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Christmas gift ideas, from freebies to cheapies and biggies

Tiffany Markman latest feb 13. jpg

 

By Tiffany Markmancopywriter, editor and mom to an almost-four-year-old, who tries to balance her workaholism with cuddles, books,caffeine & reining in her intrinsic kugelry. Follow her on twitter.

You may have read my last column, ‘Help! My kid has too many toys’. (If not, here it is.) You may be wondering what the hell else you’re supposed to get your friends’ and family members’ kiddies this Christmas, if they’re already at Max Toy Capacity.

If you’re not a maker/upcycler and you’re not into toy-swapping, here are 11 ideas:

Crafties:

Salt dough

Google ‘salt dough’ and you’ll get 4.9 million results. Used to create crafts, sculptures and ornaments, it’s super-easy and ultra-cheap to make at home, requires basic ingredients, is paintable and can be fired in a domestic oven or air-dried. Got salt, flour and water? You’re sorted. Recipe here. Salt dough is great for kids aged 3+.

Floam

Floam is like slime with polystyrene beads in it and kids can mold it into shapes. They can sculpt with it or use it to coat other objects. They can store it to reuse it or allow it to dry, for permanent creations. I love the stuff, which comes in an awesome range of colours, doesn’t seem to stain anything, is pretty cheap in most SA toy stores and is easy-ish to make yourself. It’s most suitable for ages 3 and up.

Bath crayons

My daughter loves these and uses them to ‘decorate’ the bath, the tiles and sometimes our faces and bodies. The best part? They wipe off surfaces incredibly easily and don’t stain the kid. Ours came from Woolies, but you can find the Crayola and Munchkin ones at most toy stores. While they’re affordable at about R150 per pack, there are recipes online for making your own. Ideal for toddlers and littlies.

salt dough and alphabet shapes

DVDs:

Newsies

This film is an oldie, but such a goodie. To be honest, although it was one of my own tweenage faves, I was surprised by how much my three-year-old and our resident 10-year-old enjoyed it. The songs are catchy, the characters are fun and an 18-year-old Christian Bale is the lead, should you need the eye candy. It’s rated PG.

Pigeon and Pals

My in-laws are in their 60s, my husband and I are in our 30s and my daughter is 3. We’re all besotted with Mo Willems’ Pigeon and Pals DVDs. They’re silly, funny, heavily ironic and gorgeously animated – plus they’re narrated by creator Mo. Pigeon and Pals retails online for R200 for the Complete Cartoon Collection Vol. 1 & 2.

Books:

The Sneetches

One of my personal bests, this little story by Dr Seuss is about a society of haves and have-nots, in which access to life’s goodies is determined by whether or not you have a star on your belly. For me, it’s a clever commentary on racial, gender and other social categories that are socially constructed, and my pre-schooler loves it. A great conversation-starter, The Sneetches is also fantastic for older kids.

Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (of The Gruffalo) just rock my socks. For one thing, their rhyming irreverence make the stories fun for adults to read. For another, the illustrations are magnificent. And for a third, kids never outgrow these books.

Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book is about a boy, Charlie, who is reading a book about a pirate captain, who is reading a book about Goldilocks, who is reading about a knight, who is reading about a frog … and so on, until the story comes full circle via burglars, aliens, a friendly ghost and kings and queens with a giant birthday cake.

Mrs Noodlekugel

The name of this book appealed to me, because it sounds like a Yiddish dessert. In the world of Mrs Noodlekugel, cats converse and bake cookies, short-sighted mice join the party and two children in search of adventure are drawn by the smell of gingerbread and the promise of magical surprises. Sparsely illustrated, it’s ideal for kids aged 4+ and as a practice reader for new-ish primary school readers.

Toys:

This is the pricey category. For spoilies. But each of these toys is ama-ZING! They’re available at leading toy stores; recommended retail prices range from R900-R1299.

Xeno

First, Xeno, who I’ve reviewed before. He’s squishy and squashy to touch, with eyes that light up; multiple facial expressions, gestures and sounds; a ‘language’; the ability to play games; an app; and a gross drop of green snot, that you can tug on.

