Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Winter Break Survival Kit

Chanukah has come and gone and S's preschool is officially on winter break. This morning he asked me if he was going to school today and I explained that there's still another week of winter break left! He says he likes being at home but also misses school a little and I am thrilled! When I was teaching and S was a baby at home, I used to go crazy planning activities and filling the days of school vacation. Last year when I was pregnant with Y and home with S, I took those last weeks in December for some unplanned fun and play and that inspiration really followed me into this year. It sure is different to be home with both boys all day on many days and with the whole family on some days. The lack of routine feels both relaxing and slightly disorienting at the same time (what day is it anyway??) so I've decided to post some Winter Break Survival ideas that we've enjoyed so far in case you're looking for some inspiration in your own home.

Play Kitchen Remodel: Although we've since remodeled again in yet another toy rotation here, S and Y had a lot of fun before and during Chanukah with our bakery themed play kitchen remodel. Whether your dramatic play area and kitchen set are beloved or ignored by your children, a strategic remodel can be just what is needed to inspire some great hours (and days) of play!

We had a Chanukah themed bakery, complete with props and toys and costumes to inspire aspiring bakers of all ages. You definitely do not need to purchase specialty toys (though there are great ones out there). Some of our most beloved accessories are real cookbooks, dollar store kitchen accessories and DIY toys and props.

S loved our "sprinkles" and "sugar" shakers, a salt and pepper shaker (Dollar Tree) filled with white and colored dry rice from our sensory bin collection and taped shut to secure. He and Y both enjoyed the "oil" bottle (just oil and water in a recycled bottle also secured with tape.  A layer of clear packing tape on some empty Chanukah candle boxes and Chanukah cookie boxes and some recycled paper shoppoing bags and gift bags also made great accessories. S esepecially loved a collection of recycled plastic containers from berries that I taped a pretend bakery label to so he could pack up donuts and cupcakes and cookies to go!

Frying pretend wood circle latkes was a lot of fun. S also liked to pretend that these were cookies. I love including natural materials into the mix for some open ended play.

Real baking sheets and muffin tins (dollar store), gingerbread man cookie cutters from our sensory play collection, rolling pins, cupcake liners leftover from a Shavuos craft a couple of years ago and a small collection of little pom poms made for some very creative cookie and cupcake baking!

I included a variety of writing utensils, a toy cash register with play money, calculators, hole punches and a variety of notepads to incorporate a print rich and pre-writing friendly environment. S especially took to using a sticky note pad to write down orders and "mitzvah notes" for everyone. I also included a chalkboard slate and some chalk and a few free printables I'd collected and laminated over the years for menus. Since we don't live near kosher restaurants or bakeries or cafes, much of the experience is still foreign to my children. In these situations, it can be helpful to model through play how these items are used. It can also be exciting to see the ideas they come up with on their own! Again, we used mainly materials we had on hand at home with a few dollar store finds thrown into the mix (like an OPEN/CLOSED sign and actual receipt and order memo books).
We extended the activity to include some sensory play with this homemade Sugar Cookie and Gingerbread Cookie Playdough Bakery. I just followed my standard stovetop playdough recipe, doubling the recipe and dividing in half. To one half, I added a bit of vanilla essential oil and to the other half, a generous amount of cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice and nutmeg. The smell was AMAZING (not good enough to eat, though I may or may not have caught glimpse of a certain preschooler double checking that theory before coming to the same conclusion). I added in some rainbow rice "sprinkles" and some of our favorite cookie cutters and kitchen set props for an afternoon of playdough bakery fun. This was an activity S requested to return to again and again!

 Playdough, is in fact, always an activity my preschooler wants to do. On one of the days of Chanukah, I gave each of my boys a few dollars of "gelt" to spend at the Dollar Tree. S quickly found the aisle with playdough and had a mathematical moment of wisdom after first picking three $1 containers of playdough and then seeing a 4-pack for $1, thereby saving his remaining two for a toy microphone and a bottle of bubbles. I know what you're all thinking--this playdough is going to turn all kinds of funny shades of neon until it finally meets its fate of preschool playdough brown (how is that not a color in the Crayola box of crayons yet?). I confess that I keep some of our store bought playdough for use only one or two chosen colors at a time, but I think there is value and benefit to letting little hands have at it. This is totally S's playdough and he loves it in every shade! Since we were still celebrating Chanukah, I threw some candles into the mix and he asked for the playdough factory tool and rolling pin and plastic knife. He was building all kinds of menorahs, lighting the candles and singing the brachos for days! Actually--even now that Chanukah is over, he is still playing about this! Yes, it's messy and colorful and takes time and effort to adequately clean up and organize, but it is a favorite activity here and winter break is the perfect time to make sure you can squeeze in plenty of playdough play opportunities. He's not just mixing colors, he's also developing fine motor strength and engineering skills to boot.

