DIY Activity Advent Calendar

A handmade advent calendar with kidsWhen the winter holidays come around, our family gets into a deep DIY groove. How about you? In that spirit, making an advent calendar is a great way to introduce children to the less commercial side of Christmas through hands-on making.


Although my kids adore their chocolate-filled advent calendar, each envelope in this activity advent calendar holds a description of a holiday activity inside such as:

  • make our own ornaments
  • go ice skating
  • sing carols

To keep my life simple, I only put things inside the calendar that are already on our agenda. No need to make the holidays more stressful than they already are, right?

For a full selection of ideas, scroll to the bottom of this post.

The Benefits of this Activity

I didn’t grow up with advent calendars, but my children adore them. This handmade calendar, made with the help of children, gives young people the opportunity to:

  • participate in a holiday tradition
  • exercise fine motor skills
  • generate enthusiasm for the festivities to come.

And if you celebrate Hanukkah, you could make something similar for the eight nights of Hanukkah. I know that I would have loved that when I was a kid!

How to make an advent calendar with kids

DIY Advent Calendar Supplies

Making twenty-four envelopes takes a bit of time, but nothing insurmountable. The steps, however, are beyond simple.

I have a daughter who is thrilled by holidays and had a hunch that she would enjoy making an activity-based advent calendar. When we were still going strong after an hour of folding and gluing, I silently patted myself on the back.

How to make an advent calendar with kids

How to make a Paper Advent Calendar

DIY Activity Advent Calendar

Step 1: Cut your paper  to the desired size and fold it in thirds. One side should overlap the other by about 1/2 inch.

Step 2: Fold the bottom up about 1/2 inch and crease the paper.

Step 3: Open everything up. Make two cuts (see photo).

Step 4: Fold the paper together and add glue to seal it up.

Step 5: Add some more glue and seal up the bottom.

Make 23 more, and you’re ready to go.

Step 6: Punch holes in the back of the envelopes, run string through them, and hang the calendar.

Decorate away! And don’t forget to add some numbers.

How this worked for us

This project is more crafty than our usual process-based happenings, but my little one was deeply engaged in the industry of selecting images and do-dads to glue onto the bags. The benefits that I witnessed were:  

  • developing fine motor skills
  • making aesthetic choices
  • practicing with a glue bottle
  • commitment to completing a fairly large project.

I also think she really enjoyed the camaraderie of working side-by-side with me, and I must admit that she’s pretty good company. Oh, and did I mention that she was invested in this for a solid hour? Seriously!!

DIY Activity Advent Calendar

Activity Advent Calendar Ideas

Our calendar is filled with holiday activities, written on pieces of paper, but you could certainly put small treats in each envelope if you’d like. Here are some ideas for activities:

If you make an activity calendar like we did, my best advice is to keep it simple. The holiday can be a stressful time, full of so many activities, parties, and travel.  I like to put things in the calendar that we’re already planning to do, so that this doesn’t add more work to an already busy time of year.

Go easy on yourself and don’t overcommit with this project!How to make an easy handmade advent calendar with kids.
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You Rock Valentines | Handmade, no-candy, eco-friendly, kids Valentines

Make this easy and fun “You Rock” Valentine’s Day card from your rock collection.

Today I’m joined by my childhood friend and communication strategist, Tenaya Wallace, who is sharing her eco-friendly pet rock Valentines, and her unique sense of humor. Welcome Tenaya!

U Rock Valentine's Day from Tenaya Hart

When my son was three I learned the importance of unique Valentines. Xan attended the most parent-involved co-op in the hippest hood in America (seriously, it was in Forbes) and we sent him to school with store-bought cards from the local CVS pharmacy. I think they were Sponge Bob-themed.

you rock valentine

What we received back, from every single kid, were hand-made Valentines, including a painted rock, that we still have. From that point on I made sure to never be outdone by these crafty moms of Silver Lake. But this year I ran out of ideas. My husband joked, “why don’t you paint rocks” and we laughed at the reminder of our store-bought ways.

The kids and I turned to Pinterest, searching “DIY no candy kids Valentines” (because candy is as passé as pre-fab cards). There were super-cute ideas but all involved little plastic toys and since I am 1) unemployed and don’t have spare change for plastic toys, 2) working under a tight deadline and don’t have time to order said toys and 3) a former environmental activist who should despise plastic toys, I decided to put in a search for “pet rocks.”