Complete with sneezes, tummy aches, burps, farts, crying, and the chronic need for love and tickles, Xeno needs your kiddies to learn to understand what he’s saying so that they can care for him. Think Tamagotchi 10.0. Ideal for kids aged 4-10.

Furby Boom

Remember the Furby? This is the Furby Boom, which looks like an owl and comes in a range of bright patterns (ours is zebra-striped). He/she/it can respond to music, motion and your voice, plus there’s an app that lets your Furby take a shower, go to the loo and choose what to eat. Your Furby can also interact with other Furbys.

And then, oh then … Furby has a number of different traits and, depending on how you treat it, will develop its character over time. Ours appears to have the personality of a drunken sailor, without the swearing. I’d recommend him/her/it for kids aged 7+, who have a sense of humour and lots of patience. You’ll love him too. Promise.

My Friend Cayla

This is a super-cool toy. Think of an extremely high-quality doll, about 45cm high, with brushable hair, nice clothes and Wikipedia inside her. And that’s Cayla.

Completely interactive and powered by Bluetooth, Cayla can answer questions, understand and chat, tell stories and play games. She doesn’t just speak pre-set words and sentences – she can also listen. So if you ask, ‘What’s an elephant?’ and she’s online (via your smart device), she’ll look it up and tell you.

(Note: Cayla needs to be quite close to your device and you can’t use it for anything else at the time. You also need a wifi connection while playing with her. But she’s completely safe for kids aged 4 and up, with all sorts of built-in firewalls, and she will charmingly resist any attempt to get her to talk porn, sex or bad stuff.)

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Make your very own Easter eggs

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Supplied by Daleen ter Wolbeek, mom of two beautiful girls who combines her love for children and passion for food by running workshops, holiday programs and parties at Tots n Pots Helderkruin Johannesburg. Click here  for more info.

Material:

Hard boiled eggs – Do not remove shells!
Food colouring – any colour you’d likeUntitled1
Vinegar (1 tbsp per colour)
Separate bowls for your food colouring
Water (enough to submerge an egg)
A cooling rack for drying eggs
Acrylic paint, koki pens & glitter glue

Method:

1. Make sure your eggs are nice and cool.
2. In a bowl (or bowls) mix 1 tbsp food colouring, 1 tbsp vinegar and water. Add more food colouring if you wish.
3. Submerge your eggs in the colouring one by one – keep it submerged for longer periods for deeper colours!
4. Remove from colouring and let it rest on your cooling rack to dry.
5. You can draw or paint on the eggs too!

Tips:

  • Before placing eggs in the colourant, bind an elastic band around. This will give a cool a stripey look to your eggs!
  • Use Latex gloves to prevent colourant staining your hands
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    Children and creative flow

    ira bekkerBy Ira Bekker, a mosaic artist and facilitator for adult creative explorations who runs workshops in ZenDoodling, mark-making and eco-printing.  Visit her website 

    I started my own creative journey six years ago when I was incubating my second boy. Until then I thought that creativity was something a lucky few are born with. I also limited creativity to artistic expression. Over the last six years my views on creativity have shifted dramatically and through the workshops I do I  have found that a lot of the misconceptions and fears adults have around their creativity starts in early childhood.

    My most important realisation was that we are all born creative. Many of us loose our connection to our creative spirits through conditioning and negative beliefs we are imprinted with at school and home but in reality we all have access to unlimited ideas, skills and insights that we can ‘download’ from the creative soup. Young children do this all the time if allowed to experience and explore.

    The second shift I made was to understand that creativity is simply the yearning or drive to create. It can be to make delicious meals,  to play music, to design skyscrapers or a beautiful home and yes, also to create art. As we grow few of us are given half a chance to develop these skills.  Instead we are told to  focus on sport and end up believing we are not creative.

    When I enrolled my two and a half year old son into nursery school I asked if I could have a look at the classrooms to see what they do with the kids creatively. I found the usual prescriptive and contrived sausage machine type ‘art’ and on enquiry the headmistress, who was also a teacher, told me that she was not creative and so the work they do is quite structured. Having watched my little one paint and draw and build with lego countless times I know that creativity does not have to be taught, it is our natural state and should simply be allowed to unfold.

