Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Slacker-Friendly Christmas Advent Calendar Activity List

For several years now, I've been doing an activity advent calendar with my kids. The idea is that each morning they open a little door to find a slip of paper that says what Christmas activity we'll be doing that day. My kids love it, and I really love it too. (I got our advent calendar at a craft store, but you can find them on Amazon, too.)

When I started out the first year, I had big, BIG plans of doing something amazing and festive and meaningful with my then-three-year-old son every day from December 1-24. It started out well. We decorated! We saw Santa! We went to the zoo to see the Christmas lights! Then a week or two in, I realized that I didn't necessarily feel like doing super-involved Christmas activities with a toddler every day for 24 consecutive days. It's not that I didn't want to do it at all anymore: I did and still do! But I wanted to be able to do the super fun stuff some days, and not leave the house or change out of our pajamas other days. Except that you can't tell a kid "We're going to do something fun and Christmassy every day!" and then not do something fun and Christmassy every day...

This was supposed to have a picture of our advent calendar in the background,
but I appear to have somehow LOST it. True story.

Enter the "Slacker-Friendly Advent Calendar Activity List". On days where you want to do something super fun and exciting ("March in a Christmas Parade!" "Horse-pulled sleigh ride in the park!" "Build a life-sized igloo out of milk cartons!"), do it. But if you have a day or two (or ten) where you still want to do something fun and Christmassy with your kids, but you don't want it to be a lot of work, this list should help you. (And even if you don't do an actual advent calendar, you can use this list for ideas of things to do when your kids start to declare themselves to be "bored" when they're stuck inside on cold winter days.) Whenever I mention buying something, I've tried to include helpful links - Amazon will pay me a few cents if you buy something using one of the the links I've included here, but none of the other links will. Just fyi.

I've divided the list into 5 sections:
Super-slacker activities that require literally no advance planning or preparation
Plan-ahead slacker activities that require you to prepare in advance but need little or no extra effort on your part on the days you actually do them
Stuff you were (maybe) going to do anyway activities that help you to incorporate your normal holiday preparations into an advent calendar activity
Things to do for others that help your kids celebrate the season by helping other people, and
Everything else, which is probably self explanatory.

Rather than pre-filling every box in our calendar with activities, I decide the night before (or even the morning of) which activity I'm up for doing each day, then just write it down and stick it in for the kids to find. That way our schedule can change or we can have an unplanned lazy day without it messing up our calendar.

Super-Slacker Activities 
These require either no prep at all or prep that you can do at home in a few minutes or less at the beginning of the activity. So if you forgot to plan ahead for an activity or just don't really feel like doing anything on a particular day, this is your go-to list. Some of these can even be used more than once. (Who's going to complain if they have to watch more than one Christmas movie in December?)

1. Watch a Christmas movie in your pajamas
Here are some available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. If you don't have any of those, just schedule this for a night when you know there's a Christmas movie playing on TV, or watch a movie you already own. Combine with snacks, hot cocoa or candy canes if you want to make it even more fun.

2. Color a Christmas picture (or for older kids, do a Christmas word search or maze)
Just do a Google search for "printable Christmas coloring page/word search/ maze", then let your kids pick their favorite(s), print, and you're done. And if you're worried about accidentally going to a page with a computer virus or malware, Oriental Trading is a reputable online store that has free coloring pages here.

3. Make a video of the kids singing a Christmas song and share it on Facebook for friends and family to enjoy
Your kids get to be the star, and as an added bonus, friends and family get to see your cuties.

4. Eat a picnic breakfast/lunch/dinner next to the Christmas tree
You've got to feed them at some point anyway. Just spread out a blanket next to the Christmas tree, maybe turn on some Christmas carols, and ta da! "Christmas tree picnic" sounds way more fun than "The same meal I was going to serve you anyway, but on the floor", but it requires no extra planning or work.

This isn't a picnic. I just wanted an excuse to show you guys this picture
of my daughter sleeping by the Christmas tree four years ago.
5. Have a Christmas music dance party
Turn on some Christmas music on Pandora, and dance around the kitchen until everyone's tired. Santa hats optional. Older kids might enjoy learning a Christmas dance routine to a Christmas song by watching a video on YouTube instead.

6. Learn to make Christmas origami
A quick Google search turns up pages of Christmas origami tutorials like this and this. Use whatever paper you have lying around, or have the kids help cut squares out of Christmas wrapping paper to use.

