A little while back I came across the idea of using megablocks to help with phonics skills and fluency. I thought it was a great idea. I’ll try to find the website where I first saw it, and will share it when I do. For now though, here’s our take on it:
Seeing how the girl has outgrown her megablocks and generally is using lego for building, I loved the idea of repurposing her old blocks. So today I pulled out my label maker and her box of blocks and set to work. This should give new life to all her old sets, that haven’t seen the light in several months.
I decided to put both a capitalized and lowercase version of the same word on each block. This way, when we start worrying more about proper capitalization her blocks will still be useful for her. Eventually I’ll be adding a whole lot more words – including many she has requested herself – as well as doubling up some blocks with words like is, was, it, and… as many of them can be used twice in the same super silly, extra long, sentence.
We also decided to use many of her blocks with stickers on them. You know how some sets (like Kai Lan and Diego) have themed stickers that get applied to some blocks? Well, we’ve labeled those too – with Kid kid’s choice of words. It can be nice for early readers to have visual hints when still working towards reading fluency.
So, here are our blocks. I ran out of tape in my label maker, so had to stop a little earlier than I’d have liked. But we still had enough finished to have a bit of fun. Lily-Ann loved my “Dad was stinky” sentence, and I loved that her very first one was “Lily-Ann is cute”. 😉
This year, our first in our new home, I figured we should do something different, something special for the holidays. So I decided to put together a thrift store (second hand or previously enjoyed) advent calendar. Thus far, it’s been a really big hit!
We’ve all had those store bought advent calendars with the icky pieces of low quality chocolate behind each window, counting down the days to the holidays. Well, the thrift store advent calendar may count down the days to the holidays, but it’s WAY more fun, and really wasn’t all that expensive either. It may be a little late for you to make one for this year, but I’ll talk you through the process anyway. I have a feeling it may be one other kids would enjoy too.
Step One: Collect the Goodies!
Every kid, or kid at heart, has something little they really enjoy. For Lily-Ann I knew I could find a ton of little My Little Pony and Littlest Petshop items in thrift stores and from my fellow collectors at the MLPTP (an online forum). Used toy cars, and other collectibles would also be great, and for the bigger kids in your life I’m sure there are all sorts of things you could find – think about their favourite things and just go from there.
Step Two: Decide on Packaging!
You’ll also need packaging for your advent calendar. We went cute and inexpensive with these little craft baggies. I actually found them in the baking section at Michael’s, and they were only a few dollars a pack. I bought two packs, one in red and the other in green.
Step Three: Organize your Finds!
Next I poured all the goodies out on my bed and grouped them by theme. In the picture above you can see that a bunch of the LPS items actually made a pretty good “camping” collection. You can see how easy it would be for the girl to pretend that a kitten and a hamster head out for a weekend retreat with everything they might need. Arrange and rearrange everything you’ve purchased until you’ve got 24 (or however long your countdown will be) piles of goodies.
Step Four: Label the Bags!
Labeling the bags is the next step, and while there are lots of cute ways you could do this, I’m about keeping it easy. So if you feel up to it you can use glitter and glue, beads, or stickers, stencils or cut outs, and any number of wonderfully crafty-good items… but I simply grabbed one of the girls markers and wrote right on the bags. As long as you have one bag for every day of your countdown, you are good to go.
Step Five: Fill the Bags!
Deciding what goes in the bag for each day is a fun part. Well, at least I know I enjoyed it… I staggered things so every few days there would be a toy, and it would alternate with a crafting item, or maybe a dress-up item for one of her ponies, or collector’s cards. Of course, you could just dump any old thing in any old bag in any old order, but I had fun with it. LOL
Step Six: Close and Place!
Then all that is left is taping the bags closed and putting them around the tree, leaving them out to be pondered over and opened with relish and the joy of discovery. Enjoy your countdown!!!