    What can we do as adults to nurture creativity? Switch off the TV. Allow them to make a mess. Allow them to do things for themselves and get it ‘wrong’. Allow them to do it their way, to explore and get lost in play without interfering. The main conditions for creative flow are silence, an uninterrupted chunk of time, a space where you can create where you will be allowed to make a mess and materials that you enjoy playing with. Give your child a pot of paint and a piece of paper and allow them to figure it out for themselves or allow them to ransack the recycling and help them stick it together with a glue gun. Dig a hole in the back garden and add a bucket of water. Above all, allow them to take the lead.

    Kids love sharing creative processes with their parents and you will learn so much from copying them rather than trying to show them how to do stuff. Paint with your hands, build crazy structures that don’t make sense, smear yourself with mud and shout like a banshee while running all over the garden…They will love you for it!

     

    Kiddie art: display or chuck away?

     Tiffany Markman latest feb 13. jpgBy Tiffany Markman, a mom to a two-year-old, tries to balance her workaholism with cuddling her daughter, reading books, consuming caffeine & reining in her intrinsic kugelry. Follow her on twitter.

    As I type this, I notice that three of the five nails on my right hand have badly chipped polish. Not because I’m so busy I can’t groom (although, now that I think about it…), but because we’re in the process of moving house.

    I’ve been packing boxes for three days. Not a fun activity for a kugel.

    My husband and I have been on an unrelenting auditing campaign, with my fighting to keep things and his insisting on binning them. You see, I’m a hoarder – but mostly of sentimental items. They needn’t be valuable…

    A hideous vase given as a wedding gift by someone I was once fond of but no longer see? Keep. A ratty old love letter from a Grade 9 admirer? Keep. The first picture my daughter ever ‘drew’, aged 18 months? Keep. Of course.

    My clipboard display solution, mounted on Madam’s wall

    My clipboard display solution, mounted on Madam’s wall

    But we haven’t done the play-school art yet…

    If I’m being honest, some of my daughter’s less magnificent, less meaningful art will not survive the audit process. I won’t even fight for all of it. I don’t feel bad – mostly. I’ll keep most of it – probably. And she won’t notice – certainly.

    But we’re only 7 months into 16 years of school. And the art I will be keeping (openly or secretly; it’s hard to tell at this point) needs a BIG box. So how the hell are we going to store what’s coming? And please don’t suggest the fridge. I’m totally over having a fridge that looks like it has Tourette’s Syndrome.

    I asked around. Here’s what some people do:

    1. They store selectively: keeping stuff that is truly awesome, that shows a developmental leap or that says ‘I love you Mom/Dad’. Okay. I get that, since the preciousness of the art decreases as its volume grows. But how do you secretly trash art? At night? (If you don’t, this might happen.)

    2. They take photos of it, either consigning it to the depths of a hard drive or sharing it on Facebook, Instagram or Picasa. A friend of mine uses her photos to make amazing framed ‘galleries’ of her kids’ art, with post-card sized images of each picture displayed like tiles on a white background.

    3. They scan it, using an A3 colour scanner and photo book software to create books of their kids’ creations. I love this idea, but it reminds me of scrapbooking. I’m not one of those crafty people who crochet stuff. Also, what happens to the photo books? Do you keep them on your coffee table and make guests admire them? In 16 years that’s a lot of books.

    4. They have empty picture frames on the wall, and rotate the art as it comes home from school, so that it’s always displayed with importance. We already do this in our toddler’s room, with three mounted clipboards. But they’re stuffed to the gills. And what happens to stuff that’s rotated out?

    5. They share the love, giving pictures, paintings and ‘sculptures’ to grannies, aunties and whoever else will take it. I’ve tried this, but it only works up to a point. (Bizarrely, my mother irons the art before displaying it in pride of place on the Moet et Chandon board in her kitchen, in case it’s ‘wrinkly’.)

    6. They recycle them, using paintings as gift wrap or to customise birthday cards. Again, this solution requires craftiness – the Pinterest kind, not the foxy kind. And I’m short on craftiness. When that particular skill was being doled out at birth, I was probably in a corner being quietly massaged.

