Category Archives: celebrations/holidays


(Inspired by Pinterest.)

Materials: Pumpkins, chalkboard spray paint (we found ours in a craft store), damp rags for cleaning, chalk for playing!

G has an October birthday, and while her parties are still simple family gatherings, I like to have something for her cousins, who range in age from three to fifteen, to do. October, of course, makes me think of pumpkins, but I didn’t want to have the kids paint pumpkins, mainly because the last time we tried that at a party (many years ago), none of the pumpkins were dry by going-home time, and we had to figure out how to transport wet, painted pumpkins home in cars without accidentally pumpkin-printing everyone’s upholstery. So I hopped onto Pinterest for no-paint decorating ideas and eventually decided on spray-painting them with chalkboard paint.

Eleven-year-old cousin~doesn't he look comfortable?

So last weekend, the kids and I picked out seven small pumpkins at a nearby pumpkin patch and brought them home. First, we cleaned them in the yard. I gave G the spray bottle, which is one of her favorite things to use, and she sprayed the pumpkins while the boys and I used rags to rub the dirt off. Really get as much as you can–I used my thumb nail to work the rag right down the crevasses. Once they were clean and dry, my husband spray painted them (not a kid’s job–it really does smell unhealthy–and he did it outside).

He gave each pumpkins two coats of spray paint, and once it was thoroughly dry I primed it according to directions (rubbing the side of the chalk onto it, then erasing). On party day, we invited the kids to decorate their pumpkins, erase, decorate again as much as they wanted, and bring them home too, of course.

Four-year-old cousin, drawing on her pumpkin

I know my fifteen-year-old niece isn’t really a child, but we painted one for her, too, and she drew on it too. Truth be told, I wish I’d gotten one for myself!

G drawing on her pumpkin during her party

N and V

We learned that if you use the sharp edge of brand-new chalk, a bit of the paint would scratch off, which wasn’t the plan but of course made me think of sgraffito. I wonder what paint might work best for that? I’m thinking kids’ tempera would probably flake, but maybe liquid acrylic or regular acrylic would work. You could paint a layer of paint onto the pumpkin and then scratch your design on, lightly enough to expose the orange but not pierce the pumpkin itself. I’m thinking that might look pretty cool! If you try it, let me know.

Painted Jar Jack-o-Lanterns

Yesterday G asked to paint, so as I often do, I asked her what kind of paint she’d like to use–watercolors or tempera? She said neither, and although she’d forgotten the name, she quickly managed to communicate that she wanted to use the liquid craft acrylics. Because those aren’t always the best on paper, I thought for a minute about how else she could use them. They’re really great, for instance, with wood… and then I remembered that the latest issue of Family Fun included an activity using craft acrylics and I described it to G.

So, this project is much more crafty than what I usually post, but it was still kid-led, so I include it anyway.

Materials: Glass jar, painter’s tape, liquid acrylic craft paint

Family Fun’s directions can be found here. We varied only slightly. G picked what color she wanted to paint her jars–red for one, orange for the other–and she placed the tape on for the faces. I cut out some triangles, circles, and squares and placed them on the edge of the table for her. I decided against cutting out a definite mouth shape, like in the example, because I didn’t want there to be any “right” place that any individual shape had to go. We talked a bit about where our eyes, nose, and mouth are on our faces–two eyes at the top, nose in the middle, and mouth at the bottom.

After G placed the tape, I made sure the edges were smoothed down and she painted. Once the paint was dry, we peeled off the tape together (tweezers helped) and then I put tea lights inside and we admired her jars.

The face is quite clear on the orange jar. On the red jar, it’s a little lopsided but still clear, and up above on the ridged part, she placed a square next to each eye–these are arms, she told me.

G is almost three (one more month!), and while I don’t “do lessons” with my preschool-aged kids, I do incorporate a bit more as they get older. So while there was no purpose to this activity beyond painting and having fun, we did incorporate some learning–a bit of shape review and observation of faces and their parts. This gave her the opportunity to create a face in a way that is easier for her than drawing right now, and I think we’ll do some more variations on that idea.

How have you modified crafts to meet your child’s needs?

Vegetable Print Wrapping Paper

A cousin is turning three, so G and I decided to make some special wrapping paper. We chose red and blue, but you could make wrapping paper holiday-specific based on the colors you choose.

Materials: Big piece of paper–I cut a piece from a tall roll of white paper that I found at Staples; tempera paint; veggies (we used a carrot, a piece of celery, and a small potato)

The process is fairly straight-forward! We cut the veggies, dipped them in paint, and printed. We didn’t get fancy with the cutting, since I wanted this to be something G could do–and she did. I had a photo, but my camera ate it. We used a safety knife I bought years ago for my oldest, but it’s got large serrations and doesn’t make terribly smooth cuts. Next time I’ll let her use my favorite paring knife, which is old and not pointy sharp.

Anyway, she began with the carrot. When she filled up the area she could reach, I rotated the paper a quarter turn.

After three quarter turns, she’d filled the paper. I did some too. When the prints were dry, we wrapped the presents.

Our extra piece is in the front. G pushed the button for this picture.

One of those boxes holds some Crayola Washable Finger Paints in tubes. G really likes squeezing the paint out herself. We’ll be handing the mom a roll of freezer paper and one of aluminum foil (mainly because I think the three-year-old would be mystified to open those, no?). The freezer paper is good for finger painting–one side is slippery, for the paint to really slide around on, but if you choose the papery side, you have that plasticy backing, so the paint won’t soak through. The aluminum foil is another interesting surface on which to finger paint.