The results where mostly pictures of smooth round stones painted to look like sleeping cats, but there was one photo of a ragged little rock with googlie eyes glued on. The kids loved it. We were making pet rock Valentines rock googly eyes

My son collects rocks and keeps them in a box that doubles as an end table. He is possessive of his rocks, picked up on camping trips or walks around the block. But he saw wisdom in paring down his collection and actually got excited about using some of them for this year’s Valentines. Score for mom who has been trying to get rid of those rocks for years.

Make Pet Valentines with Rocks and Googly Eyes!

Step 1: Collect Rocks

We selected 38 rocks for Xan’s class (yes, 38…but that is another story) and 26 for my daughter’s. We washed them and set them in the sun to dry. The next day I took a quick trip to Jo-Ann’s Fabrics and spent $4 on googly eyes, which was more than I needed but I decided to get both the small eyes and the really small eyes just to get crazy.

When the kids got home from school I put out the rocks and eyes. They each selected rocks they liked and placed the eyes where they wanted them. I was shocked at how good they were at transforming little nuggets of nothing into personality-filled friends by just placing eyes in a certain place. This part of the process really let them be creative and made the project their own.

Step 2: Glue Down Googly Eyes

Glue Eyes to Rocks for Valentine's Day Cards: U Rock!

I glued the eyes on, because no mom needs to take their kid to urgent care for googlie eyes crazy-glued to fingers. The crazy glue worked like a charm on both porous and smooth rocks.

pet rocks

Because I am poor and lazy and a former environmentalist, I suggested to the kids that instead of putting the rocks on notecards, we could cut up cardboard boxes from the recycling bin. They loved the idea and thought I was a brilliant environmentalist, not poor or lazy in the least. My son even went out to our blue bin pull boxes and my daughter helped cut them up. They liked the idea of each card being different for each different rock. My only issue was that now some of the Silver Lake moms are going to know that my kids eat Honey Nut Cheerios and frozen pizza, but whatever.

Step 3: Attach to Cards

Valentine Cards with Rocks

Next I hot glued the rock to the cardboard. That way it will stay for now but can easily be pulled off later to keep as a pet forever. I did this step because again, no need for urgent care, but older kids who can be trusted with glue guns could totally do this on their own.

When I went to JoAnn’s I looked for stamp that said “You Rock” but they didn’t have one. I didn’t want to print “You Rock” on paper, because that started to defeat the eco-ness of the project and I didn’t want to argue with the kids about writing the cute catch-phrase 64 times. Once I glued the rock on the cardboard I realized they could just write “U” above it with the rock under. My daughter added an exclamation point with a heart on the bottom for added effect. Easy peasy.

Step 4: Write U *Rock*!

U Rock Valentine Card

So now we have 64 pet rocks and they are so fricking cute that I kind of want to keep them all. But we won’t. I will, however, be adding googly eyes and crazy glue to my camping kit so that whenever we are out in nature the kids can make some brand new eco-friendly friends. And I won’t be worried that my kids don’t have the coolest Valentines in town.

U Rock Valentine's Day Card

You Rock ValentinesEasy You Rock Valentine cards

More Valentine’s Day Ideas for Kids

30 Valentine Activities for Kids

Handmade Valentine’s Day Card: The Amazing All-in-one Envelope

Deconstructed Valentines for Toddlers

Self-serve Valentines Buffet

Heart Sewing Cards


Tenaya HartTo learn more about Tenaya, you can find her at Tenaya Speaks.

The Snowball Maker and other Amazing Gadgets for Winter Fun

I love this snowball maker! The amazing snowball maker and other gadgets for winter fun.

This weekend we went to the snow and had a great time building a snowman (snow person — what do you call it?), sledding, and drinking cocoa by the fire. We even got all geared up to ski, made it to the lodge for more cocoa, and were sent right back down the mountain because the winds made it too dangerous to safely leave the mountain later in the day. Thankfully my kids were zen with this, we still enjoyed an amazing view from the gondola (I shared this picture on Instagram – the view is stunning!), and sat around the fire where we played card games and made the best out of it.

While we were in the snow, which is a real novelty for us valley-based Californians, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of snow toys and snowball making inventions that you will love if you’re not already initiated.

