Canada Day Round Up

June 30, 2011

Hello all of my South of the border friends!  (I'm not talking about Mexico, but hello to you too if you are reading.)  Up North here in Canada we are celebrating our country too.  Canada Day is tomorrow (July 1st), so I thought I'd share a few Canada Day inspired images.  If you'd like to know a bit more about Canada, click here or here.  As far as celebrating the holiday goes, we Canadians indulge in a fair bit of picnicking, firework watching and flag waving ourselves.  Usually when looking for patriotic crafts, recipes, sewing projects, etc. as a Canadian I have to take an American look, omit the blue, and exchange stars for maple leafs.  While the pure Canada Day selection is a bit more limited, it does exist.  I hope you are inspired by something to make for tomorrow's celebrations or maybe to store away for next year.  Oh yeah, and of course feel free to add some blue and stars to make these ideas fit for the July 4th holiday!

For the table: These strawberry cheesecake bites by Ohsheglows look delicious.  The recipe includes a yummy gingerbread cookie crust. 
I love the simplicity of the red and white cupcakes on a chocolate base by Canadian Living.  I think you could get the same effect without maple leaf shaped sprinkles. 
This flag cake by Kraft Canada is a classic.  If you click on the link it even gives you a video of how to make the cake.  I think I would just make a white cake and top with icing and strawberries instead of the jello/cake base. 
Polka Dot Print Studio gives a bunch of printable dessert labels and some great red and white treat ideas too.

Image sources: subway art, handprint flag, maple leaf garland, red and white bunting

For the house: Bloggin' with Bobbi has some free printable subway art, Canada style.
This handprint flag via Dad Super Cool looks like an easy and cute kid craft.
I love the simplicity of this maple leaf garland from GFetti's etsy shoppe. 
My favourite "Canadian decor" is Viastyle's red and white bunting.  Subtle, but still patriotic.

What else have you seen out there for the Canada Day set?

Whatever country you are celebrating this weekend, I hope the weekend is a good one!

Paper Rockets Tutorial

June 28, 2011

During preschool this year, we had a wildly successful Space themed week at my house.  One of the two crafts I did with the kids, was to make a paper rocket.  I found the idea on a preschool website, but I can't remember where.  This is the simplest project, and the kids loved it!  I repeated it again a few days later with some friends (ages 6, 4, and 2), and it was also a big hit.

Since we are approaching all of our big national holidays (both the 4th of July Independence Day, and Canada Day on July 1st), I thought it would be fitting to share this fun and simple craft.  I don't know about you, but I'm not quite ready to unleash my kids on real fireworks.  Paper Rockets seem a bit safer for my fire-loving 3 year old.

If you are getting together with friends (and their kids) for the holidays, this would be a great little something to keep them busy (and still safe), while you have some adult time.  If you have older kids helping, it would require almost no adult supervision, maybe just with the taping.

Paper Rockets Tutorial

What you need:

  • White computer paper (one piece will make 4 rockets)
  • Crayons
  • Stickers (optional)
  • Clear tape
  • Plastic straws
Step 1: Prep

Cut the computer paper into 4 long strips.  I used my trusty paper cutter, and folded my paper in half lengthwise twice to mark where to cut.  It doesn't need to be exact, but if you are having competitions later on, you'll want to keep them the same size to keep things fair :)

Step 2: Decorate

My preschool kids decorated their rockets with crayons and then with tons of the tiny foil star stickers that come in sheets from office supply stores.  These are cheap and I like to keep them on hand for craft projects like this one.  Only one side needs to be decorated, but if they are having fun, but all means encourage them to colour away.

Step 3: Make the Rocket

If your kids are little (two or three), they will probably need help with this whole step. Older kids might just need a little direction.

These are really simple, but my only tip to make an awesome high flying rocket, is to make sure that the pointed end is completely sealed with tape.  This is crucial if your kids tend to spit when they blow through a straw.  As soon as the pointed end is wet and torn, the rocket won't fly.  Making sure it is covered with tape with help create a good air tight seal.
Step 4: Play!

Once all the rockets are made, stick a plastic straw into the hole, hold onto just the straw, and blow!  Your rocket should launch right off the end.

After all the kids figured out how to launch their rockets, we had fun lining them up and seeing who could launch theirs the farthest.

The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie

June 23, 2011

The other day I was at my friend's house, and she served the most amazing chocolate chip cookies ever.  Seriously.  I am a bit of a cookie fanatic, but these cookies are the best.  Which is why the name "Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies" is so fitting.  There are two secrets to these cookies: #1 make the balls really big (golf ball sized), and #2 freeze the balls first, and then bake the cookies from the frozen state.  The result is amazing cookies!

Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies
recipe source: My awesome friend Adriel

3 ½ cups flour
1 ¼ tsp. baking soda
1 ¼ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

1 ¼ cups butter
1 ½ cups packed light-brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 ½ tsp. vanilla

1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips


  1. Mix together dry ingredients.  Set aside.
  2. Beat sugar and butter, then add eggs and vanilla. 
  3. Mix in dry ingredients into mixture just until incorporated. 
  4. Fold in chocolate chips. 
  5. Form cookies into large balls (the size of golf balls) and freeze on a cookie sheet for at least 1 hour.
  6. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Wash the cookies down with a large glass of milk, and enjoy!

Wool Diaper Covers (Soakers)

June 21, 2011

 I promised to share with you how I make my wool diaper covers from recycled wool sweaters.  Combined with a prefold cloth diaper and snappi, this is my favourite system for keeping my baby comfortable and still keeping my money in the bank.  

And did I mention it's cute?  My son often goes out in just a t-shirt and his little wool shorts and always looks adorable.

Don't you love the droplet of drool dripping past his belly button?
When I'm out doing my rounds of the thrift stores, I often check out the sweaters.  I look for 100% wool (or cashmere is the real score) sweaters that are soft against my face.  I have a few different projects that I like to make with wool sweaters; including mittens, hats, pants, and diaper covers.  All of these projects require you to felt the wool first.  This means that if I can find a wool sweater that has already been felted (read, shrunken so it is boxy and will no longer fit a human), it will save me some time.

Some sweaters felt better than others, and it's hard to know until after you run them through a hot wash and dry how they are going to work out.  I like to felt my wool just enough so that it thickens up and won't easily fray, but still has a little stretch. This is especially important for making wool soakers (and pants), since you will be pulling them on over top of a diaper.  I have had good success with the H&M brand of wool sweaters (like the heathered grey that I used today).  For whatever reason, these are really soft, and keep their stretch even after felting.

I typically buy my sweaters at the Salvation Army on half-price Wednesday, so I usually only pay about $2 or $3 per sweater.  You can easily make one soaker from one sweater (with the arms leftover for pants), so it's a great bargain.   I use the free pattern (with some modifications that I will share with you) over at Katrina's Quick Sew Soaker Pattern.  The one I like is labeled "newer soaker pattern". This really is a great pattern, and you can't beat free!

Once you have felted your sweater, cut off the bottom band with the ribbed edge.  This is going to form the waist band of your soaker, and you will want this piece to be about 3.5" wide for a large or medium (if you are making small or extra small I would still recommend 2.5-3" wide).  I stick with the pattern recommendation for the length of the strip.   

Next, cut out the rest of your main pattern pieces (front, back, extra wet layer - which didn't make it into the picture).  If your wool feels kind of thin, instead of cutting out the extra wet layer, do two sets of front and back pieces.  This will make sure your cover is thick enough to keep all the moisture inside where it belongs.
For the leg bands I chose to use a contrasting wool (and again on the waist band) just for looks, and I would also recommend cutting this much wider than the pattern suggests.  The pattern calls for a rectangle measuring 9.5"x2.5" for a medium, but I recommend adding about an inch to the width on all the sizes.  Another important note, remember to cut your leg band pieces so that the stretch of the knit wool goes from side to side, and not up and down.  The same goes for your other pattern pieces.  You want to be able to get this on your wiggly baby, and if you cut the pieces the wrong direction, it will be trickier. 

At this point, I follow the pattern instructions pretty faithfully.  Sew together the front and back piece at the crotch, and then to the inside sew on the extra layer.  Since we are sewing a knit here, be sure and use a stretch friendly stitch.  If you have a serger, you can use it for all the sewing except for attaching the extra layer.  For this step, use a zig-zag stitch.  Next, sew up the sides.  I don't have a serger, so I like to use the overlook stitch for stretch fabrics on my regular sewing machine.  If you don't have one, use a zig-zag.  It might not be quite as pretty, but remember this is just going on your kid's bum.

Last, you need to attach the leg and waist bands.  For the leg bands, sew the short sides together, and then fold it in half hiding the seam on the inside.  Depending on how stretchy your wool is, you might need to trim a little bit of length off of your piece.  Err on the side of making leg openings that are too roomy, since this is a much better problem than making them too small (speaking from experience).  If you're not sure, try the band on your baby's thighs before you sew them to the soaker.

