Sunday, December 29, 2013

Bringing the Classroom Home - Hot Chocolate Bar

My daughter learned about Chocolate recently at school.  Who couldn't have a great time learning about and celebrating chocolate!! Makes me want to go back to preschool and do chocolate pudding fingerprinting and M&M color sorting and chocolate chip counting. I totally support all of those activities!

In the spirit of the holidays and because we had a cool-ish day, we decided to do our very own Hot Chocolate Bar! It was so much fun. We probably went a little over board for a mid-week activity, but it was great and totally worth it.

But before I get to the details, here is what she brought home:

Ok, now on to our part of the learning. The first thing we did was research what should be in our Hot Chocolate Bar (and discover that it was not a chocolate-bar, it was more like a salad bar but for a drink).

Then we planned our shopping trip and headed out! We had fun selecting special wafer cookies and marshmallows, but honestly we had most of the ingredients to make the cocoa. We made the cocoa in the slow cooker (original recipe here), toasted up some marshmallows (we will do this closer to the time we use them, they shriveled up by the time we were ready to enjoy our drinks) and laid out the rest of our toppings. Our toppings were:
  • marshmallows (regular and oven toasted)
  • chocolate dipped wafer cookies
  • cinnamon and cinnamon sticks
  • sprinkles
  • nutmeg
  • chocolate chips
  • candy canes
  • whipped topping

Finally, dinner was over and it was time to enjoy our Hot Chocolate Bar. I served up the cups of steaming hot cocoa and we each added in our own favorite toppings. Big Sister added a wafer cookie, candy cane and sprinkles and no whipped topping. My husband opted for a candy cane, chocolate chips and whipped topping. I chose cinnamon, toasted marshmallows and whipped topping. Wow! They all tasted delicious and it was a fun time to hang out and laugh as a family!

 Even Baby W got to try a little. He was not satisfied with a few sips! We only had one mishap. As we were adding in toppings, I saw my daughter crunching away on something and realized it was a cinnamon stick. She thought it was like the wafer cookie (it did look similar!). After she got out all the bits of bark from her teeth we were able to tell her how proud of her we were for trying something new. Next time, I'll review all of the toppings with her...although, I don't think this lesson will be one she'll need to repeat!

To make the celebration complete, we had gone to the library to get books about Hot Chocolate. Let me tell you, there aren't very many out there. My library had none. Well, it had one book about grandpas (called The Grandpa Book  by Todd Parr) and on like the third page it mentions hot chocolate. That's it. Then I spied The Polar Express! What a lucky find. Big Sister has not seen it and I knew that there was a great hot chocolate scene in there. So, we check it out and watched it :) The picture below is of her trying to smile while the movie is going on. She was very tuned into the movie and not so much the camera!

This was one of the most fun food activities we've done together. It was easy, delicious and full of language and learning opportunities. I highly recommend hosting a Hot Chocolate Bar with your family!

25 Books of Christmas - Ready for Next Year!

As we are cleaning up all of the Christmas decorations, Big Sister, a friend and I sorted our books into "loved it!" "liked it" and "toss it" groups (then I made sure we didn't "toss" any good ones!). I then made sure we have a good balance between Christ-based Christmas books and winter/random Christmas books.

I had a moment where I thought, what if I want to do an activity with one of these books before we open it next year?! So in addition to wrapping them I cataloged them and labeled the back with a little letter. Sounds complicated but it really only took a few seconds to jot down the title of the book as I wrapped it. I did letters instead of numbers because I was afraid that if I put a # on the back we would be inclined to open them in that order and I really want it to be random.

I did leave a few the seek and find Christmas book and a book that had a CD of children's Christmas music just to have available for car rides and other activities next year. And we are a few books short of 25. I know one will be a new Bible but that leaves me room to find some treasures throughout this next year!

So, there you have it...ready for next year! Now, all I have to do is put them in a vacuum sealed bag and get my husband to put them up in the attic. I have to be honest, it feels really good to have this done. And I know I'll appreciate it next year after Thanksgiving when it's time to think about this again.

In fact, being this organized makes me feel like...hmmm, what can I organize next?!

Do you ever feel inspired after completing one project? What are you planning on doing next? :)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

25 Books of Christmas Days 18-25

We have opened all of our 25 Books of Christmas! It was an interesting adventure. I think we will do it again next year since it gave us a simple holiday-ish thing to do each night. We did encounter some problems, like on nights when we were out late celebrating Christmas with one side of the family or after a performance. By the time we came home, we were exhausted. Then another problem was forgetting our wrapped books for when we went to my parents house for the week of Christmas. We had to wing it and use some of my mom's books. Mostly, it was a great experiment. I hope that this has encouraged you to give it a try. Oh! One of the things that I did to make this less expensive (buying 25 new books could have gotten very expensive), I went to some thrift stores throughout the year. July turned out to be the best time to buy Christmas books!