G did this just the other day–aluminum foil on the left, freezer paper on the right, and regular paper up above, which she used for some hand-printing. With the primaries, it’s fun to put two colors near each other so your child gets the delight of making a new color as she smears her hands through the paint.

We hope the birthday boy has a good time painting!

Wool Felt Advent Calendar

(Originally published at Salamander Dreams in July 2011.)

Every December I wish I had a nice, handmade countdown calendar, but usually by the time I think of it, there’s no hope of getting one made. (One year I decided I’d knit two tiny mittens per month and at the end I’d have  a hand-knit mitten garland as a countdown calendar; I gave that up after one tiny mitten.) But THIS year is different–I decided to make our countdown calendar in July. I was distracted along the way by a few other projects, but I finished it within the month–it’s very simple, so if you’re a bit more focused than I, it won’t take you long at all!

A couple of years ago I put together a lickety-split one using coin envelopes and holiday stamps, and I thought I could transfer that idea to something more permanent without too much trouble, but with beautiful results. I made 24 wool felt pockets, designed to be hung by clips from a ribbon. The key here is the materials. I used wool felt, which makes all the difference and allows the beautiful simplicity to shine through.

* Wool felt: I used 18″ squares from Magic Cabin’s Vibrant Jewels line–one square each of red, gold, leaf, and forest. I have three kids, and it helps to assign each kid a color; then everybody knows whose turn it is to peek in the envelope. You could use whatever colors you want, of course. You’ll need 48 3×4″ rectangles, so just do the math to make sure you have enough felt.

* Cotton DMC embroidery floss: I used three strands throughout, and tried to match my floss color to the felt. So, on the red pockets I used 321, 700 for the light green pockets, and 895 for the dark green. I used 972 for all the blanket stitch around the edges.

* Number templates, which can be downloaded here. If you want to choose a different font or change the size of the numbers, see my post on how to create your own outline font. I wanted my numbers to fill the front of my pockets, so they’re not all the same size–“22” is a smaller font size than “1.” You may decide that it’s more important to you that the sizes match.

What To Do

Oh, it couldn’t be easier. If you’re using three colors, you’ll need 8 pockets, so 16 rectangles, of each color. If you’re using two colors, then 12 pockets and 24 rectangles. Four colors? Six pockets and 12 rectangles per color. Cut out however many 3×4″ rectangles as you need from each color. I used a straight edge and rotary cutter for this.

Print out either my number templates or your own and carefully cut out the paper numbers. This part really is the most laborious, but it pays to be patient and do it well. Once you have your paper numbers, you’ll need to cut the felt numbers. I used gold for the numbers throughout. I decided to trace them onto the felt with a disappearing ink fabric marker, but just to make sure nothing would show up on the right side, I traced them face down.

Again, cut them out carefully. I used small, sharp scissors.

Then, the fun part begins! Place your numbers roughly in the center–I just eyeballed it, and some of them might be a little crooked, but I’m creating a hand-made holiday countdown calendar for my children; I’m not looking to stress myself out right into tears here.

I sewed my numbers on with a running stitch.

I can’t help it–I think they just look delicious. It’s the wool felt. It’s really wonderful to handle and sew. Once I had all my numbers on, I used a blanket stitch to sew my pockets together. Here they all are together.

You can see I staggered some of the numbers–this is so I could fit larger numbers onto the rectangles. I didn’t want to have to cut them any smaller. As it was, none of these were difficult to cut out, which was my aim anyway.

I’m sure there’s a better, proper way to go around corners using blanket stitch. Mine are a little wonky, but still, I love these pockets! Here’s a closer look.

These are designed to hold slips of paper with activities rather than trinkets. At most, I slip stickers or chocolates in, too. These are large enough for my purposes. I’m rather enchanted with the end result. Every time a child happened to walk by while I was sewing on them (usually an evening project) or noticed the finished pile slowly growing, he or she would exclaim. “Are these for us?” “Are you almost done?” “Oooh!” I’ve tucked them into the closet along with their hand-knit stockings, though, and it will all come out again in December.

I’d love to know if you are inspired by this idea–or if you’ve crafted a countdown calendar of your own. Happy sewing!

Painting Eggs

Materials: Wooden eggs (we used these); paint of your choice; box frame (if rolling the eggs)

Since we’re not sure if G has outgrown her egg allergy or not, dyeing traditional Easter eggs isn’t really an option for something we can all do together. So instead, I ordered some wooden eggs and decided we’d decorate those. We had so many options–we could paint them, or paint coffee filters and then collage, or try dipping them in liquid watercolors… we settled on using acrylic paint, for the most part.

The studio became a busy egg-painting factory!

I put a piece of paper into a 9×12″ box frame, squirted in some tempera paint, and began rolling an egg around. The boys liked the looks of that and both wanted to try, too. Definitely not something that can be done with a traditional hard-boiled egg!

G stuck to liquid acrylics (warning: acrylics won’t wash out of clothing). If we wanted to, later we could brush on a coat of Mod Podge to give the eggs a bit of shine.

Daddy always colors eggs with us, and this year was no exception. He taped a stripe onto his egg, and when the paint was dry, peeled the paint off and painted the middle. N decided to follow suit. Both boys also experimented with wrapping rubber bands around eggs before painting.

These are the prints we created by rolling the eggs around on the paper. They’re too interesting to discard; I’ll save them for future use in some project or other.

And this is where I’d normally put the photo of our finished eggs, but it was so pretty, it had to lead the post! A little egg allergy can’t stop us from creating beautiful eggs for Easter!

ETA: We gave the eggs a brushing with Mod Podge Gloss and they look fantastic! Just a little shine, and a seal for the paint.