Bring extra holiday light into your home during the December holidays with candles. Instant mood creators, the flickering light not only brightens a dark winter evening, but also quiets us down after a busy day and becomes a subtle conversation pacer.
Here’s a fun way to create festive wintry candles by whipping up melted paraffin wax and frosting it over and around a round candle or votive, so that it resembles a pretty white snowball Or, add some whipped wax to pillar candles to look as if covered with freshly fallen snow. Make extras for gifts, too.

Here’s the stuff you’ll need for snowball candles:
–ball-shaped candles or 2-inch or larger votive candles
–coffee can, or other sturdy tin can such as a clean 28-ounce stewed tomato can
–paraffin wax (available in the canning section of most grocery stores)
–medium-size heat-resistant bowl used for crafts.
–small metal whisk or fork used for crafts
–dull craft knife or brush (optional)

Here’s the fun:
1. Bend one side of the rim of the can to create a spout, then place a brick or two of paraffin wax in the can. An adult should set the can in 2 inches of water in a saucepan to create a water bath. Heat the water until the paraffin melts, keeping an eye on it at all times. Never place the can on the burner or over an open flame, because the wax is flammable.
2. Carefully pour the melted wax in the bowl and let cool, about 20-25 minutes. It will develop a firm crust, but it should not be hard. Gently beat the wax and thick liquid with the whisk or fork until it becomes a fluffy white consistency. It’s amazing to watch the transformation!
3. Kids can spread the warm whipped wax around a candle, keeping wick exposed. If your candle isn’t round, add more wax as it hardens and mold a ball shape with hands. Let wax harden before use. If you have extra wax, re-melt in tin can and add to pillar candles. (See below.)
To create snow on pillar candles, “frost” the wax onto the sides and top of a candle, keeping wick exposed with the knife or a craft paintbrush. Sprinkle with glitter for extra sparkle.

Safety note: Before burning candles, always set them on a plate or tray intended for candles. An adult should always be present when candles are burning.



Pumpkins aren’t just for Halloween. Available in green, white, blue-gray and various shades of orange, like the deeply ribbed Cinderella pumpkin, they make an eye-catching Thanksgiving Day center- piece when you glue moss and living succulents on top.

Keep the succulents misted as they root into the moss, and enjoy an attrac- tive creation in your home into the December holidays and beyond. When the pumpkin eventually begins to soften and age, toss it in the compost bin and pot the succulents indoors in soil in a flowerpot or outdoors in a frost-free gar- den bed.

Kids will enjoy making the centerpiece with you this week. Swirling the non- toxic sticky glue, handling the wiry moss and arranging the succulents and add-ins make for artful fun.

Here’s what you’ll need for one succulent pumpkin centerpiece:

—One clean pumpkin with a flat top surface and center indentation works best.

—Water-soluble white glue that dries clear, such as Mod Podge Matte finish

—Sphagnum moss available in garden centers or craft stores

—Several succulents. Use cuttings from your garden or purchase at garden centers

—Natural add-ons such as seedpods, acorns, tiny pinecones, eucalyptus

Here’s the fun:

  1. Set pumpkin on a newspaper covered work surface. Remove stem with clippers, being careful not to cut into the pumpkin.
 Drizzle glue around the top area of the pumpkin in swirls. Cover with the moss about 1/2-inch thick, pressing firmly in place. Let dry.
  1. Remove roots and soil from the succulents from containers. Dip 1/4-inch stems into glue and poke into the moss. For balance, place a tall succulent for a focal point near the center and add remaining succulents and add-ons around it over the moss. (An adult may use a glue gun to affix the add-ons, if you prefer)

Care: Set the centerpiece on a trivet or tray. Mist succulents and moss weekly, making sure the pumpkin remains fresh and dry. The succulents will begin to root through the glue into the moss. Keep away from excessive heat, freezing temperatures and rain.

Extra idea: Make succulent pumpkin place cards for each place setting at the Thanksgiving table using single minis, such as the Munchkin pumpkin. Tuck a name card in each one and set at each plate. Guests may take it home to enjoy.





My friend David LaRochelle is an accomplished, award-winning creator of books for young people as well as an illustrator, and in my book, he’s also an inspiring educator who knows kids and knows what kids like.