7. Do Christmas yoga
(Yes, it's a real thing.) In case you haven't yet heard of Cosmic Kids Yoga, here's the scoop: Jamie is a yoga instructor with a fabulous British accent who tells kids a story while having them act it out by doing yoga poses. All of her videos are available for free on her YouTube channel, and she has a Christmas one available here. (And if they want to keep going after that one's done, she also does this one based on the movie Frozen, which could be vaguely Christmassy, because: snow.)

Plan-Ahead Slacker Activities 
For these activities, I buy the necessary supplies ahead of time (mostly from Amazon, Oriental Trading, and the Dollar Tree), and then pull them out as needed. The added bonus is that most of these require little to no extra work or participation on your part, beyond buying the stuff ahead of time. My advice: save at least some of these for the week before Christmas when you're out of other ideas.

1. Take a Christmas bath 
Since I bathe my kids anyway (hopefully you all assumed that about me), I just make their regular bath time a Christmas activity one night. Use bath color tablets for kids or food coloring to turn the water a festive color (I buy the color tablets at Wal-Mart, but Amazon has them, too), throw in some Christmas bath toys, buy Christmas soap on Etsy or in a store, and/or use a themed bath bomb (last year my kids loved these snowman bath bombs I found on Etsy). When there's snow on the ground outside, I've even handed the kids a big bowl full of snow to play with while they're in the bath.

2. Decorate with Christmas window clings
The Dollar Tree *almost* always has a pretty good selection of holiday themed window clings for every holiday. (You can also find some on Amazon or Oriental Trading.) I just go and pick up a bunch of them for a few dollars, and then when I'm ready, I give them to the kids and have them decorate our sliding glass door.



3. Read a Christmas story by the Christmas tree. 
I read to my kids every night at bedtime anyway, so each year I buy a new Christmas book or two, then at least one of our advent calendar activities is to read a new Christmas book by the tree before bedtime. For the past month or so, my kids have been super into Berenstain Bears, so I already bought this book on Amazon and have it waiting in a closet for one of my slacker advent activities.

4. Make Christmas ornaments
Oriental Trading has tons of ornament craft kits you can buy ahead of time, as do Amazon and most craft stores, or you could do the ever-popular glue popsicle sticks in the shape of a snowflake and then put glitter on them.

Pretty sure we got these from Michael's.

5. Do a Christmas puzzle
In the past, I've found Christmas puzzles at Wal-Mart (there was one that came with a kids Christmas music CD in the $5 CD/DVD bin) and in the Dollar Spot at Target. But if you can't find one in a store, there's always Amazon and Oriental Trading.

6. Make a Christmas garland or paper chain
If you want to have your kids use popcorn or construction paper and already have some on hand, this might be able to work as a super-slacker activity. But you can also buy pre-cut, self adhesive pieces of paper for a paper chain here.


Stuff you were (maybe) going to do anyway
Let's face it: Christmas is a lot of work for parents. Instead of making the activity advent calendar an extra thing you have to do on days when you're already crazy busy, just make your normal holiday activities part of the advent calendar by writing them down and putting them in the calendar when you were planning to do that stuff anyway.

1. Start another advent calendar
No joke, this is always day one of my advent activity calendar. I usually get my son the Lego Advent Calendar, and I've gotten my four-year-old daughter a Little People one and a Playmobil one (all available on Amazon. Target also usually has a really good selection of advent calendars.) If you want to do one of those or a chocolate advent calendar, there's your activity for day one: finding out they get a present/piece of candy every day for 24 days. You don't really get much more exciting than that, and this way, you don't have to try!

Yay Legos!
2-3ish. Put up/decorate the Christmas tree and/or other Christmas decorations.
This one can be broken up into multiple days. If you go to a Christmas tree farm or store to pick out a tree, and you haven't done it yet, "Buy a Christmas tree" can be one day's activity. "Decorate the tree", "Hang up the stockings", "Put Christmas lights up outdoors", etc can all be their own activity if you want. Our tree is already up and decorated this year (I couldn't wait any longer!) but one of our activities is going to be "put up more decorations", and we'll set up the nativity scene (which my kids love helping with), hang up wreaths, and get out some odds and ends like snow globes that we usually put out for Christmas.

4-5ish. Buy/wrap Christmas presents. 
We break this one into multiple days as well. One day my husband takes them to get a gift for me, another day I take them to get a gift for him, and still another day, we buy gifts for grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. And wrapping can take place on a separate day, too.