    7. They use cool apps like ArtKive and Keepy, both of which I’m going to try.

    Turns out, there’s a lot of options. And you’ve probably got your own to share with me, right? In the interim, the hub has wrapped all of our audited kiddie art in cardboard and we’ll use some mix of these and other ideas on the other side. Except, of course, the scrapbooking. My nails are in enough of a state.

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    DIY Kids: Secret Messages with Glitter and Glue

    shan-headshot-cu

    Shannon Walbran wrote these DIY Kids columns but now works full time as a Spirit Guide interpreter, on the radio and TV, bringing people angelic messages.

    Today’s project takes “glitter art” to the next level: making it into a pre-reading activity by drawing secret messages with the glue stick.

    What You’ll Need:

  • construction paper or typing paper
  • glitter or fine dyed salt
  • glue stick
  • Step 1:

    Jozikids sprinkle Collage

    Doing art with glue sticks and glitter is a classic pre-school activity.  It works on fine-motor coordination as the child unscrews the glue stick cap, smears glue on the paper, and shakes glitter or salt onto the surface.

    Large motor skills get developed as the child lifts the paper and shakes the glitter off (preferably into a cup so it could be used on the next project!)

    Jozikids art done Collage

    Step 2:

    Taking glitter art to the next level, this now becomes a pre-reading activity.  You, the adult, take the glue stick and write a secret message on to the paper.  Then hand it over and let the child discover the message by pouring the glitter on and revealing the secret!

     jozikids glitter words Collage

    What secret message would you write? You could also do shapes, numbers, or a picture. Leave us a comment below and tell us how this project turned out for you.

    If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the uniquely detailed free weekly newsletter for parents in Gauteng – Jozikids – or KwaZulu-Natal – Kznkids.

    DIY Kids: Edible Art – Dyed Salt Project

    shan headshot cu

    Shannon Walbran wrote these DIY Kids columns but now works full time as a Spirit Guide interpreter, on the radio and TV, bringing people angelic messages.

    Today’s project addresses my question about the art project my son brings home from pre-school: “Nice, but what do we DO with that?”

    If you would ever like to make something with your child that is beautiful and even slightly useful, this one’s for you.  Once it’s finished, the salt can still be used on food.

    The Dyed Salt Project is appropriate for children from about 2 years on up to adults — in fact, you may enjoy making one yourself!

    What You’ll Need:

  • salt – 2 kg of fine salt, not coarse, Himalayan, or Kosher salt
  • food coloring – how about red, yellow, and blue?
  • 4 or plastic more mixing containers – mayonnaise jars or yogurt cups
  • spoons
  • glass jars with lids, like baby food jars, jam jars, or a pickle jar if you’re feeling ambitious — and if you’d like to make this as an edible gift, how about a used spice jar with shaker holes in the lid?
  • eyedropper, optional but helpful. Save one from medicine.
  • Step 1: Dye the Salt

    Salt takes food coloring very well. Pour about a cup of fine salt into a plastic mayonnaise jar and add 3 drops to start (from an eyedropper if possible). Screw the lid on the jar and shake shake shake! This part is fun for kids.

    This is also an opportunity to teach your kids about colour mixing. Red + blue = purple, yellow+blue = green.

    colored salt art powdersIf you just have open cups like small yogurt containers, fill them halfway up with salt and stir in the food coloring with salt — also fun, but potentially a bit messier.

    Step 2: Fill the Jars

    This is great practice for fine-motor coordination.  In our house, it’s also a chance to play “excavator and dump truck.”

    Using a teaspoon, dip into the containers of coloured salt and fill up a glass jar layer by layer.  Turn the jar so you can see the patterns you are making.

    Try to hold the jar relatively still so that it fills up colour by colour rather than making a mishmash.

    tommy colored salt art spoon in motion

    Step 3: Learning Points

    Depending on the age of your child, this is a time to expand vocabulary into areas such as volume (“more, less, halfway, almost full, full”) and colour (“contrast, brighter, darker, same, different”)

    It is also OK to taste the salt, to test if different colours taste the same or not, and to feel the salt with the fingertips and check the texture (“grainy, rough, smooth”).