I would encourage you to try this with your family if you have any desire to do so!

Here are some pictures of how we finished up:

Book 18 - I love the pageant style of this story. I can almost imagine the little babes coming to life and acting out this story in front of us! The Christmas Story with Ruth J Morehead's Holly Babes is a favorite from my childhood!

Book 19 - I was excited when I found this one - Barney's Favorite Christmas Stories. There are 4 books in 1. Sounds great, huh? Well, the stories are only adequate. They were very Barney-like, so if your child is into Barney, this would be a good one. We didn't pick it back up again.

Book 20 - Wouldn't you figure that the day I put her last book (her new Bible) in the basket, that was the book she picked. She was totally not ok with the "Do not open until Christmas" tag on it. I think she was a little tired and it has been a very busy holiday season so I think she was in a highly emotional state. Hence the melt down. She finally grabbed a new gift and it was a winner! This story, The Twelve Dogs of Christmas, was written by 7 year old Emma Kragen and is very cute. Plus, it comes with a CD of kiddos singing the song.

Book 21 - Winnie the Pooh and the Christmas Tree was much shorter and simpler than I had hoped for. We love Winnie the Pooh and we felt this one was over "too fast!" It would be good for a young child.

Book 22 - It was a very special day for Big Sister. She got to go down to Nana's house for  a sleep over before we headed there the next day. We sent a book with her to open and my mom took pictures :) Apparently this book was "too hard" so they also read another book, too! I like that this book can be used in the car. The Best Christmas Hunt Ever is a hidden picture book. There are very crowded scenes with teeny tiny objects to search for. Good luck and have fun!

Book 23 - The Bear's Christmas by Stan and Jan Berenstain is a funny little story of a dad reminiscing about doing all sorts of winter sports and trying to teach his son to skate, ski and sled. It was not very Christmas-y except for the fact that the son gets all of the equipment as Christmas presents. But it was funny and introduced some good winter activities that we here in Central (and at the time we read this book South) Florida.

Book 24 - We read this one on Christmas Eve. It seemed very appropriate that it was a story that went through all of the parts of the Christmas Story. The Very First Christmas a Hallmark Pop-Up Story is a beautifully illustrated story with fun scenes that, well, pop-up. I remember reading this one as a child. It brought back warm memories for me that I am so excited to share with my children!

Book 25 - Yea! We finally made it to book 25. It's our new Bible! Each year we give Big Sister (and now Baby W) a new Bible that we read each night throughout the year. We have gone through some wonderful Bibles! I am excited about this one. It is Read and Learn Bible Stories from the Old and New Testaments. Each story is a few pages long with simple but clear pictures. I like that there are little bonus thoughts or facts sprinkled throughout the stories. I think that this will be a great Bible this year.

We saved some of the gift wrap from presents to get a head start for next year. I will also do some weeding out of the less impressive books.

Did you find any great new books this year? Or re-read a beloved favorite? I'd love to hear about it! Leave me a comment!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

25 Books of Christmas Days 11-17

The last few days have been crazy! We've had multiple programs, parties and work situations. Plus, company and getting ready for Christmas! I am sure it's been just like other people's holiday season. I have really enjoyed the 25 Books of Christmas because it causes us to stop focusing on the craziness and slow down to spend an extra few minutes together.

Here is a little of what we did recently:

Book 11 - Stories of Santa a Hallmark book. This was an interesting story. It has two familiar Santa songs. Unfortunately it starts with the sheet music so I sang the song with Big Sister. Then I turned the page and it goes through the story again. Kind of repetitive - not in a good way. Overall, I liked the songs written out in story form and illustrated. I'll know for next time so when we read it I'll be prepared!

Book 12 - We did a book and a movie tonight after doing a special Hot Chocolate Bar (more about that in a later post) on top of that I left early (my husband took these pictures - thanks, sweetie!) to celebrate a friends birthday. So, it may have been too much to read The Christmas Tree that Grew a Little Golden Book, which is longer-than-usual with lots and lots of words! From what I heard, Big Sister was twirling around on the couch by about the second page so they stopped reading.

Book 13 - This is a very cute book about Mickey Mouse and his friends getting lost after a plane ride and end up helping Santa with some last minute gift making. Santa's Helpers illustrated by The Alvin White Studio was fun story that we will enjoy for many years. We are partial to Mickey, though!!

Book 14 - These pictures were taken by my mom (thanks, Nana!) since she generously offered to watch our kiddos while my husband and I went Christmas gift shopping and for a date night. It was a great night. As for the book, she said things went smoothly. Actually, Big Sister insisted on opening a book. It's nice when a tradition is established and the family really wants to participate in it to the point where they "insist" on it! Clifford's Christmas Presents  published by Scholastic Inc is very interactive with multiple little flaps to open on each page.