6. Mail out Christmas cards
If you weren't planning to do this anyway, feel free to skip this one. But if you WERE, older kids can sign their names to cards, put on stamps and address labels, or stuff envelopes. For at least two years, I've had both kids color/draw on the backs of some of the envelopes with red and green crayons until they got bored of it.

7. Play together in the snow and then drink hot cocoa
Confession: I hate going out in the snow. But if we get a lot of snow, I pretty much know that I'm going to have to take the kids out to play in it at some point. At least this way, it doubles as an advent calendar activity, and the lure of hot chocolate is usually enough to keep them from wanting to stay out (and keep me out) in it for hours. And if you love the snow, this is your chance to shine! Plan a snowball fight or snowman building competition with your neighbors, build a snow igloo, or do whatever else it is that people who like snow do while they're out there. Then invite me over for the hot cocoa part at the end.

8. (Insert your Christmas Eve tradition here)
Before our oldest was even born, I decided that I wanted to start a Christmas Eve tradition with our kids where the night before Christmas, they get a new pair of Christmas pajamas and a Christmas ornament. Some people go somewhere special on Christmas Eve, exchange certain gifts, or get a new book or movie. Whatever you already do, just put it in the activity calendar. It's the last day, you made it to the finish line, just stick with whatever it is you were going to do anyway, and congratulate yourself on finishing strong (or finishing at all).

Christmas Eve jammies!
9. Drive around and look at Christmas lights.
This one can be done alone or tacked on to anything else you have to do anyway. (Ie, "We're going to go return these socks to Kohls, and then on the way home, we'll do our advent calendar activity of driving around to look at Christmas lights!!") Ask around ahead of time to find out some good neighborhoods for looking at lights, and then do it either on its own or on the way to/from something else you have to do. Turn on a Christmas station on the radio, and enjoy!

10. Special Christmas lunchbox lunch
If you regularly (or ever) pack lunch for your kids for school, make a Christmas lunch one day instead of a "regular" lunch. Interpret this however you want: wrap each item of their lunch in Christmas wrapping paper, use a cookie cutter to cut out a sandwich into a Christmas tree shape, include mostly red and green foods (red and green bell pepper strips with hummus, red and green grapes, red and green apple slices, etc). If your kids aren't in school, make a Christmas lunch at home.


Things to do for other people

1. Go Caroling
Last year we went caroling around a neighborhood with a group from our church, and the kids (and neighbors) loved it! You can also ask a local nursing home if they would mind you bringing your kids to go caroling from room to room and spread some holiday cheer.

2. "Elf" your neighbors
This year before Halloween, we got "Booed" for the first time! Some neighbors filled a bucket with Halloween goodies, put it on our doorstep, rang our doorbell and ran. My kids were thrilled, and we then excitedly booed some other neighbors the next day. And apparently, there's an elf version for Christmas! Buy some goodies, print up a note here or make your own, sneak over to a neighbor's house and leave it on the doorstep, ring the doorbell, then run! It's like ding dong ditch, but your neighbors probably won't be mad about it.

3. Send a care package to a military service member who is deployed
I have a cousin who is currently deployed to whom we're going to send a Christmas care package, but if you don't personally know anyone who is deployed, organizations like Operation Care Package or Support our Troops have information on how to send care packages to US service members overseas who would like to receive some mail.

4. Make and hide kindness rocks
Making kindness rocks is a trend where people paint, draw on or otherwise decorate rocks and then hide them in pubic for other people to find and enjoy as a random act of kindness. Put a Christmas spin on the trend by painting a Christmassy picture or writing words to Christmas carols.

5. Take toys/clothes to a charity
Get your kids involved in giving to others by having them help to pick out a toy for a child who might not get many Christmas gifts otherwise and then donating it to a local charity. In the Toledo area, Mosaic Ministries collects new toys and gifts for kids. If you're not near Toledo, check to see if there's a Toys for Tots or Angel Tree collection site near you.