    Step 4: Finishing the Masterpiece

    colored salt art jars cu

    Scoop salt in layers of colours until the whole jar is full. If you leave too much space at the top, the salt will tend to slide around and mix (although the pixelated multicolour effect is also interesting, in case your child does decide to shake it up as mine did).

    Cap your masterpiece with a shaker lid if you’d like to give it as a seasoning, or with a screwtop lid to serve as a decorative piece or perhaps a paperweight.

    Post us a comment below if you try this art project, how old your children are, and what your wins and learning points are!

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    DIY Kids: How to Use Your Car to Make Dried Fruit

    shan headshot cu

    Shannon Walbran wrote these DIY Kids columns but now works full time as a Spirit Guide interpreter, on the radio and TV, bringing people angelic messages.

    Today’s project is something completely different, but it will make sense to all of you who have been sweltering in our summer’s heatwave.  What do you say when you’re stuck in the car? “This feels like an oven.”  Exactly!

    This project teaches kids about where food comes from and how most of our processed food could be replicated at home if we just had enough time and skill.  For this project, we certainly have both.

    What You’ll Need:

  • a car
  • a cutting board
  • a knife
  • 1 kg of fresh fruit: we used apricots
  • Step 1:  Cut your fruit into thinnish pieces.

    car dehydrator fresh nectarines 2

    Step 2: Lay the fruit out on a cutting board.  It’s OK if the pieces touch, as they are going to shrink in the heat.

    car dehydrator fresh nectarines on tray

    Step 3: Park your car so it’s facing the sun.

    car dehydrator toyota

    Place the cutting board full of fruit on the dashboard.

    car dehydrator fresh on dashboard

    Step 4:  After 4 to 5 hours, check to see that the sun is still shining directly on the dashboard.  If not, move the car.

    Step 5: You can leave the fruit in the car overnight.  Our tray took 2 days to dry out.  But we even overdid it a bit, and the pieces were very crispy.

    car dehydrator done

    On the second day, or after 8 hours of sunshine, be sure to check the fruit and see if it’s dried to your liking.

    car dehydrator tommy dried in hand

    Ours was so yummy and so much cheaper than buying dried fruit!  It was a great lesson in solar energy as well.

    Please leave a comment below to let us know if you try this recipe!

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    DIY Kids: Make a Dreamcatcher

    shan headshot cu

    Shannon Walbran wrote these DIY Kids columns but now works full time as a Spirit Guide interpreter, on the radio and TV, bringing people angelic messages.

    Today’s craft is a dreamcatcher, a beautiful and magical item that is supposed to “catch” nightmares as a spiderweb traps flies.  Are your kids experiencing any anxiety in this time of transition after the holidays and the stress of “back to school”?

    We made a dreamcatcher this week because my young son was complaining about bad dreams.  I hope it helps him, and maybe it will help you and your child, too!

    Our dreamcatcher uses items you can often find at a thrift store or hospice shop.  It’s an easy make for children 3 and up.  We’re showing you the basic version.  You could add beads, feathers, or even small toys to help decorate it and make it more meaningful.

    dreamcatcher itselfWhat You’ll Need:

  • an embroidery hoop (thrift, or from a haberdashery store, such as at the Oriental Plaza or the Fashion District)
  • a stitched (not paper) doily, smaller than the hoop (thrift store)
  • ribbons, one color or many colors
  • (optional): beads, feathers, small toys or meaningful objects
  • Step 1:

    Center your doily in the embroidery hoop.

    With your child, choose the colors of the ribbons.  If the kids are old enough, let them help with cutting the ribbons.

    dreamcatcher tommy cutting ribbon

    Step 2: Tie one ribbon from a corner or point of the doily to the hoop, loosely.

    dreamcatcher ribbon 1

    Continue around the circle of the doily, tying it on.

    Dreamcatcher Collage

    Step 3: Hang the dreamcatcher on the wall in the bedroom.

    dreamcatcher 2 small

    Do you have any other tips or tricks for kids who can’t sleep well?  Have you ever tried “Monster Spray” with essential oils to squirt around the room before sleepytime?  Please share in the comments below!