If you're feeling artsy-craftsy, here are some of the ways we've been having fun in our Art Center at home:

We had a lot of fun with this oil and food coloring marbled art activity from The Artful Parent before Chanukah began. The results of mixing oil with food coloring and water and dipping in card stock were beautiful! S also enjoyed the sensory experience of it and mixing and swirling the colors in a tray. It's a bit messy and takes some time and adult or older sibling involvement, however we really enjoyed the process and many people enjoyed the results, which we used to create handmade cards for family and friends.

Speaking of handmade cards...do you have a collection of your kids' artwork you're looking to recycle? Do you have thank you's to write or gifts still to send? We had a lot of fun creating handmade note cards for holiday greetings and note card sets as gifts for my son's teachers. I bought a bulk pack of blank greeting cards and envelopes available at craft supply stores and a large hole punch to create the center shape out of recycled artwork from each of the boys. You could also just hand-cut a rectangle or shape. We glued the art into the center of the blank cards and they came out beautifully, if I do say so myself!

Our Art Center is always a busy place these days. S really liked this Chanukah themed "secret message" activity, though you can incorporate a winter theme or any other one for that matter. Simply use a white crayon to draw a "secret" picture or message on some white paper or index cards (kids can do this, too, just make sure you encourage dark, thick marks) and include some do-a-dot markers or even watercolor paints and water to reveal the top secret message!

S has also been into creating bookmarks lately as we are reading aloud some short chapter books at bedtime. He loves making them as gifts and for us to use at home. In this little "bookmark making bin" I included some blank bookmarks (I bought these at a craft supply store in bulk, but you can cut your own from card stock), scissors and embroidery thread for making tassels and a collection of winter themed foam stickers and gems. There are a lot of ways to decorate bookmarks using stickers, gluing on papers for collage, coloring, painting, even the "secret message" activity listed above. Have fun and enjoy some good reading when you're done!

Our U-Pick-a-Project Basket is back and loaded with leftovers from the end of holiday season last year. A collection of inexpensive craft kits and science kits are a great way to fill some down time. Just this morning, S painted a snowman sun-catcher and helped set up a grow-your-own crystal snowman. It may not be snowing outside here, but we're thinking about it indoors, for sure! I collect these little kits when they go on discount or as I see them at our local dollar store.

Got wrapping paper scraps? We did and we had a lot of fun using them for tearing and cutting and playing in our sensory table. S loves to cut paper and tear paper. It's a great way to practice these skills and develop those fine motor muscles while not just throwing away the results. We also like to use these scraps in collage activities or on clear contact paper.

Paper tearing and shredding in an intentional environment also helps to channel that desire when it crops up in less preferred environments (like with artwork that is intended to remain in one piece or with books). You can add in some recycled cardboard tubes or scoops for some great sensory play as well.

 One of my favorite types of pretend play is small world play--using small toys and objects in dramatic play. I recently took up yet another profitless hobby, painting wooden peg dolls, and created a set to look like each member of our family. I love how it inspires S to play--particularly as he works through feelings about having a sibling or his Tatty going to work, etc. I also love that we have dolls that actually look like us! We have been enjoying this Winter Wonderland Small World Play Scene for the past few days here. I included a large swatch of sparkly white felt I had from last year, some winter themed props (these are highly discounted after the holidays) some arctic animals, a "skating rink" (metal tray), some "ice" (glass gems) and, per S's most recent request, some miniature food. He goes back to this activity again and again and plays with it in new ways each time. We are having a great time with it!

Whatever you're celebrating this season, I hope you're enjoying time with family and loved ones. From our little family to yours, Happy Playing!

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