A Gift Guide for the Thinking Child

holiday gift guide

It’s easy to find out what the hottest gifts this Christmas are. Just walk into any toy department and see what displays are largest. This is, at least, what the market predicts will be our children’s favorite gifts for 2016. And they may be right. Then again, maybe they aren’t. Or maybe the children on your list already have the hottest toys of the season.

So I thought I’d put together my own little list of gift ideas for children who like to think. All of these are things I purchased for our homeschool. For school. For their educational value. And yet my children pull them out over and over because they are some of their favorite activities. And if you don’t find something here you like, check back as others add their gift guides to the linky at the bottom of this post. Or even add your own!

First, a classic I loved as a child: The Spirograph.

I spent hours playing with my spirograph as a kid. I bought this kind of on a whim because part of our math practice involves inscribing shapes in circles. This seemed like a fun extension. Most people aren’t all that interested in the math behind the cool little designs, but children are natural scientists and they will eventually learn the relationship between the number of teeth in a design and the placement of the pen to the end design. And they will be walking in the footsteps of the creator of what was originally a mathematical tool. Back in the day, finding a way to predict the position of a point on a rotating circle as it traveled in a straight line was kind of a bid deal. See, they had to figure out a way to turn the vertical motion of a piston into the circular motion of a wheel to create the horizontal motion of a train.

Then there’s Shut the Box.

It doesn’t look like much all on its own and if you haven’t been to Colonial Williamsburg, you might not have ever heard of it. Shut the Box is an old sailors’ game. The rules are simple. Roll two dice, and knock down one or two tiles that add up to that number. Doubles allow you to knock down any one tile. Once you run out of turns (your dice gives you a number you can’t make), you add up what is left and that’s your score. Play to beat a friend or yourself. If you get them all down, then you shut the box! My children have played this so often the felt is starting to wear in spots. And the best part for this homeschooling mom? They have spent as many hours practicing basic addition. Part history, part math and all fun. What could be better than that?

For the child who likes puzzles, there’s Color Cubes.

Best, Color Cubes is like multiple activities in one. The cards start out simple as you just get the idea of recreating the images in three dimensions. But they get more complicated quickly, asking you to complete patterns and guess the hidden blocks to finish the build. It even has little games to play with a partner. Most of the cards can be completed alone or with a friend. And of course, you are working on developing spatial reasoning the whole time you are playing! My only complaint is that there is no “extension pack.” They do go back to some of the games and challenge each other with their own designs, but I would so totally buy another set of cards now that they’ve been through them all (more than once, even!).

We also love Animal Logic.

Animal Logic is a game for all ages. My kids love it. I love it. My dad worked through every puzzle while he was farm sitting for us. It’s basically you against the board as you try to get all the animals across the river. Again, the rules are simple. There are four kinds of animals in each of four colors. If you move a yellow lion, your next move has to either be yellow or a lion. The puzzles start out simple, but it doesn’t take long and you have to think through the next move (or three!) in order to get all the animals across.

Tangoes are a great little stocking stuffer.
This is the travel version of Tangoes with magnets and a small attached book of animal shapes to replicate with the tangrams. Best, there’s no reason you’re limited to creating the animals in the book. Once you’ve worked through them all, you can create your own shapes. It is a wonderful activity to keep in the seat pocket of your car for some mind growing activity on long drives.

If tangoes look interesting, check out pattern blocks. And this wonderful book of pattern block puzzles.

I had Pattern Animals as a teacher and we wore it out. I finally replaced it this year for my children. There are all kinds of boards and books for pattern blocks out there, but animals seem to have a special draw for children.

And last but not least, anything origami.
My daughters spend hours folding paper and learning new designs. They are limited only by the amount of paper I am willing to buy them. A special bonus for homeschool families: There are books at the library to teach you how to fold just about anything. It fits very well into almost any study on any subject.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Largely as a service to you so you know exactly what I’m talking about, but if you were to buy something through any of these links, I would get a small percentage and it doesn’t cost you anything extra.

Last minute card/gift idea to make with your little ones

Do you need a last minute Christmas craft or card idea? I happen to think these are the cutest little cards ever, probably mostly because they’re my two year old’s hand prints, but it was still a lot of fun and totally worth the mess.

So have yourself a “monkey” little Christmas . . .

and a Happy Narwahl!

Ok, so the narwahl looks a bit more like a bird, but you have to be a bit flexible with handprint art.

This actually came from an alphabet book we’re working on.

An idea we “borrowed” from the Red Ted Art blog which is like the best blog to follow if you have preschoolers. She does everything I wish I did. And I blame her for all the half finished projects we’ve started because I get all inspired, but my follow through isn’t all that great.

So anyway, “M” was for monkey and “N” was for narwahl. And that was all we needed to decide little handprint Christmas cards would be The. Cutest. Thing. Ever.

And then you can wish everyone A very monkey Christmas . . . and a Happy Narwahl!