For the waist band, I sewed up the side, but then I don't fold it in half.  Since we are using the already finished bottom edge of the sweater, we aren't worried about fraying.  The other reason I like to do this, and why I like the waist band to be quite tall, is that this makes the top edge of the soaker less bulky under clothing.  And if you have boys, like I do, you want to be sure and keep the top edge of your diaper completely covered with the wool.  I have purchased covers in the past that have a trim fit in the front, and I have had problems with leaks at the top. Unless you are diapering an infant with an umbililcal cord stump, I think it's best to steer clear of low cut diapers, and especially covers.

Here is the finished cover.  I bought the size tags here for 10 cents a piece, but I have seen them in several other places as well.  You could also make some simple handmade tags with a letter stamp, some permanent ink, and a piece of ribbon or twill tape.  I have a decent collection of handmade diaper items, and I find it essential to know what size each item is.  Labeling is a must for me.

If you haven't sewn much with knits and you are feeling nervous about having perfectly smooth seams, don't be afraid.  Mine always come out a bit wavy when I use my overlocking stitch despite all my best efforts.  The good news is you can't tell from the outside.  This is not the case from the inside, as you can see.

And any imperfections will be tricky to spot once you get your cute little model into them.

After you are finished, all you need to do is lanolize your cover and it will be naturally waterproof.

Have any of you had any experience making diaper covers for your kids?  Or do you just think I'm  a crazy person for even suggesting it?  I know I told you already how much I love using cloth, but it really is awesome.  Especially when I'm making the covers for only a few dollars (and an hour or so of my time) and they are really fabulous.  Happy cloth diapering everyone!

A "Berry" Easy Thank-you Gift

June 16, 2011

In preparing for our upcoming cross-country move, one of the items on my to-do list was to make some kind of thank-you card or gift.  I wanted something simple and easy, but I also wanted to make the thank-you a nice way for our friends to remember us. 

Inspiration hit when my husband dug up some strawberry plants to give to a neighbor. 

We have a lot of strawberry plants growing in the front flower bed.
We pulled up some of the plants and potted them in various containers (random pots, yogurt containers, etc.).  Then I made a bunch of little signs that say We'll miss you "berry" much!, and had my little helper (my 3 1/2 year old daughter) stick one in each pot.

I have been giving these little plants away as thank-you and good-bye gifts to our friends here in Toronto. 

I am hoping that our friends keep the strawberry plants, and then have a nice little reminder of me and my family once we've gone.  You could adapt the sign easily to fit a different situation.  For example:  Thank-you "berry" much!  or  I love you "berry" much!

The You and I Book

June 9, 2011

This Father's Week post is recycled from a project I did as an elementary school teacher in 2007.  It was still a good idea, so I thought it was worth posting.

I originally came up with and made "The You and I" Father's Day book for the grade one art class I taught when I was pregnant with my daughter.  I made the one pictured for my husband on his "first" Father's Day ever.

It's a sweet little handmade book that overviews how a father and child are different, but most importantly alike they are because they both love each other.

In making this project, I provided my students with blank paper, a title to use and a bunch of starter sentences.  Of course each book had to end with "You love me.  I love you!"

Some example starters include:

You have...   I have...
You like...     I like...
You wear...   I wear...
You go...       I go...
You never...   I never...
You can...      I can...

I was really impressed with what my six and seven year old students came up with.  The pictures they added were adorable too.  This is when I wish I would have taken pictures of those projects!  I think this book could be adapted to any age level, adding more or less detail or complexity.

I hope you'll forgive the quality of my artwork.  I am a teacher, not an artist!
To finish the book, I laminated the title pages, added two hole puches on each page, and tied them together with yarn.

Paper and Felt Tangrams

June 7, 2011

I don't know about you, but I always have a really hard time thinking of something I can make for the men in my life for Father's Day.  In general I think I'm a bad and inconsistent gift giver, but it's even worse when it comes to making something for my dad or husband.  I finally came up with a good idea this year - I decided to make a toy for my husband that he can use with our kids.  And this is what I came up with:

For Christmas, my older son got a great magnetic tangram toy.  He really likes puzzles, and these have provided hours of entertainment.  I thought it would be nice to make another set that is a little more portable - something I can bring with us when to church. 

A few months ago I saw an awesome tutorial on Elsie Marley, for making a tangram set from Balsa craft wood.  I love toys made with wood, but I wanted to make my set with the materials I have at home.  I also thought it might be nice to back it with felt, to help the pieces from sliding around when we are playing with them (especially helpful for sticking on the back of the pews at church).