First up: The Snowball Maker

Snowball Maker

So, you know how your mitten soaks through after making too many snowballs? And the problem with making snowballs that are too hard, and can whack someone in the head? This toy is a solution to these snowball follies!

They are such a great deal and a ridiculously fun toy, that I’m making this the featured maker supply. You can see the last featured supply here. You can easily find these in toy stores, shops like Walmart, hardware stores, and grocery stores in snowy places. And they also sell them on Amazon for around $5.

snowball maker invention

 

snowball maker

Snowman Kit

When it comes to snowmen, snowdogs, snowcats, and snowpeople, my kids like to forage for rocks and sticks, found objects, and pinecones to make it all come together. However, for a readymade snowman experience, there is a snowman kit that includes all the pieces you’ll need, including a hat you can stake down that won’t fly away.

Kid made snowman

Make a snowman kit

 

Snow Block Mold

Make your own igloos and forts with this easy to use snow block mold. If you have a few snowball makers (above), you might need a few of these to build forts and and protect yourselves during a snowball fight. All in good, wintery fun, of course.

Great for all seasons of snow and sand play: a Snow block mold, that can also be a sand block mold.

 

Snowfling

We saw people with these and thought they were using dog ball throwers, but it turns out that these are a snow product called Snowflings, and they’re designed to help kids (and grownups) throw snowballs far. This one gets great reviews and I like how the reviewers describe that it makes snowball fights more fair for those with worse aim trouble launching snowballs great distances. It seems these would be great for kid vs. grownup snowball fights.

Snowfling - amazing contraption for tossing snowballs

That’s all for now. Although it’s raining, pouring, dumping, I’m happy to be back home and look forward to our next snow adventure.

Until next time, Rachelle

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Caramel Chocolate Pecan Turtle Recipe

This Caramel Chocolate Pecan Turtle Recipe is so simple that children can help make it (mine did) and it’s absolutely delicious.

Kid-friendly and a crowd-pleaser!

Caramel Chocolate Rolo Turtle Recipe

Caramel Chocolate Pecan Turtle Recipe

These Pecan Chocolate Turtles are beyond easy to make and I was able to make it WITH my kids. So much fun, and everyone thought they were delicious.

When I first made these, my one year old exercised fine motor skills by unwrapping the candies, while my 3 year old placed them on the pretzels. It was assembly-line cooking at its finest!

These delicious candies won’t disappoint you, I promise!

Ingredients

  • Mini Pretzels
  • Chocolate-covered caramel candy such as Rolos
  • Candied Pecan Halves (or regular pecan halves)

NOTES

If you don’t have candied pecans, try substituting M + M’s, cashews, salted pecans, etc.

*Inspired by this recipe

These are crazy good and so easy to make. Everyone loves them. Caramel Chocolate Rolo Turtle Recipe | TinkerLab

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 300 F

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper

Arrange pretzels on the sheet

Place a caramel chocolates on top of each pretzel

Bake for 4 minutes

Remove from the oven and gently press a pecan half on top of the warm chocolate

Cool and enjoy. To expedite cooling, you can put these in the fridge for a short time.

If you’re gifting these, package in waxed paper or cellophane.

Pretzel Turtles are so easy to make! They could be used for Christmas gifts and wrapped in wax paper or cellophane.!

Chocolate Pecan Turtle Recipe

When ours finally cooled I wrapped them up in wax paper and sealed them with a sticker.

diy gifts with kids

Valentine Activity for Preschoolers | Heart Hopscotch

Valentines Day Activity for Preschoolers | Heart Hopscotch | TinkerLab.com

My littlest one is four years old, and we hang out A LOT! The sidekick and I do a lot of crafts, cooking, and activities to fill our days, and this project came out of a sudden burst of gorgeous weather, mixed with thoughts about Valentine’s Day.

After one too many chilly days, it was so nice to jump around outside. Check out those flip flops! It truly wasn’t warm enough for the clothes she has on, but the girl has no fear of coldness. If you happen to live somewhere with just an ounce of snowless weather this winter, heart hopscotch may be just the Valentine’s Day activity for you.

Why this Valentines Day Activity for preschoolers?: It’s beyond simple to set up and it encourages little ones to burn some energy.

Valentines Day Activity for Preschoolers | Heart Hopscotch | TinkerLab.com

Grab some chalk. We keep ours in a Bonne Maman jam jar (affiliate). Not only is the jam delicious, but these charming, wide mouth jars are spectacular for storing craft supplies.

