Barnes & Noble summer reading program. While we were there picking up T's new book, we stopped at the "Bargain books" section just to browse. T spotted this large box and got very excited. Looking at the front of the box I quickly understood why he was so excited. There it was, a 15 inch tall Tabletop Siege Tower. What little boy wouldn't love this? I'm sure many little girls would love it as well. Not only does this kit come with the materials to build this wooden siege tower, but it also comes with a nice book Castles and Warfare in the Middle Ages, which gives a very in depth history of not only the siege tower, but also other middle ages weaponry. What made me actually purchase this kit? The price tag.... after my educator discount, it was less than $5 (its $6.29 online right now if you are interested in purchasing it click the picture below).  * I am in no way affiliated with Barnes & Noble or the manufacturer of this kit, I just really liked the kit and wanted to share*

Yesterday was an average summer tuesday, it was very hot out and T had been playing outside for a couple of hours and needed a break from the heat. I have been trying to keep our "screen time only on the weekends" rule in place during the summer so we needed to find an activity. I remembered that we had this kit and pulled it out during B's nap.

T got right to work sorting the pieces. There are a few nice diagrams of the pieces on the instruction sheet which really helped us keep track of the pieces. 

We also needed to collect a scissors, tape (ended up not using), a ruler (didn't use this either), and glue (we used wood glue).

 Not much glue is needed, I used a toothpick to put the glue into the small crevices. I did the glue parts because we were working on our hardwood floors inside. T was able to put the pieces together himself. The instructions were very clear and allowed us to set pieces aside to dry while assembling other parts. We never had to stop entirely for glue to dry.

Large rubber bands were provided to stabilize the structure while the glue dried. This was really helpful since T's little hands couldn't reach all the way around it.

The kit comes with two thick glossy paper flags. T used colored pencils to make his flags and then we used a glue stick to wrap them around the wooden posts.

Finished model

Side view with the drawbridge up

Side view with the drawbridge down

Back view with Lego minifigs added

We grabbed some red and blue (the colors he used on his flags) pom poms from our art closet and he use them as his projectiles. You just twist the dowels on the sides to wind the string and then pull back the catapult and let go. T got the pom pom to go about 10 feet across the room.

No legos come with this kit, but T has an army of minifigs with random armor and weapons that fit perfectly into this siege tower.

The instructions were amusing, twice mentioning laying siege to a hamster cage. We don't have hamsters but we do have guinea pigs. T brought them out to play and one decided to invade the tower. 

We had a lot of fun building this model together and T has been playing with it quite a bit already. If you are looking for a fun indoor activity you might want to try one of these kits. I can also recommend the Mindware brand kits, T built the catapult kit a couple of years ago. He brought that one out to battle against the siege tower.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Finding Fun Surprises in Nature

It has been a fun day so far. We met up with several families from our homeschool group this morning at a local park and the kids played for hours. The weather here is very hot so we try to do outdoor activities in the mornings during the summer. It was so nice to visit with the other moms like the kids played because we have all been so unorganized due to summer break that this was the first park day we have had since the end of May.

When we arrived home, after we had lunch, T decided he was just going to go back outside to play some more. B has nap time in the early afternoon so I try to have T play outside or in his room during those hours. He was in the mood for being outdoors even after spending the entire morning out there. About ten minutes into his outdoor play time he came running in all excited. He had found a very special surprise in our front yard under a tree. An owl pellet! He was so excited! His Dad went out with him to check it out before letting him touch it and it did indeed appear to be an owl pellet. If you are wondering what an owl pellet is, please check out my past post entititled "What's and Owl Pellet?"  Of course, T grabbed his owl pellet, magnifying glass and rodent bone diagram and headed to the back porch to dissect it.

After digging through the pellet he determined that the animal eaten by the owl was most likely a mouse. These bones were quite a bit smaller than the bones in the other pellets he has dissected in the past. 

This is the first time we have ever found an owl pellet so if you would like to give it a try, you might consider purchasing one. Another benefit of purchasing a pellet is that they are usually heated to a very high temperature to help kill any bacteria that might be growing on them. I have given some ideas of where to purchase an owl pellet in my other owl pellet post

It is just so wonderful when nature provides a learning opportunity that get the child excited to learn. Here we are in the middle of summer break, he really needed some science fun. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Summer Reading

Summer break in our part of the country is about half over already. I have let T (8) take a break from school work because he (and I) really needed the break. The one thing that I have insisted that he continue with is his reading. T struggled with reading for about 2 years. He was an early reader in terms of phonics but the step between reading short phonetic books (early readers) and chapter books was about 2 years. Once he got it, there was no turning back. He loves reading now, although he still sometimes needs a push to get started on books that take more than 10 minutes to finish. I have been requiring him to read at least 30 minutes each day from his chapter books. I would like to share some of his favorites.

The Dragon Slayers' Academy by Kate McMullan

This is a 20 book series about a young boy who attends a school to become a dragon slayer. The boy is not a violent boy and ends up slaying dragons with jokes rather than a sword. My son loves this series. He is in the middle of the 12th book right now. Most of the books are about 10 chapters long and T will read 3-4 chapters in a 30 minute reading block. The series is recommended for kids who enjoy Harry Potter (but maybe aren't ready to read it themselves yet) and The Magic Treehouse series (my son didn't really enjoy this one but he did love Harry Potter).

Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel

You may know this one as a picture book. The first book in this collection is a picture book but there are also several chapter books that go along with it. Last year I read T one of the chapter books and I have to say, it is really funny, especially if you have a cat. These books are not as full of text as the previous series but there are lots of great pictures and the humor makes my son want to read these just for fun. Bad Kitty is even sponsoring some $1 summer movies in some areas, where you can meet "her".

The Secrets of Droon by Tony Abbott

This is a very large series of short chapter books. T has only read the first 4 books and I read that there are 40. This series reminds me of The Magic Treehouse books but it deals with fantasy themes rather than historical themes. Most seem to be around 100-150 pages which is a good size book for T to finish in 3-4 days.

The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling

Silly, funny book about a boy who is given the gift of turning anything his lips touch to chocolate. He then learns that too much of a good thing isn't a gift at all. Super cute, fun book that doesn't take long to read.

How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell

Who didn't read this book as a child? I loved this book when I was T's age (and so did my sister, who sent him this book as a birthday gift). There is something about eating worms that kids think is funny. Don't worry, I don't know a single kid who actually ate a worm after reading this book.

Read Alouds

I also have been continuing our read aloud time during the summer. The kids both really love being read to and I enjoy that special time together. B (2.5) is read several short toddler books throughout the day and at bed time so our main read aloud books are aimed at T (8)'s level. They both listen but he understands the story line and she mostly just enjoys hearing me read.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

We are reading The Chronicles of Narnia series in order of publication and have just finished The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. After each book we enjoy watching the movie together. There is some controversy over which order the books should be read. The books currently in print are numbered according to the timeline of events in the story. We chose to read them in order of publication because some of the books take place in an earlier chronological time but reference books that were published before them. For example, a main character Aslan is referenced in The Magician's Nephew (book 1 on numbered series), whereas his introduction is made in The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe (book 2 on numbered series). If you read them in publication order you can just consider that book a prequel when you read it. Either way, this is a wonderful series and the movies for the first three movies were pretty good too.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

We just started this book last week and the kids are loving it. It is about a mysterious club for gifted children. I will update more on this series (4 books) when we finish the first book.

What are your kids reading this summer?

If your child reads 8 books this summer they can earn a free book from Barnes & Noble. T choose a Bad Kitty book from their list of free books. Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program