I traced my set to make a pattern, but you can find an image for cutting out the correct shapes here.  I started with a set drawn on chip board, and glued patterned cardstock to the back.  I let my older son choose the paper, and this is what he decided on.  After my glue dried, I cut through both layers with a straight edge, xacto knife, and cutting mat. 

After I had all my pieces, I painted mod podge over the top and edges.

When this dried I glued all my pieces to a sheet of felt.  After this was mostly dry (I'm an impatient person), I cut everything out for the last time.

The internet is full of puzzles to solve, and even some sheets that you can print off for reference.  Or just play around and see what you can come up with yourself.

Since my baby was still napping, I made a quick bag to store everything in (my son choose the fabric also).  This is a super basic drawstring bag with jersey ties.  The construction is really similar to the Hobo Sack from Made, but I didn't bother with boxing the bottom corners.

I am trying to remember to stick my tag in things that I make.  Sometimes I feel a little silly doing it, but I like the way it finishes a project off, and it's nice to have a way to identify my work.
I know my son and husband will have a good time playing with the puzzle set, and I have been brainstorming about other toys I can make for them to use together.  Any suggestions?

Preschool At Home: Part Two

June 2, 2011

Carlee has already written about setting up a preschool cooperative at home.  You can find her great advice here.  Today, I'm going to tell you about my experiences with the preschool cooperative, and what exactly a typical day looked like for us.

My Experiences

As Carlee already mentioned earlier, she and I both participated in home preschool as kids.  And, as she also eluded to, my husband and I were in the same preschool as kids.  Yep, love at first sight.  Or, we had to know each other for a REALLY long time before we figured out that we could love each other.  But love at first sight sounds a bit more romantic.
Me and my husband attended a home preschool together.  I'm in the front with the bad haircut and blue/white coat.  My husband is in the back with the blue coat and hood on.
In September 2010, I decided to start my own home preschool group for my daughter.  In my group there were three kids: my daughter was just three, and the other kids were two-and-a-half years old.  My group was smaller for two reasons: first, each mother had or were about to have a newborn baby, and second, our access to like-minded stay-at-home mothers was a lot more limited than Carlee's was.  We still managed to make it work, and all three kids loved it (plus the mothers really enjoyed the time off each week).  We met on Wednesday mornings from 9:30 - 11:30, and hosted every third week.

Daily Schedule

Our preschool group was pretty relaxed.  Or, as my friend said quite eloquently, "it was pretty much a glorified playdate."  And you know what?  That's okay, because kids learn best through play.  Kids also thrive on routine and predictability, so my friends and I tried to set up our preschool so it was pretty similar from week to week.  In designing our preschool routine, we looked at the Joy School website (especially the guidelines and get acquainted documents).  We also used a daily schedule that Carlee shared with me.  I think we modified it a bit to suit our needs.  We had a preschool bag that went from house to house.  This bag contained our puppet (which was used during circle time), and some red velvet squares which the kids sat on during the circle and story times.
My friend hosting a preschool about buttons.  Here you can see our puppet  and one of the red velvet squares that the children would sit on.  Photo by Adriel Driver.
Here is our daily schedule.  I'll explain each section in further detail and also give some more suggestions for resources and classroom management.  I don't give times for each activity because it really depends on the kids.  Some days the kids were really into the puzzles or sponges and water or whatever was the first activity, so we would spend 20 minutes doing it.  Other times, they were done in 1 minute.  If all else failed in my lesson, I knew that I could rely on some good free play at the end.
Preschool Schedule

Gathering Activity

Circle Time
  • Hello Song
  • Weather
  • Day of the Week
  • Month
  • Season
  • Story/Introduce Theme
Singing Time
Story Time

Freeplay Time
Home Time

Gathering Activity

This is what you do while you wait for everyone to arrive at preschool.  It may or may not be related to the theme of the day.  Some activity ideas include: colouring, puzzles, sponges and water, a simple craft project, matching games, or playdough.

These children are matching colors and patterns for their gathering activity.  Photo by Marjorie Lemire.

Circle Time

Most likely, your preschoolers will be most attentive at the beginning of preschool.  So, your circle time is where most of the teaching gets done. 

We started out with a welcome song (I always sang "The Good Morning Train," saying hello to each child including our puppet).  Choose a song that both you and the kids are familiar with.

After that we did calendar type activities, talking about the weather, the day of the week, the month and the season.  I liked to sing the song "Days of the Week."