Book 15 - We love Corduroy books and Corduroy's Christmas Surprise was no exception! It goes through Corduroy writing a wish list for Santa then revising it to ask Santa to give each of those gifts to his friends. On Christmas morning each of his friends get just what he had hoped for them and surprise! he gets some treasures too - even though he didn't ask Santa for anything for himself. My favorite thing about this story was the next day Big Sister showed me a note she had "written" and told me it was a letter for Santa. She described all of the things she asked for and her note was very similar to Corduroy's second in that it had gift ideas for everyone in our family. It was SO sweet!

Book 16 - Well, back on book 8, I indicated that that book was from her teacher last year. Imagine my surprise when I read a hand written note to my daughter from her teachers last year in the front cover of tonight's book! I guess my sentimental feelings towards that other book were misplaced! Ha! This book, All About Jesus illustrated by Ron Kauffman, starts with Jesus' birth but tells two more stories about Jesus. I like that it doesn't just focus on the baby Jesus but tells about Jesus' ministry to children and sinners. It's a good reminder about the real meaning of Jesus' birth.

Book 17 - Oh, we had so much fun tonight! After a good bout of tickle-monster with both kiddos we opened Let's Peek in Santa's Sack illustrated by Dora Leder. Each page has a little hole that gives you a peek as to what is on the next page. It's very cute and pretty simple.

I hope that as you do the 25 Books of Christmas, that you can enjoy slowing down and spending special time with your child, too!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

25 Books of Christmas - Days 5-10

I went to an ornament exchange the other day and quite a few moms mentioned that their family did this 25 Books of Christmas thing. I'm glad that we are doing it with our family. I hope that seeing what we do makes something like this seem easy and doable for your family.

One tip that I got was to use left over gift wrap to wrap the books for next year. I love this idea for more than one reason. First, I am very cheep frugal and the idea of reusing gift wrap is very appealing to my frugal side. Second, after Christmas things seem to slow down, if only just a little bit, where as the month before Christmas seems to be extra busy. I think it will be easier to just pull out a bag of pre-wrapped books on December 1st next year.

Here are some highlights from the last few days:

Book 5 & 6 - We were out really late on day 5 so we opened two this night. I don't think she could have picked two books that were more appropriate to go together. The first was the classic The Night Before Christmas. Ours was illustrated by Tom Newsom and is a shortened version of the original...but it was just long enough for us! The pictures are beautiful and the story lends itself to a great vocabulary lesson - St. Nicholas, nestled, clatter, miniature, soot, droll - great vocabulary!

That same night, totally coincidentally, she also opened The Night Before Christmas in Florida by Sue Carabine with Rochelle Lynn Hold. It was so perfect for us in so many ways! We have been traveling recently to Tallahassee to do some camping and have been talking about the cities in Florida. The story is all about Santa taking a quick vacation around the state and enjoying very Florida things like Epcot in Orlando, St. Augustine's Fountain of Youth and the gators in the Everglades. He ends up running late and borrowing the shuttle from the Cape to quickly complete all of his gift deliveries. I just did a quick search and it seems that there are many Night Before Christmas in whatever state you live in. I highly recommend finding one for wherever you live.

Book 7 - Big sister had not been feeling well today and slept through dinner and missed our book, but when you are sick, you need to sleep. Baby W picked out his own book and it turned out to be a great book for him. He liked poking the glitter on the pages of Sparkle Fun! Christmas Shapes illustrated by Dee Texidor. And if you look down a little farther, he enjoyed chewing on the book too!

Book 8 - Baby Jesus is Born is a sweet poem style book that talks about all of the highlights of Christ's birth. This book was given to us last year by her teacher and so it has sentimental value to us! I also appreciated the note to parents in the back of the book reminding parents to take the time to remind our Children why we really celebrate Christmas.

Book 9 - Bethlehem Night by Julie Stiegemeyer was beautiful in words and illustrations. It also tells the story of Christ's birth but has a slightly different way of telling it. I love the refrain "on that Bethlehem night so starry and bright" that is sprinkled throughout the story. On the very back page, past the end of the story, it has the bible verse: "the word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. John 1:14" How powerful is that! Thank you, God!

Book 10 - I love how this 25 Books of Christmas has turned from my children participating separately to them engaging in this together. I will say that Big Sister was a little disappointed to get another "baby book" but this one is so cute, she fell in love with it, too. The story of Santa, Christmas Jingles is simple, Santa wakes his napping reindeer with some jingling bells (and you get to shake the book to make it jingle, too). It was a little wordy for a baby book, but I just kept shaking it to keep Baby W interested. Next time, I'll modify the words a little. And shake it a lot!

Do you have any tips that have made the 25 Books of Christmas successful for your family?
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