Valentines Day Activity | Heart Hopscotch | TinkerLab.com

Draw your hopscotch.

Valentines Activities | Heart Hopscotch | TinkerLab.com

Jump away!

Easy peasy, right?

Favorite Valentine Crafts for Kids

Valentine’s Day, oh how I love you! This holiday is so cheerful and gives my family an excuse to craft with loads of red and pinks, which I find to be such uplifting colors. I selected 8 of my favorite Valentine Crafts for Kids of all ages. Stay tuned and bookmark this page because I have plenty of new Valentine crafts coming up soon.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine Crafts for Kids

Folding, Gluing, and Baking…

8 Easy Valentine Crafts for Kids | TinkerLab.com

Valentines Day Cards: The Amazing All-in-one Envelope – This is a card and envelope, all made from one sheet of paper…in the shape of a heart. My kids love these!

Deconstructed Valentines Day Cards for Toddlers – Small children won’t get as excited about a ready-made card as they will about cutting colorful paper into tiny pieces and glueing the pieces to doilies. Try it — it’s so easy and age appropriate!

Easy Valentine Bookmarks – If you’re making gifts for a large group of friends, these simple bookmarks are kid-friendly and oh-so-cute.

Mini Heart Pies – Baking and crafting go together, and every crafting session needs a snack. These mini heart pies are easy to make and a great way to include kids in the kitchen.

Valentine Crafts for Kids

Stamping, Cutting, and Sewing…

8 Valentine Crafts for Kids | TinkerLab.com

Cardboard Roll Heart Stamp – So simple! All you need are cardboard rolls, paint, and some paper.

How to Cut a Heart out of Paper – This simple tutorial is for kids who are just learning how to cut out a heart.

Set up a Self-serve Valentines Day Cards Station – There is nothing quite like sitting down to a smorgasbord of supplies and then coming up with your own designs. This is easy to set up, and kids love it!

Valentine Sewing Cards for Preschoolers – For kids new to sewing, poke holes in chipboard or card stock and sew your own cards with embroidery floss.

8 Valentine Crafts for Kids | TinkerLab

For more Valentine’s Day ideas, you might also enjoy 30 Valentine Activities for Kids.

Easy Handmade Gifts | Cookie Dough Jars

Easy Holiday Gifts (that kids can help assemble) | Cookie Jars | TinkerLab

Easy Handmade Gifts, made by Kids

Could you use an idea for easy handmade gifts that kids can help with?

I’ve been thinking of different ways that my kids can get involved in gift-giving. They’re four and six, so it had to be something they could both help execute AND get excited about. Oh, and if the gift happened to look good, well, that would be nice too.

Well, friends, this easy cookie-dough-in-a-jar is just the project, and I would wholly encourage you to give it a try if you’re also looking for an easy gift to get the kids involved in.

Bonus: we have tested these cookies twice, and they are truly divine. They bake like chocolate chip cookies, with the added subtlety of oats, tart cherries, and walnuts. Feel free to leave the nuts out for nut-free cookies.

Handmade Holiday Cookie Jars | TinkerLab

Inspiration for this project came from Kids in the Holiday Kitchen (affiliate link), from Chronicle Books. My mother-in-law gave us this book a couple years ago, and it comes out every year for holiday cooking. The book is full of so many great ideas for cooking and crafting with kids in the kitchen. If you can grab a copy before (or after) the holidays, it will be worth your while.

If you click on the link you can peek inside. But I digress, for today I’m sharing how to make these rad cookie jars that are 100% kid-friendly.

Handmade Holiday Cookie Jars | TinkerLab

Start by cleaning and drying your jars.  The jars you’ll need for this are quart-sized mason jars and you can find them on Amazon: here (affiliate). I was surprised that the girls were so enthusiastic about this step. I found some little washcloths for them to dry the lids while I dried the jars.

Easy Handmade Handmade Holiday Gift } Cookie Jars | TinkerLab

Then we filled them. This was our favorite part. I filled a big bowl with each ingredient, one at a time, and then scooped out the appropriate amount for them to transfer into the jars.

Because we were making large quantities, I was able to find most of the ingredients at Costco. They carry tart cherries, organic sugar, and large sacks of flour. I was surprised that they didn’t carry brown sugar when we were there, but that’s easy enough to find elsewhere.