When he took center stage at a “meet the author” event at our neighborhood bookstore, he not only read his newly published “Monster & Son” — illustrated by Joey Choll and published by Chronicle books (2016) — but he paused after these monster’s words to his son, “Your fearsome yawns won’t frighten me, I’ll hug you strong and tight, then gently tuck you into bed while whispering … good night,” and invited the eager children to participate in creating a big drawing of a monster. Hands went up, ideas bounced off the walls; giggles, “oohs” and “aahs” resounded as David quickly sketched their ideas. The book’s theme expanded into a playful time as vocabulary was enriched and children grew in their love of storytime — and maybe even a monster.

Judge a picture book by its potential for reading enjoyment, and for social and mental growth. Evidence is clear that reading to kids is one of the best ways to ensure success in school. It also strengthens the bond between you and kids!

Here are eight spinoff ideas David shares to enrich picture-book reading time at bedtime or anytime:
1. Look at the book’s cover and predict what it might be about. Funny? Scary? Make-believe? Factual?
2. Use lots of expression. Practice making different silly voices for the characters.
3. After reading it once, let your child retell it in his or her own words. Or, take turns using the illustrations to make up your own stories.
4. Ask what your child thinks will happen after the last page. Maybe the two of you will be inspired to write a sequel together.
5. Turn to a page at random and play “I Spy.” Choose a detail from the illustration and give clues to see if your child can spot the item. (“I spy something small and furry with a long tail”). Then let your child be the clue giver.
6. With older children, explore the copyright and dedication pages, as well as the author and illustrator bios. Ask if the book is older or younger than your child based on the copyright year. Who might your child like to dedicate a book to?
7. Many books list the medium the artist used to create the illustrations, such as collage, watercolors or digital art. Perhaps you and your child will want to try creating your own pictures using the same medium.
8. Have fun!



For Mother’s Day on May 8, nothing is more original or more cherished than a child-made gift. These two crafts are easy for a child to assemble with the help of dad, a caregiver or a teacher.
The paper basket is a stylish container a preschooler will have fun crafting and filling with a mini-bouquet of flowers, chocolate or a small present. School-age kids can show off their artistic talents when they paint a windowsill flowerpot and plant a hardy succulent or Mom’s favorite herbs. Here’s how:
Mother’s Day Gift Basket
(Preschooler craft)
What you’ll need:
–Round plate with even edges, approximately 7 inches in diameter (for a pattern)
–Two sheets of 8.5-by-11-inch heavy construction paper in contrasting colors
–Stickers or lightweight decorations
–Small bouquet of fresh or silk flowers or small gifts
1. An adult should help the child put the plate on a piece of construction paper and draw a circle around it. Cut out the circle. Repeat with the second sheet.
2. Fold both circles in half. Slide rounded edges together. Without folding, slide the bottom creases together to form the shape of a heart. Staple circles together to make a heart-shaped basket.
3. To make a handle, cut an 11-inch long strip of paper that’s 1 inch wide, and staple to basket.
4. Decorate with stickers or objects such as a paper butterfly, and arrange flowers or gifts inside.
Paint a Flowerpot
(Schoolage craft)
–One 4-inch clay pot and saucer
–Acrylic paints
–Paper plates
–Potting soil and a succulent or herb plant
1. Place the pot and the saucer on a newspaper-covered work surface. Squeeze paint onto the plates.
2. Paint over the entire outside surface of the pot and saucer. Let dry. (For a natural look for the background, skip this step.)
3. Use a variety of contrasting colors to make designs around the plain or painted pot. Experiment with a splashy design of swirls, zigzags, stripes, dots and spots. (Dip an eraser of an old pencil in the paint to dab on spots). Let dry.
4. Fill with potting soil and plant a succulent or herb.
5. Add a card for Mom.