    Note: If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the uniquely detailed free weekly newsletter for parents in Gauteng – Jozikids – or KwaZulu-Natal – Kznkids.

    DIY Kids: Make bath shapes from a veggie tray

    shan headshot cu

    Shannon Walbran wrote these DIY Kids columns but now works full time as a Spirit Guide interpreter, on the radio and TV, bringing people angelic messages.

    Today’s project uses an item many of us have around the house: a foam veggie tray from the supermarket.  Cut it up into pieces and you’ll have a “free” source of foam shapes for the bath, which would cost you R50 or so at the toy shop.

    It’s easy, but here are a few tips to make your project go smoothly.

    Step 1: Choose your tray.

    It’s best to choose a tray that is clean, without cracks or holes.  If it’s sticky from its vegetables, you can wash it lightly with dishwashing liquid and then let it dry in the sun.

    DIY Kids foam bath shapes tray

    Step 2: Cut it into flat shapes.

    Your tray has walls that go upward to hold those nice vegetables in place.  Cut it down into flat pieces.  Use a decently sharp scissors, not a knife (which would leave raggedy edges, as you can see in the photo below).

    DIY Kids foam bath shapes first cut

    3. Cut those shapes into designs.

    What works here is simplicity.  I tried alphabet letters, but they fell apart because of the curves and the holes.

    Go for geometric solids like rectangles, squares, and triangles.

    An American educator from the early 20th century named Caroline Pratt said that children most enjoy working with shapes that fit neatly together.  She called them “unit blocks,” and it’s what many wooden building block sets are based on today.

    To obtain “units,” make one rectangle as your base.  In half, that’s 2 perfect squares.  Each square in half is 2 perfect triangles.  Those will then all match up and give the child a feeling of satisfaction and “rightness.”

    DIY Kids foam bath shapes on board

    4. Play with them in the bath or on a tiled wall in the kitchen

    When wet, these shapes stick to smooth surfaces such as a bathtub wall or tiles.  You can re-arrange them to build cities, for example.

    If you’re feeling educational, you can sort them by shape or count them up into columns and rows (certainly good preparation for learning Excel later on!)

    Yes, veggie trays usually come in black only, but that offers great contrast.

    DIY Kids foam bath shapes in bath

    These bath shapes won’t last forever, but they will give your veggie tray another chance at serving your family.

    Do you have any recycling materials lying around, waiting to turn into wonderful craft projects? List them in the comments below and we’ll use them in upcoming DIY KIDS articles!

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    DIY Kids: Angel Xmas tree-topper from a toilet paper roll

    Shannon Walbran wrote these DIY Kids columns but now works full time as a Spirit Guide interpreter, on the radio and TV, bringing people angelic messages.

    Today’s craft is a Christmas classic: an angel tree-topper, made from a small piece of cardboard such as a toilet paper roll.  You could make a whole choir of these angels and place them on a shelf or mantel.  They are quick, cute, and upcycled.

     

    What You’ll Need:

  • toilet paper roll
  • colored card or paper
  • scissors
  • tape
  • markers, kokis, or crayons
  • a yellow sticky note / Post-it Note
  • a plastic doily if you want lace wings, or a piece of stiff fabric like felt, or more paper
  • Step 1: Make the angel’s body

    Lay the cardboard tube onto a colored piece of paper or card.  Roll it up and cut it to size, and then tape it in the back.

    Step 2: Make the wings

    Take the plastic doily and measure it against the tube.  Cut a rainbow shape (an arc) so the top of the arc is the height of the tube.  Center the tube on the arc and tape it into place.

     Step 3: Make the head

    Cut a piece of white paper the width of one-third the tube.  Roll up this paper, draw a face on it, and tape it into place.

    Step 4: Add a halo

    Cut a circle from a yellow post-it sticky note.  Tuck the circle into the top of the angel’s head.  Tape it at the back to secure.

    Step 5:  Top your tree!

    Merry Christmas from DIY Kids!

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