And have this song stuck in your head for the rest of the season:

We wish you a monkey Christmas
We wish you a monkey Christmas
We wish you a monkey Christmas and a Happy Narwahl!

Good tidings we bring
To you and your zoo
Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy Narwahl!

The steps are pretty obvious, but here they are, anyway.

1. Gather supplies. You’ll need brown paint, blue paint, white paint, a paint brush, blank cards or card stock and diaper wipes (the best cleaning supply ever).

2. Write “Have a very monkey Christmas” on the front of the card and “and a Happy Narwahl” on the inside.

3. Turn the card upside down to do the monkey. Older children will try to turn it right side up again so make sure you pay attention. Otherwise you get upside down monkeys. We have a lot of upside down elephants in our alphabet book for this reason.

4. Paint your child’s hand brown, encourage them to splay their fingers, and splat it down on the card, pressing firmly. Then a little paint on the finger should make a wiggly tail. Glue on googlie eyes and you’re done. Or you can get some green paint and let them make fingerprint leaves all over the outside of the card because paint is cool and why stop now?

5. The narwahl is a little more involved. Turn the card on its side. If you’re using the left hand, the bottom of the card should be on the left side.

6. Paint the thumb half of the hand blue (minus the thumb). Paint the other half white.

7. Encourage your child to squeeze their fingers together and press firmly on the page.

8. Paint a little stripe for the narwahl’s tusk and add googlie eyes.

9. You can be done here or let them cover the page with fingerprint water drops, because painting is fun and why stop now?

Also, watch out for the two year olds. After doing these, I held Asa’s little hand while I got a diaper wipe to clean his hands. But he REALLY wanted to see what that paint felt like on his face. So while I was occupied trying to free a wipey, he smooshed his face into his hand and rubbed paint all over his face. He was an adorable mess and I totally would have taken a picture except for the the fact that half my front room would have been painted by the time I got a picture.

And it really doesn’t take that long and makes a super cute last minute craft to occupy excited little ones or make some cute handprint Christmas greetings for someone special on your list!

Thank you, Donald Trump

Dear Mr. Trump (because Dear The Donald just sounds awkward),

I must thank you for being the first candidate to tackle one of the biggest issues of our time. It may, in fact, be the only one that really matters.

I feel strongly about this. I don’t usually talk politics on this blog. It is my happy place. It is my grieving place. It is about my little place in the country with all of its ups and downs. Politics hasn’t really found a home here. It’s just too . . . divisive. But sometimes you just have to stand up for what’s right and you, dear sir, are the first candidate to inspire me to take this humble little platform and do just that.

I must humbly confess that up to now, you have not been my favorite candidate. I just didn’t trust you. After all, you threw your support behind Hillary Clinton. I understand you’ve come clean on that. Something about being a man of business and knowing where your bread is buttered. And while I can see your point, I rather prefer a man of principle in office. A man who will back what’s right even to his own personal disadvantage. After all, John Hancock was one of the wealthiest men in the colonies who stood the most to lose and he still staked his life on a few principles that guide our nation yet. I’m sure he could have paid off a few people and gone on in relative peace, his fortune largely untouched, but that is neither here nor there. After all, that was only the British Monarchy he was standing up against.

And you’ve always seemed to me like a caricature of conservative values. Like the face behind all those forwarded emails and facebook posts that no one ever checks out before sharing with everyone on their friends list. I just never quite trusted that you were real.

But thanks to your recent stance on the Starbucks coffee cup crisis, I now know you are the man to lead this country in the right direction.

“I have one of the most successful Starbucks, in Trump Tower. Maybe we should boycott Starbucks? I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t care. That’s the end of that lease, but who cares? If I become president, we’re all going to be saying Merry Christmas again, that I can tell you. That I can tell you.” ~ Donald Trump

Pure Presidential poetry.

Because no one should be forced to drink overpriced coffee in a plain red cup this time of year. It’s time to finally get rid of holiday trees and season’s greetings for good. I want Christ’s name slapped on all of my holiday excesses and co-opted pagan symbols. And anyone who believes otherwise can just turn in their citizenship and move to the Republik of Kalifornia.

Thank you, Mr. Trump. For taking a stand for all of us.

Roscommon Acres

The highs, lows and constancy of Christmas

And now . . . a guest post from my husband.

The First Christmas

My first Christmas memory comes before age six. The anticipation for myself and the other two foster children, they were to be adopted by the family, had been building for weeks. The tree was a beautiful dark green with sparkling lights, tinsel, ornaments and a sea of colorfully wrapped presents. The joy of running and laughing children couldn’t be contained that Christmas morning.

Wrapping flying with shouts and giggles at the revealing of each new gift. Soon the lights were turned off and the family moved on to other festivities leaving a solitary figure behind. Dawning upon this child was the fact that he had received nothing! Alone for hours this first Christmas memory would leave a lasting hurt.