Josh and goat
When my friend Brittany Hagan shot me a text asking if I wanted to tag along to 9-year-old Isabel’s first rehearsal at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. You see, “Izzie” is a black lab and also a cast member — along with other therapy dogs, baby goats, a rabbit, hen, tortoise and a goldfish — in the theater’s innovative and zany spring production, “Animal Dance.”
Designed with the preschool set in mind, world-renowned choreographer and performance artist Ann Carlson creatively dances and interacts onstage with the critters. “Animals are dancers,” says Ann. “A goat wags its tail, a dog rolls over.”
And when they’re onstage together, the unexpected is the rule. Captivating moves and antics provide an improvisational production that entertains and lets young kids gain respect for animals while they discover the similarities they share.
Patty Born Selly, assistant professor of education at Hamline University and consultant for “Animal Dance,” says children are naturally drawn to animals. Observing and interacting with them gives children an opportunity to demonstrate compassion and responsibility.
Why not open up new possibilities for your kids to connect with animal friends? Here are some of Patty’s practical ideas:
–Provide opportunities to care for household pets through brushing and feeding, putting out bird feeders or tending a garden that feeds butterflies and other insects. Clean the fish tank together, or get creative and arrange the “furniture” in a guinea pig cage. Kids will develop a sense of confidence in themselves when they participate. It feels good to help others! Taking care of pets also lets kids practice gentleness and self-regulation. You have to move slowly to feed a bunny without startling it.
–Talk about animals wherever you go. Invite your kids to tell you what the animals are doing and other details they find interesting. For preschoolers, a simple line of ants on a sidewalk can be an exciting discovery. Crouch down and observe together. What do they look like? Where are they going? Even if you don’t have answers, it’s the sharing that communicates to your child that you value his excitement.
–Put on a play or your own family version of “Animal Dance” with a pet. Through dramatic play, children can “test out” the perspective of others. It’s also a playful way to learn about animals while they try on new ways of thinking and being in the world.
Resources:; “Connecting Animals and Children in Early Childhood” by Patty Born Selly: Redleaf Press.


marbled egg
While the older kids are busy coloring Easter eggs, your preschoolers will enjoy this tactile and fun way to make marbled paper eggs using an unlikely art supply: shaving cream! When complete, enjoy the artsy egg-shaped designs as decor in your home. Make a large one to hang on a door, and cut out minis for a charming garland to display just about anywhere!

Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–2-inch-by-4-inch piece of corrugated cardboard
–16 toothpicks
–9-inch-by-13-inch baking tray or pan with edges
–shaving cream
–liquid food coloring, poster paint or acrylic paint, diluted 1 part paint to 2 parts water
–heavy-duty white construction paper
–scissors, ribbon and craft supplies for decorating paper eggs

Here’s the fun:
First, make a tool for swirling the color. Poke ends of the toothpicks 1/4 inch apart into the gaps of one long side of the piece of corrugated cardboard. The toothpicks should fit snugly in the cardboard, to resemble a comb.

Spray shaving cream in the baking tray or pan. Kids will have fun playing with it as you guide them to level it out with their hands.

Drop two to three different colors of food coloring or diluted acrylic paint on top of the shaving cream. (When using paint, I use small spoons or an eyedropper saved for crafts when transferring paint to the shaving cream.) The tray should now be filled with blobs of irregular colorful polka dots.

Use the toothpick “comb” to make a few swirls down and across the paint. Aim to make the designs on the surface of the shaving cream rather than dragging the colors too deep. Your child might say with delight, “Hey, I’m combing shaving cream!”

Immediately set a sheet of paper on the design, bringing the left and right sides up slightly. Press gently all over the paper, then lift. Let set for a minute or two, then, using the squeegee, remove the shaving cream in one smooth motion into the sink to reveal a beautiful marbled design. Rinse the squeegee. Let paper dry completely.
Make more designs by adding more coloring or paint.

Cut marbled paper into a large Easter egg shape. Decorate with a few craft supplies if you wish. Punch a hole at the top and tie a string for hanging. Or, make small egg shapes and glue to a long string or ribbon for a springtime garland.

Note: Remind young children that although the shaving cream may look like whipping cream, it is not edible.