At the end of circle time I introduced the theme for the day.  You can introduce the theme in a number of different ways: a story, a game, an object, a picture, a song...  One idea that I used a lot was to put objects inside socks and have the children feel to guess what was inside, and then guess what the theme for the day was.  For example, when the lesson was about babies, I put a soother (pacifier), a bottle, a rattle, a diaper, and a baby spoon inside of socks.  I also liked to play matching games.  When we talked about houses and homes, the kids each had two pictures of different animals, and then I held up pictures of animal homes asking who had the match.

The children are playing a shape matching game during circle time.  Photo by Marjorie Lemire.

Singing Time

If you search on the Internet, you'll find a zillion songs corresponding to every preschool theme imaginable.  For each preschool day, I liked to introduce a few new theme-related songs and then sing a bunch of favorites.  It's good to have lots of movement songs such as head and shoulders and sleeping bunnies so the kids aren't tired of sitting still.  I also found it helpful to give the kids a rhythm object such as a shaker, or jingle bells so they could "play an instrument" while we sang.


Your art time is the other part of preschool where you can really stress the theme.  When I had the kids sitting at the table for art time, I would repeat over and over "we're painting with sponges today because preschool is about sponges."  The Internet of course is a great source for craft ideas.  I would usually google "preschool craft apples" or whatever the theme was for the week.  Some specific websites that I like are The Artful Parent, The Crafty Crow, and Everything Preschool. 

My daughter coloring her body in preschool.  Photo by Marjorie Lemire.
Snack Time

I think without exception, snack time was the highlight of preschool.  We chose to have a prayer at the beginning of snack time, usually offered by the host child.  Two of the families in my preschool were LDS, another was Anglican, so this was appropriate for us.  Snack was usually fruit, and then cheese, crackers, goldfish, etc.  One of my friends was really good at having themed snacks (eg. "leaf toast"- pita bread cut in the shape of a leaf), but I didn't usually have my act together enough for that.

Story Time

After the kids were finished their snacks, they put their dishes away, washed their hands, and then found a book to read.  I would lay out books on the carpet for the kids to choose from.  I usually had picked up a few library books related to the theme, and would also include some of our own story books as choices.  When I was finished cleaning up snack, I would read a story out loud to the kids.

The children during silent reading time.

Kids need to run around!  For the large movement or game time, I usually just put on music and let the kids dance!  My friend who lives in an apartment building (with understanding neighbors) would have the kids run around in the hallway.  You could also do hide-and-seek, somersaults, or go outside and play games like tag or throwing balls.  I think the idea here is to tire the kids out.

Free Play

Kids also like to just play.  Sometimes for freeplay time I would set out specific toys (eg. little people when preschool was about community workers).  Other times I would just let the kids loose in my house.  My daughter had a pretty difficult time sharing her toys during the preschool freeplay time.  To solve this problem, we would talk about sharing before preschool had started, and also hide a few toys that she thought she would have a hard time sharing.  When it was nice outside, I just liked to let the kids play in my yard until their parents picked them up.

Final Suggestions

Don't forget about field trips!  We had fun going on tours of both the fire station and the local grocery store with my preschool group this year.  Some other field trip ideas include: the pet store, a farm, city hall, the police station, a bakery, a park, or the beach.

Although my daughter was too nervous to ask questions, or check out the fire truck she loved the field trip to the fire station.  I loved the fact that there was a lady firefighter!
During preschool, my ultimate goal was for the kids to have fun.  We did had a few "rules," however, which I think are common to most households. 
  • We clean up after ourselves.
  • We are kind to our friends.  (In other words, don't hit, bite, yell, etc.)
  • We are kind to our things.  (In other words don't throw toys, break crayons, etc.)
Aside from these few rules, I like to let the kids make their own choices.  If they didn't feel like listening to the story or participating in the craft, it was okay.  I tried my best to engage and distract the children, and mostly it worked out, but sometimes it didn't.

So, after reading all of that, are you inspired?  Do you think you can do preschool at home?  I have two final resources to share with you.  I ordered the book Easy Daily Plans: 250 Plans for Preschool Teachers by Sue Fleishman online.  This book is awesome!  It contains simple lesson plans and has a lot great ideas for math, art, literacy and music extensions.  Still don't think you can do it?  A friend shared with me a link to The Learning Box Preschool.  You can order your preschool lesson plans and all of your craft supplies online.  Everything comes ready to go each month.  This is a lot cheaper than paying for preschool, but not as much work as doing everything yourself.

I hope you've found something useful in this post.  Please share with us what resources you've used for preschool in the past, or any advice you have for a smooth home preschool experience.

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