I’m in a pensive mood tonight, and realize it would be quite easy to ramble on about any number of topics. So I turned to my iPhone for inspiration. I began scrolling through all the photos and videos stored within my happy little device (yes, I imagine it’s a happy device, it’s well loved and frequently held, I believe it would feel cared for and treasured much like the old rocking horse or velveteen rabbit). That’s when I realized, I never did share the Father’s Day project we came up with for Pop Pop. I suppose it’s about time I gave up a few details on that one. 🙂
My Dad is a squirrel nut (pun intended, obviously). He feeds them at the lake, and collects pictures, stories and the like. I’m not really sure how his collection started – it’s really only as old as the girl is… so it’s not a long standing one. One day we just kinda all seemed to agree that we should give him squirrel related gifts, and thus a collection was born. I have to say, it’s a better idea than the Xena Warrior Princess figurine my husband and I jokingly gave him a decade or so ago – gotta love a scantily clad warrior princess, right? LMAO
So I had this idea, that the girl and I should create a squirrel crossing sign for him, you know… for at the lake. Problem was, I couldn’t find the materials I needed. What I did come across though, was this cool tree round with the bark still on. I bought it, not quite sure what it would become, but I loved it and knew I’d figure something out. By the time we got home? I knew it would be the perfect canvas for a squirrel picture.
Now, I’m not a cartoonist. Impressionism I can do – in fact, I spent a number of years working as an impressionist painter and illustrator (sold quite a few pieces too) before I traded in my brushes for a camera. So I’m not lacking in some skill, but cartooning has never been my strength. I even tried my hand at some basic folk art, gave the results to my siblings (who were still wee things at the time)… I see them all the time at my parents place and… well… yeah… cartooning/folk art? Was not my strength even back then. So clearly I would not be freehanding anything.
While the girl was occupied, I did some looking online for a “squirrel colouring page”. Thanks to Bing (yes, I bing rather than google stuff) I found a few super cute little doods. I asked kid kid which was her favourite, and we had our inspiration. I downloaded it, resized it, and printed it out.
Now, like I said… I’m not a cartoonist – but I do have a pretty good eye. So what I did was to hold the print out in place over the wood, and using the back of a paint brush (no, I didn’t trade them ALL in), I traced/etched a few lines to help with the proportions. I etched six or seven little notches, but I imagine you could actually do the entire drawing if you can’t freehand at all. Personally? I have no patience for things like that – but if you can’t draw? I think it would work just fine. Then I took out one of my paint pens (just a plain black one) and sketched the line drawing out. If you did etch the whole thing, you could then just trace over your etching to give you the black outline. That gave me this:
If you look closely at the paper, you can see where I’ve etched/traced a line here and there. And comparing the two you can easily see the differences too. LOL But it’s not about creating an exact replica, it’s about having something that gives the impression of what you are creating. Clearly, that doesn’t look like a REAL squirrel… but you see it, and you know that’s what it is. So whatever you create, the idea is for it to give the impression of the thing. If you can tell what it is? You’ve succeeded. 🙂 And for us, this particular squirrel holding a strawberry is significant. I’ve called Lily-Ann “my strawberry” since the day she was born. So finding a colouring page illustration of a squirrel holding one? Pretty cool…. and I think that’s what swayed the girl to this particular free use image.
After the black ink was dry, I just let the girl have at it. She painted it. And to be honest? I was actually downright shocked at how well she did. She was only four at the time! At one point she even had me stumped:
“Momma?” she asked.
“Can I have the white paint again?”
“What do you need white for?”
“Oh… you don’t need white on the strawberry, do you?”
“Yes Momma, I do.”
So I dug out the white paint again (totally thinking she was going to make a mess of the very pretty berry she’d already created). You can imagine my surprise when my girl, who doesn’t do anything gingerly or daintily, ever so carefully touched the very tip of her brush into the paint and dabbed a tiny highlight on the strawberry. I shouldn’t have doubted her, or questioned her vision, but she showed me. LOL She knew exactly what she was doing. And here’s the result:
After it dried it just needed a couple of coats of sealant (which I did without the girl, don’t need her breathing in that scary stuff) and it was ready for Father’s Day. All in all, a very cool project. We had fun doing it, it turned out fabulously – and was well received. A successful project to store in the memory bank. 🙂