Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Holiday Projects - Part 2

As promised, part two of our Holiday Projects posting. Here are three more favorites of ours and I hope you enjoy them. Next week . . . you've got it, several more projects you can use!

Graham Cracker Houses and Villages

These holiday houses are decorations and treats all in one. You'll need a good quality graham cracker as your base. Some graham crackers are easily breakable and others are less so - you want the ones that are "sturdy." Each house requires at least 6 crackers. We made bottom bases out of foam core board so they could have a little landscaping space around the outside but you can also use another cracker for the base. The front and back need to be "trimmed" with by very carefully cutting the two corners to provide the pitch of the roof. This procedure takes patience and a plan, and a sharp knife. When the children were younger I did this part - not without a little frustration as some of the crackers just break. No problem though they became our snack. The sides of the house may need to be cut as well because you want the roof to pitch, so coordinate that with the amount you are taking off the front and back pieces. Perfect timing for a math lesson on angles - you can visualize the concept when you stand the front up and match it to the sides.
Assembly is easy with a good stiff frosting. We used both homemade frosting and those we purchased from the store. Both gave us good results. This is your glue!
Here's a quick recipe that is the right consistency - 3 egg whites, 1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar, 16 oz. package confectioners' powdered sugar. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar with electric mixer on high speed. Gradually add sugar and continue beating for 5-7 minutes until smooth and thick. Makes 3 cups. Store in a tight container (airtight). This should keep for a week.
Laying out all the "wall" pieces for assembly is helpful. If you need something to prop up your buildings you can use pint sized milk containers or the like. We just got used to getting all "hands on deck" as we put our buildings together, two of us would hold the building up encouraging cooperation. The frosting adheres quickly and will dry hard.
When constructing a town you can use varied sizes of buildings. For larger or longer structures "glue" several crackers together with frosting and a small piece of graham cracker as a brace on the back side. It will allow for a sturdy seam between crackers. To decorate use a variety of candies and "glue" on with more frosting. Here's where each child's creativity can flow! Group buildings together for a fun and festive holiday scene.

Puzzle Piece Projects

We all have them, puzzles with missing pieces or puzzles that no longer are a thrill to put together. Here are some creative ideas for those puzzles - recycle them into a holiday project.
Idea #1 - using spray paint or hand paint them with acrylics gather the pieces into a holiday shape to use as a tree ornament or even a holiday pin. Use craft glue to adhere all the pieces on to a cardboard base cut in the shape desired. Stack pieces until the cardboard is covered. Attach a ribbon so it can be hung as a decoration or glue on a pin back to make it a holiday pin. You can also add buttons, pom-poms, glitter and other items to give it more pizazz. Shapes that work well - trees, candy canes, snowflakes, snow people, stars, wreath. Let your imagination run!
Idea #2 - make a picture frame using puzzle pieces. They can be painted or left as they are, which can be really lovely when mixed together. You can use a cardboard frame base or just begin building around the size of the photo you'd like to use. We mounted the photo onto a cardboard or card stock base so there was a good base for the frame and photo.
After you start working with puzzle pieces you'll start coming up with all kinds of other ideas - go for it!

Christmas "Crackers"

This traditional holiday fun comes from the UK and includes a sweet treat, motto or joke or trivia and a small toy, and often a paper hat. There are many traditions connected with the cracker which could be fun to explore or to start one of your own. While you can buy commercial versions of the cracker (some that actually "crack" like a cap gun) we loved to make our own to share with family and friends. We liked to host a holiday party for neighborhood children or school friends during the winter break and our crackers were a hit for all. Because of the small size of items you'll need to be thoughtful about the ages participating or have accommodations for those younger ones.
Here's how to make your own. You'll need toilet paper tubes (they are a good size and easy for small hands to work with), tissue paper for wrapping, ribbon, options for decorating the outside of the cracker, and items to stuff inside (again those are usually candy or other treats, small toys, a joke or motto or trivia and a paper hat if you like). Starting with the empty tube stuff the inside with the items you want to include. We liked to make sure that our tubes were full of fun items. Because it can be hard for little hands to stuff the tubes and keep everything inside rather than pushing it all through, we would cover one end of the tube with tissue paper secured with tape. Once the tube is full, roll the it up in tissue paper and secure on ends with ribbon. We also needed a little bit of tape on the side to help it stay secure. Usually 1/2 sheet of tissue paper did the trick, but we also found out that not all tissue paper sheets were the same size so you may need to experiment. Then let the children decorate the outside of the cracker - stickers, holiday shapes, pom-poms, glitter, sequins, etc. You can substitute the tissue paper covering for other papers including wrapping paper if you wish.
While these crackers don't "crack" we liked to say "crack" or "pop" when we opened them. Two people will each pull on one end of the cracker to open it and reveal the contents. Each person will have their own cracker with all it's surprises. It's fun to then put on the paper hat (hats made from tissue or another light paper work best since they can be folded small enough to fit in the tube) and go around the group reading the motto or joke or trivia. Our aim was to have something funny or odd which got laughs, comments and even some discussions. Then everyone enjoyed a little treat and got to play with their toys. I liked to include a tiny game if possible or small action figures. It's surprising what you can fit inside! If you would like to include younger children or larger items you can find other sized cardboard tubes or using stiffer paper make a tube around the items and wrap as described above. Start your "cracker" tradition this holiday season!

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