6. Pick out a birthday gift for Jesus
Every year, I explain to my kids that - since Christmas celebrates Jesus' birthday - it would be nice to give him a present. But since we can't actually hand him something, we read Matthew 25:34-40 in the Bible, and I explain that whenever we do something for "the least of these", we're really doing it for Jesus. Then we go to Compassion International's Gift Catalog online (they'll also mail you a hard copy if you want) and pick out a birthday gift for Jesus by buying income-generating and/or life-improving gifts for people living in poverty. In the past we've "given Jesus" livestock, vegetable seeds, hygiene kits, a trained birth attendant for a pregnant mom, a playground, and medical care for a baby or child. Happy Birthday, Jesus! Hope you liked your goat! (Even if you don't celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time, this is still a great way to help care for people in need and teach your kids about helping others who are less fortunate.)

7. Bring cookies or other goodies to your local fire or police station
Just check to make sure they're ok with it first. Some might only be able to accept packaged foods or delivery from a restaurant for safety/health reasons. But if nothing else, you could always bring them handmade Christmas cards and a big thank you.

8. Make a card or gift for your mail carrier
If you do as much of your Christmas shopping online as I do, you've probably gotten to know your USPS mail carrier, UPS driver and/or FedEx delivery person pretty well. So why not have your kids help thank them for delivering all of your Christmas gifts to you? Make a card, decorate some cookies, or give them another small gift to show your appreciation. (Keep in mind that since USPS mail carriers are federal employees, there are specific guidelines regarding what types of gifts they can accept.)

Everything Else
Activities on this list are going to require some effort. (But if you didn't want to make at least a little effort, you probably would't be doing an activity advent calendar in the first place.) I'll be including links to places local to me (we live in the Toledo, Ohio area) in some of these, but if you're not nearby, look around to see if something similar is available near you.

1. Visit Santa
If you live anywhere near a Bass Pro Shop, that's totally the place to go. Free pictures with Santa (for the past few years, they've also given out a free picture frame with the pictures on certain days), along with free crafts, activities and games. If you're not near Bass Pro, let me know in the comments where the best place to see Santa is near you.

This frame was totally free!

2. Go to the zoo

The Toledo Zoo does its annual "Lights Before Christmas" which is beautiful and amazing, with over a million lights, rides, interactive displays, and a giant Christmas tree that is regularly voted one of the best in the country. If you're not near Toledo, check to see if the zoo closest to you does something similar. Even if they don't decorate with lights, a lot of zoos do something Christmassy that might be worth checking out.

3. Make/decorate a gingerbread house
Last year we bought a pre-assembled Wilton brand gingerbread house at the grocery store for under $10. This year we're going to be trying this one from Ikea. And if your kids are really young and not quite ready for a gingerbread house, get an ice cream cone, turn it upside down, cover it with green frosting, and let them decorate a "Christmas tree" with M&Ms or other small candies instead.

Ta da!
4. Make Christmas art at a local art studio
This year I'm super excited to take my kids to Copper Moon Studios - a create your own glass studio and gallery - to make glass Christmas ornaments! If you're not in the Toledo area (or even if you are) check out local point-your-own-pottery places or canvas painting studios to see if they offer any Christmas art classes for families.

5. Attend a Christmas show or play
Check around to local churches, schools and theaters to see who's offering Christmas shows and performances. In Toledo, the Stranahan will have live performances of the Broadway musical Elf and The Nutcracker. The new Grinch movie currently in theaters is another good option.

6. Make and decorate Christmas cookies
Pretty self-explanatory. (But if you want to make Christmas cookies without buying ingredients or any cleanup, check out Foodology or another place that offers recreational cooking classes to try a decorated Christmas cookie class where you get to make and take home your own cookies.)


So there's the list! If you have more advent calendar activity ideas, PLEASE share them in the comments! And as I think of more, I'll be adding them to the list above. Merry Christmas!!


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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Win a Family Four-Pack of Tickets to Monster Jam at the Toledo Huntington Center!

The contest has ended, and the winner is Cheryl Lehsten!

My son has been kind of into monster trucks lately, so imagine how excited I was when I found out that Monster Jam is coming to the Huntington Center in Toledo, AND that I get to give away four tickets to the opening night performance on March 17 to one of my lovely, lovely fans!


Here's the scoop:

Metro PCS Presents Monster Jam®, which features larger-than-life Monster Jam trucks driven by world class athletes, returns to Toledo’s Huntington Center March 16-18 with four shows. In addition, this year’s lineup includes two Pit Parties. The new season will bring motorsport fans to the edge of their seats with adrenaline-charged, high-flying, four-wheel excitement that is fun for the entire family.

Tickets start at $15 and are available at the Huntington Center Box Office or at www.monsterjam.com. Show times are: Friday, March 16, 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 17, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, March 18, 2 p.m.