Not Always So

The next Christmas memory came after my adoption. Beautiful tree, rows of gifts but no anticipation, no building excitement. The joy of running and laughing children couldn’t be contained that Christmas morning. Wrapping flying with shouts and giggles at the revealing of each new gift. The question on my lips, ‘is this really mine?’ Yes, my parents exclaimed, though I didn’t quite believe it. Astounded for such goodness had never come my way.

The Lost Christmas

Fast forward 30 or so years. For the first time in ages a Christmas tree stood in my home. The decorations slowly making their way to the top of the tree because of the busyness of a not yet two year old. Thirteen days before Christmas his little mischievous ways would be taken from us forever. That Christmas was shrouded in sorrow and barely celebrated. We were hanging on by threads.

The Best Christmas

One year later came the best Christmas. One carefully sought out gift for each child, scripture reading, hymns, good food and family. The height of the storm had passed and we could see clearly what Christmas actually symbolizes. The birth and fulfillment of hope leading us to….

The Constancy of Christmas

Christmas has much to teach. Firstly, the un-adopted son receives nothing, no good gift; while the adopted son receives many great and free gifts. The ability to, and the reason for overcoming the pain and suffering of our lives was once wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. Thirdly, whether a tree stands in your home or not; what is raised or taken down in the town square, Christ’s birth cannot not be overturned or quieted for it is truth. Fourthly, the greatest truth of all is that one cannot separate Christmas from Easter:

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord….Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…. (Luke 2:11; 1 Peter 1:3)”

Good tidings to all, and a Merry Christmas to you.

How to decorate brown eggs for Easter

Interested in a free study for Holy Week? Click here to download Walking With Jesus His Final Days. Happy Easter and enjoy those beautiful eggs!

How to decorate brown eggs for easter

So Easter is coming up rather fast and a few people have asked me how you go about coloring brown eggs. My first response is, “Oh my goodness? Have you ever just loooked at them in the basket? They’re beautiful just the way they are!”

Coloring borwn eggs for easter

But I get it. With a dozen (or two) layers, you see that every day. And I have children, too. Children who don’t actually remember ever dyeing eggs. Somehow, that suddenly didn’t seem quite right, so we embarked on an egg coloring adventure to show you some ways you can decorate your already colorful eggs this Easter. If nothing else, it helps you remember which ones are boiled and which ones aren’t when you open the refrigerator.

dyeing brown eggs for easter

For starters, you can color them just like any old white egg. You know how the yolks of those farm fresh, pastured poultry are just a richer, deeper, more satisfying color than the store bought eggs? Well, it’s kind of like that when you compare dyed white eggs to dyed brown eggs. The eggs on the top  were originally white. The eggs on the bottom were brown eggs dyed in the same dyes for the same amount of time to show the color difference.

We dyed the eggs using the directions on the back of the food coloring box: one half cup water, one teaspoon vinegar and 20 drops of food coloring, in varying combinations.

If you have young children, stickers are always a treat. And you can usually even pick them up for a dollar or two.

dyeing brown eggs for easter

A little crayon allows for interesting designs. The egg will pick up the dye everywhere the crayon is not, allowing children to draw pictures, write their names, or sketch the Japanese symbols for love and long life.

This one didn’t turn out quite so well as we had hoped because, well, farm fresh eggs don’t always peel as nicely as store bought eggs. They take some aging and sometimes some refrigeration after boiling for the shell to come off cleanly. But we tried our version of Chinese tea eggs. Simply crack the shell of the boiled egg and then dip it in the dye. Make sure you are using vinegar and food coloring if you plan to eat these! This one is a bit trickier with farm fresh eggs so you will have the best luck if you stick them in the back of the refrigerator for a few weeks first so that they will peel neatly.

And should you try that, do not throw away all that egg shell. Instead, put it in a bowl and crunch it up into little pieces. A little glue and Voila! You have a lovely selection of colors for a beautiful mosaic. My daughter isn’t finished with hers, yet, but you can see the beginnings of a very eye-catching egg. As well as a nice project for the older children while the younger ones are simply slapping stickers on theirs.

how to dye brown eggs for easter

And finally, there is the silk wrapped egg. I first saw this done with silk scarves, but who has a ton of silk scarves lying around? That they want to cut up and boil? Not me. But I do have scraps of recycled silk sari yarn, so I thought I’d try that to see what would happen.

First, you wrap the uncooked egg in your silk yarn. Or scarf.

Then you tie it in a sock. The only real purpose of the sock is to keep the yarn from falling off. The best way I found to do this was to stick my hand in the sock, grab hold of the egg and slowly turn the sock inside out over the egg so the yarn wouldn’t be rubbed off. Then tie it so it stays tight.

Set it in a pot to boil for ten minutes. It may take some creativity to get it to sink if your sock wants to float. I laid a pair of tongs on mine. When it finishes, you will have a lovely bit of abstract art created by the silk dyes rubbing off on your egg.

how to dye brown eggs for easter

And with those few tools and a couple of hours, your children can create a few dozen masterpieces to share with friends, hide and of course eat.