What goes in each jar

Recipe for Oat Walnut Chocolate Chip Cherry Cookies. For nut-free cookies, leave the walnuts out. You could replace the walnuts with another favorite such as pecans or almonds, and of course, the cherries could be replaced with raisins. Get creative!

Layer the following ingredients in the jar, in the listed order:

1/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar (tap the brown sugar down before you add the next ingredient)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup dried tart cherries

1/2 cup rolled oats (not instant)

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Easy Holiday Gifts | Cookie Jars | TinkerLab

Once the jar is packed, you could cut a circle of fabric out as we did, and seal your jar ring around it. Add a tag with the following information:

Oat Walnut Chocolate Chip Cherry Cookies

Makes 24 cookies

Pre-heat oven to 375 F

Beat 6 tablespoons of soft or melted butter, 1 egg, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

Add all of the jar ingredients to the bowl and mix until well blended.

Drop in round spoonfuls onto cookie sheet.

Bake for 7-10 minutes (We like our underdone. If you do too, err on the shorter side).

Easy Holiday Gifts | Cookie Jars | TinkerLab

One more thing: Because it’s always a good idea to test a recipe before you gift it to a billion people, and, well, these are wicked good, make a batch for yourself first like we did. Yum yum.

Easy Holiday Gifts | Cookie Jars | TinkerLab

More Handmade Gift Ideas

Handmade cards that kids can make.

Handmade Valentine Cards with heart-shaped envelope

Last-minute DIY gifts to make with kids

Valentine Crafts for Kids: Salt Dough Magnets

Are you looking for Valentine Crafts for Kids? This project takes a bit of time since there are a few steps involved, but the results are treasures that will last a lifetime.

Valentine Crafts for Kids: Salt Dough Magnets

Salt Dough Recipe

We used this same recipe from our salt dough Christmas ornaments

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • up to 1 cup water

Mix the water and flour together. Slowly add the water and mix until the dough comes together. If you add too much water the dough will be too sticky to work with. If that happens, simply add equal amounts of flour and salt to get a workable consistency.

  1. Flour your work surface
  2. Roll out the dough to 1/4″ thick
  3. Cut shapes with your favorite cookie cutter/s
  4. Place the dough on a baking sheet and cook at 200 degrees F for 2-3 hours. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we baked ours at 350 F for about 40 minutes, which is why some of them turned out puffy and brown. They’re still fine, however, and I’d recommend this route if you’re also short on time. Just keep an eye on the dough and make sure it doesn’t burn.
  5. Cool the pieces. They’re ready to paint!

Salt Dough Magnets: A Valentine Gift Made by Kids

Painting Supplies

  • Acrylic paint. This is a relatively inexpensive set that’s great for this project.
  • Paintbrushes. I haven’t tried this set, but it looks great!
  • Paper plate or other paint palette
  • Water bowl
  • Rag to absorb water from brushes
  • Table covering
  • Painting clothes (acrylic paints will stain clothes)
  • Paint markers, optional. We like Elmers Paint Pens and Sharpie Water-based Paint Pens

Valentine Crafts for Kids: Salt Dough Magnets

Paint the salt dough with acrylic paint. Have a covered area nearby where these pieces can dry. Acrylic paint dries quickly!

Valentine Crafts for Kids: Salt Dough Magnets

When these were dry, we added a layer with paint markers to some of the pieces. My 3-year old loved this step.

Valentine Crafts for Kids: Salt Dough Magnets

Magnet Supplies

This step is for grown-ups:

Once the paint is dry, turn the salt dough pieces over. Add a small dollop of glue. Goop makes a good product made by Goop called Craft Arte. It’s smelly and best used outside or in a well-ventilated space.

Valentine Crafts for Kids: Salt Dough Magnets

Add the magnet to the glue and allow the glue to dry.

Be careful with these magnets. They are powerful and not for use by children.

Valentine Crafts for Kids: Salt Dough Magnets

Valentine Crafts for Kids: Gifts for Family and Friends

When the glue is dry, your magnets are ready to gift to family and friends or to save favorite mementos to your fridge.

Valentine Crafts for Kids: Salt Dough Magnets

We made these for Valentine’s Day, but with a different shaped cookie cutter, you could make these magnet gifts for Christmas, Mother’s Day, or a Birthday.