It’s Christmastime!! Everybody loves this time of year. Or hates it. Depending on whether they are at home enjoying their own Christmas tree, mugs of cocoa, and family, or they are out shopping.
People shop all year. We all have things we need to pick up week to week–food, supplies, clothing. So what is it about shopping for Christmas that makes some put on their Belligerent Hats and shove through like nutcases? I suppose we’ll never know. I’ve always thought shopping for gifts should bring out the best in people, not the worst. So when I am out this time of year, I put on my biggest smile, and even when someone accidentally-on-purpose heels me with his or her cart for some imagined slight, I offer kind words. I may not think them, but I speak them. You know what a big believer I am in paying it forward.
It always makes my experience a little bit better, being kind in the face of all that irritation. Hopefully, it makes the experience of those who come in contact with me better, too. I am, after all, an optimist.
I have some great ideas for turning your ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas reading into an hour or two of Christmas wonder.
Our favorite copy of this poem is a picture book by Cyndy Szekeres. Her sweet illustrations really touch us. Even as the Littles get older, they still enjoy looking at the pictures while I read. Okay, I’ve read this poem to them for a collective 22 years, so I recite it now. But it’s not the same without Szekeres’ lovely drawings.
Christmas Eve is such a magical time for children. I remember being determined to stay awake all night in order to pull a Cindy Lou Who and have a run-in with Santa Claus. Or the Grinch. I would have been happy to see either one. My brother swore I couldn’t do it. I swore I could. He won that bet. But I picked the brightest star in the sky, decided it was the North Star, and stared at it for what felt like hours but was probably only about 15 minutes. Santa got by me. Bummer.
There are all kinds of wondrous thoughts in littles’ heads when they are anticipating Christmas morning. Have your littles write a story about their own ‘nights before Christmas.’ If they are feeling plucky, have them write it as a poem.
There is a free downloadable article and comprehension questions about the poem at Heads Up English. It provides a great starting-off point for discussion about ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and it’s short so it won’t mean too much work for your littles.
Here’s a free printable from me that covers some of the vocabulary that might be new to your littles in the poem.
A fun way to explore science in relation to this book is to do a reindeer study. Sometimes littles don’t realize that reindeer are Really Real and are pretty interesting even though they don’t fly. So here’s a free mini unit from me to teach them a bit about these beautiful animals.
CANDY CANE MOUSE
We made these one year at the library for a story time, and they were a great hit with all the littles. They can be used as tree ornaments or toys or just a nifty place to keep the plethora of candy canes that somehow always end up lying around your house in December. Okay, so I had to use a pencil to get the point across because I’ve not yet purchased the candy canes that will still be lying around my house in January. But you get the idea. Don’t you?
What you need:
- Lit Mama’s mouse template
- Candy Cane
- Felt in at least 2 colors (any colors, really. Red and green are cute. I used red and white.)
- Black or pink felt
- Dark marker
- Googly eyes
What you do:
- Print out the mouse template and cut out the pieces
- Trace the body and inner ears onto one color felt with the marker
- Trace the ears onto the other color felt
- Cut out pieces. Cut a small corner of black or pink felt for the nose
- Glue the nose and googly eyes in place at the pointed end of the mouse
- Glue inner ears onto ears
- Make slits in body for ears and candy cane tail where marked. You can fold the felt across the slits to make cutting easier. Slip ears through slits at front of mouse.
- Fold outer ear and tuck through slit at smaller end of mouse
- Tuck it back up through second slit and straighten.
- Glue on inner ears, eyes, and nose
- Slide wrapped candy through rear slits, tucking the end under the ear piece.
I swear, if you have the candy cane it will look like a curly tail on the back of the mouse. I know. I suck. But you didn’t want to have to wait for this post, did you?
SCENTED SALT DOUGH NATURE ORNAMENTS
One of the great things about living in the midst of a forest is that, just like in the early days, we can head outside to find lovely things with which to decorate our home for Christmas. Part of the fun is hiking through the woods making our discoveries. Several holly trees grow on our land, for which I feel truly blessed. We also have both cedar and pine trees, and both smell yummy and provide the greenery we need for Christmas. We spent a wonderful afternoon making these yummy-smelling ornaments to hang on our tree. We’re doing another balled and burlap tree this year so we can plant it in our yard after the season and enjoy it for the rest of our lives. Absolutely the best way to enjoy a Christmas tree! Look how cute our natural ornaments turned out:
What you need:
This’ll make about 25 ornaments.
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup salt
- 1/2 to 1 cup cinnamon (I used 1/2 a cup and added a good dose of ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Yummy.)
- 1 1/2 cups very warm water
- Cookie cutters (we used hearts, Christmas trees, gingerbread men, stars, and a biscuit cutter for round ornaments)
- Cedar or pine needles, holly leaves, pine cones, various other outdoor finds (we used moss!)