Pit Parties are:
Saturday, March 17, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and Sunday, March 18, 11:30 to 1 p.m.

Metro PCS is offering fans ticket vouchers for the pit parties. Pit Party tickets are also available at the Huntington Center Box Office and www.monsterjam.com.

Unexpected, unscripted and unforgettable, Monster Jam takes center stage in the world’s most iconic venues like the Huntington Center, sporting meticulously manicured dirt tracks created with the sole purpose of pushing these perfectly engineered, larger-than-life trucks to the limit.

Monster Jam is one of the only sports where male and female world-class drivers, some generational rivals, are equals competing for the same championship on the same track. Following racing, new in 2018 across all Monster Jam events, fans in every city will have the chance to vote for the truck winner in the freestyle competition by real-time, in-arena fan voting on their smartphones. For more information, visit www.monsterjam.com.


And here's how to enter to win four tickets to the opening night performance on March 16 at 7pm:

1. Comment on this blog post (click comment below) and let me know who would love to go to Monster Jam with you!

2. Share this post on Facebook. (You can do that by clicking the little Facebook icon in the bottom corner of this post, or just copy and paste the link to this post on your Facebook page.)

The contest is open until 11:59pm on March 9, and I'll randomly select a winner and announce the name here and on Facebook on March 10! (Make sure to like my Facebook page so that you don't miss the announcement!) Good luck!


Friday, November 17, 2017

Great Gift Review - Color Huey and the Four Seasons

My kids really like playing board games, but if I'm being honest... I don't find it quite as enjoyable as they do. For one thing, my oldest will be six in three months and my youngest turned three two months ago. In case you've never tried playing a board game with a three year old - it can be tricky. And since my son can handle more complicated games while my daughter doesn't want to be left out, trying to play a game that both of them can enjoy without me going insane is not easy. Plus, a lot of the games that are made for young kids are mind-numbingly boring for adults.

But my friend Sara recently started selling games through SimplyFun, and she asked if I'd like to try one out and review it. I wasn't totally sure until I looked through their catalog and saw that there were quite a lot of games that didn't look horrendously awful. (Actually, they looked so non-awful that I ended up buying three more games to give to my kids for Christmas.)


We picked the game Color Huey and the Four Seasons. Each player chooses a card with a picture of Huey (a caterpillar, worm-type-thingy) on it. For each turn, the player reaches into a bag full of colored circles and pulls one out, hoping to pull out a color he/she needs to fill in all of the circles.

The beauty of the game is that it's a challenge (and fun) for both my three-year-old and five-year-old. One side of each board shows Huey wearing a different-colored pair of shoes on each segment of his body, while on the other side, each segment has a color word spelled out on it (and no colored shoes) so that players have to match the color to the word. In kindergarten, colors are some of the sight words that my son has been learning, so it's great practice! My daughter, on the other hand, can practice matching colors. (The color words and the colored shoes are in a different order on every card, so the kids can't just memorize where the pieces go, they have to actually read/match the colors.)

There's also an element of cooperation. If you pull a color circle that you already have on your own card, you have to pass that color to another person who needs it. So players can strategize together and maybe decide to team up to ensure that one of them wins and their mom loses, for example. Not that MY children would do that (they totally did).

The game itself is well made. Each card is made out of a thick cardboard, and there's a cloth bag to store the colored circles in. I was happy that it wasn't flimsy, especially since my kids aren't exactly gentle with games. (As you'll see in the video. Yikes!)

My kids LOVED the game, and it's simple enough that after they learned the rules, they could play together without me (which was beautiful after I played it with them five times in a row and they wanted to keep going).

Simply Fun has a ton of games that are actually educational but kids just think they're fun. You can search for games by subject matter so that they can work on specific skills like reading or math, or you can search by age. (I bought my five-year-old the game Math Room for Christmas so he can practice addition.)

You can follow Sara's Facebook page here. And only until Sunday (11/19), they're having their biggest sale of the year on games! So if you need a good gift for a kid in your life and you DON'T want to give them a cartoon-themed toy (which, let's be honest, I'm also giving my kids for Christmas), now's the time to stock up on some fun games!

(Also, I tried to have my kids make a review video of it, and it was hilariously bad! So naturally I'm sharing it.)



*Disclosure - I was given this game for free in exchange for my honest opinion.*

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