For those of us who don’t claim Ireland in our lineage, it’s a stretch to dance a jig, much less remember to wear something green on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. No wonder I was pleased when I shared a photo of this paper strip shamrock craft idea with my neighbor and received a reply, “Your shamrock warms my Irish heart!”
The shamrock has traditionally been the national emblem of Ireland, so why not display it with creativity as a sign not only of the coming holiday, but also a welcome to the green of a long-awaited spring?
Grab some green construction paper and basic supplies from your home office. Enjoy this messless art project with your school-age kids. Your preschooler can also lend a hand, when you make it together.
Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–2 sheets of construction paper in two different colors. (I chose a light and a dark shade of green for these directions)
–household glue
–thread or fishing line for hanging
–paper cutter (optional)
Here’s the fun: (Find step-by-step photos at
1. Make the paper strip hearts.
For each heart, measure, mark with a pencil and cut with scissors or a paper cutter:
2 strips of light-green construction paper cut 1 inch by 3 inches;
2 strips of dark-green construction paper 1 inch by 5 inches.
Pile the 4 strips starting with one light-green short strip, the two dark-green long strips and end with the remaining light-green short strip on top. They should be evenly stacked up at one end. Carefully staple this 1-inch-wide stack about 1/4 inch from the even end.
Bring the loose ends of the short light-green strips away from the pile (and over the staple) to form a heart shape. Hold with one hand as you pull back the long strips in the same manner.
Staple the four strips together near the pointed end of the hearts.
Make two more.
2. Make the shamrock.
Arrange three completed paper strip hearts on a work surface to make a shamrock. Staple the pointed heart ends together. Bend the paper near the staple to spread out the sides. Cut-out and glue on a thin paper stem.
Make several paper strip shamrocks and hang in a window or from a chandelier.



I like to give a little heart or two, or three, to my backyard feathered friends on Valentine’s Day with this birdseed treat shaped with cookie cutters. An ideal kitchen craft to enjoy with preschoolers when the big kids are off to school, it’s also super fun for older kids to do with the whole family on a weekend afternoon.

Pick up a bag of birdseed, packets of unflavored gelatin and root through your cupboards for cookie cutters, and you’re all set to go.

Makes 4-6 bird treats

Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
2 envelopes (1/4 ounce each) unflavored gelatin, such as Knox brand
½ cup boiling water
1 ½ – 1 ¾ cups birdseed
Baking sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper
4-6 heart shaped cookie cutters, roughly 3 inches by 4 inches.
2 straws, cut into 3-inch pieces
String or twine.

Here’s the fun:

In a large bowl, an adult should pour the boiling water into the gelatin. Stir until dissolved, and then add 1 ½ cups birdseed. Stir until birdseed is coated, adding more seed if mixture is too watery.

Meanwhile, arrange the cookie cutters on the lined baking sheet.

Spoon the mixture into the cookie cutters. Press down with the back of a spoon, or compact the mixture with fingers using a piece of waxed paper between fingers and the mixture.

Insert a straw piece into each shape to create a hole for hanging and leave in place.

Set the baking sheet of filled cookie cutters in the refrigerator for two hours. Remove and let stand in a dry room overnight or until hard, turning the filled cookie cutters occasionally.

Carefully pop each treat out of its cookie cutter. Remove straws, thread string or twine through the holes, and hang from a tree branch, fence or deck railing.

Tip: Extra birdseed in your bag? Take a pine cone, roll it around in peanut butter until it’s completely covered, then roll it once more in birdseed. Tie a string around it and hang it outside.


Boxes and bins filled with holiday decor are taped shut, and lids are snapped on tight. Up to the attic they went. Only select items remain on display, like the string of white indoor mini lights framing my kitchen windows that boost our moods through cold and gloomy wintry days.

A hodgepodge of December’s Christmas cards spilling out of a cookie tin also are day brighteners. It’s so much fun to browse through them again, especially with my adult kids.

Here is an idea for enjoying the greetings in new ways when recycled into DIY fun for your young kids or grandkids. If some are photo cards, the children will become more familiar with faces and places as they create.

Create a construction toy for school-age kids and build structures of all shapes and sizes.
For a basic set of interlocking cards, cut 20 cards in equal sizes such as 4 inches by 7 inches.
Now you are ready to cut slits, either six or eight. For six slits, with a card upright in front of you, find the midpoint at the top. Make a dot to mark the spot, then use scissors to cut a 1/2-inch vertical slit. Measure down 1 inch from the top right corner. Make a dot and cut a 1/2-inch horizontal slit. Measure down 1 inch from the top left corner, mark and cut a horizontal slit. Now cut slits the same way at the midpoint of the bottom of the card and the two lower sides.
If you prefer eight slits on your cards, measure 1 inch in both directions from each corner and cut slits.
Start construction by sliding cards into each other at the slits in a perpendicular fashion to create a house, tower or imaginary structure.
Note: Vary construction possibilities by cutting some slits at angles, or cut cards into geometric shapes such as a circle, half moon or square. Cut slits on them and begin assembling your structures.