- Pencil or ka-bob stick
- Jute or ribbon
- Mod Podge or decoupage glue (optional)
What you do:
- Mix together the salt, flour, and spices. Try to look this sweet doing it.
- Add water to flour mixture. (I swear, that’s Middle’s hands. You’ll see why I’m pointing this out in a sec.)
- Stir it all up to form a dough. Once it’s mixed you may have to knead a bit of extra flour in to take out some of the stickiness. Cover a work surface with flour and roll out your dough till it’s about a 1/4-inch thickness.
- Let your littles go to town with the cookie cutters. Place cut-out ornaments on wax paper. We usually just put the wax paper on the cookie sheets we’re going to bake them on.
- Use your pencil or ka-bob stick to poke a hole completely through the top of your ornaments. Make sure you do this before you dry them. Make the hole large enough to fit your jute or ribbon through.
- Add your nature elements, pushing them down into the dough so they will stay on after the ornaments are dry.
- If you want to bake them to dry them, throw them in a 200 degree oven for about an hour. You can just let them air dry, but allow at least 24 hours before you try to hang them, probably more like 2 days. Even when we bake ours, we let them sit for a day or two before we do anything with them.
- Once they’re dry, cut your jute or ribbon to a good length to make a hanger (I made mine about 3 inches long) and thread it through the holes you made and knot it at the top. Ta-da! A gorgeous ornament with a built-in hanger.
Littlest is a ham. His brother is not. If you’ve ever wondered why I usually end up with more pictures of this cutie pie than the other one. I’m lucky to get Middle’s hands in these pics.
A lot of snow appears in The Night Before Christmas poem:
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow
So we made paper snowflakes to add to our tree. I have to admit, I had to look up directions. I hadn’t really done this since around the 5th grade, so you can’t really expect me to remember how on my own. Lucky for me, it’s still simple, even for us doddering middle-aged women. (That’s a joke. I Do Not dodder. Neither do you.)
What you need:
- Plain white paper like copy paper
- I swear, that’s all you need.
What you do:
Let me see if I can explain this. Probably not. If you don’t understand what I’m about to say, head over to Instructables, where there are Excellent directions. With pictures. My instructions don’t really have pictures. Here goes.
First, your paper needs to be cut into a square. Since we wanted snowflakes we could hang on the tree, we used the handy-dandy paper cutter to make 5×5 squares, so we got 4 flakes out of each sheet of paper.
Fold your square corner to corner to form a triangle.
Fold your triangle in half to form a smaller triangle. Place your triangle on the table with the point aimed toward you. Using the point as a guide, fold 1/3 of the triangle inward from the right. The outer edge of the fold should line up with your point. Fold the left 1/3 of the triangle over top the right.
That part was tricky. And maybe entirely incomprehensible. This part is just as tricky.
You should have what looks like 2 pointed dunce hats sticking up from the fat end of your paper now. You have to cut them off at an angle. The angle is what makes the points of the snowflake.
Now, after you’ve done all that (whew! Really, go to Instructables and look at the pictures. Now.), you get to make the little snippy cuts along the edges of your folded paper. triangles, squares, semi-circles, whatever shapes you like.
Eventually, you end up with a whole bunch of snowflake goodness to pretty up your home with.
You may not know this, but real sugar plums had nothing to do with plums. They were sugar candies with a heart of some kind–often roasted almonds–with the sugar layered over the heart in many layers. Think of M & Ms or Jordan Almonds. Also, by the time Moore wrote the poem the term ‘sugar plums’ had come to mean anything sweet. So the children could have had all sorts of candies dancing in their heads. Even so, here’s a great no-bake, relatively easy as long as you have a food processor. We enjoyed them immensely.
- ¾ cup toasted almonds
- ½ cup dried plums (I mean, prunes. Don’t think it’s more difficult than it is)
- ½ cup dried apricots
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
- ¼ cup dried cherries
- ½ teaspoon teaspoon orange zest
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- Add almonds, dried plums, dried apricots, dried cranberries, dried cherries, and orange zest in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Or you could chop them by hand and mix them up, but that sounds like a whole lotta trouble.
- In n a medium bowl, combine the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, and a pinch of Kosher salt.
- Add honey and the fruit and nut mixture to the medium bowl. Wear gloves (or spray hands with nonstick cooking spray), to fully combine all ingredients.
- Roll into small 1″ balls
- Roll balls in coarse sugar to coat
Simple and fun for your littles to feel like they’re experiencing sugar plums like the kids in the poem. But tell them the truth about what sugar plums really were, because it’s a fascinating piece of trivia even if it is almost impossible to make real sugar plums at home.
Have a wonderful holiday season. Stay kind.