My latest project with the Dumpling is to make trendy animals (ex: llamas, flamingos, narwhals, etc.) from the past and present. Owls, of course, made the list because they were everywhere back in the early 2010s due to Harry Potter mania. The birds were inescapable, being featured in clothes, home decor, and toys and even becoming popular household pets.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about owls are their eyes, so the Dumpling and I made ones that blinks and winks…among other expressions.
2. Glue two pairs of eyes together. Select two pairs of eyes from the template (or draw your own) and hole punch where indicated. Position one pair in front of you, then vertically flip (very important!) the eyes over to glue the second pair onto the backside.
3. String a thin wire through the eyes and tape the wire in place on the back of the owl. (I only had floral wire…that’s why it is green!)
The photos on my phone are an un-curated mess, filled with blurred, unflattering, or accidental shots that should have been deleted long ago. As a result, the Dumpling and I would often get distracted by the 10,000+ images other than the ones I want to show her.
After our recent family vacation, I printed a few photos that highlighted our trip and bound them into a miniature book. Sharing real, physical pictures was such a refreshing experience in this digital age. The format helped the Dumpling better recount the events in chronological order and served as a keepsake of our holiday.
The photo book, which measures 3″ w x 4″ h, was made from folding a standard 6″ x 4″ photo in half. The below tutorial shows how to print two images per spread. To create one image per spread, just print directly from your phone.
1. Adjust slide size to standard 6″ w x 4″ h photo dimensions in a blank PowerPoint presentation.
2. Delete any text boxes on the slide. PowerPoint inserts the title and subtitle text boxes on the first slide by default, so select both and delete.
3. Insert 3″ w x 4″ h rectangle on the left half of the slide. PowerPoint uses a blue rectangle and black outline by default. While it does not matter what the fill color is, remove the shape outline. This is where the picture on the left spread will be.
4. Duplicate the rectangle and place it on the right half of the slide. This is where the picture on the right spread will be.
5. Fill the rectangles with photos. Instead of filling the shape with a color, select the option to fill it with an image. Repeat steps 3-5 on additional slides until reaching the number of desired pages (my recommendation is approximately 10-20).
(Pro-tip: Add text on top of the photos to tell a story!)
6. Convert the slides in JPGs. My local print shop only prints photos from JPGs or PNGs, so I had to convert my PowerPoint file into the acceptable format. I could not figure out how to export the images without compromising on the resolution (even though I checked all the settings!), so my workaround was to first save the slides as a PDF.
8. Score and fold each printed photograph in half. Scoring creates a cleaner fold, especially on thicker paper stocks. If you do not have a scoring board, layer a folded towel under the photo, place a ruler on where the score line should be, and run the edge of an old credit card along the ruler to create the score line.
9.With the edges aligned, tape the back of the photos together using double-sided tape. I applied tape on the top, bottom, and outer margins of the photo, but not the inner margin located along the fold.
Once the photos are taped together, they form the inside pages of the book and the folds make up the spine.
10. Press the photos together under something heavy (i.e. textbooks) for about 24 hours. This limits the pages from puffing open on their own.
11.Tape the spine tightly together and then measure its width. This width varies depending on the number of pages, weight of the photo paper, and how well the pages were compressed together. For example, the width of my spine was approximately 0.5″. If unsure, add no more than 0.125″ to the measurement.
12. Create the book cover in PowerPoint. The process is similar to creating the inside pages of the book as demonstrated above, so I did not splice the demo video up into individual steps. In summary, adjust the slide size to US Letter dimensions (11″ x 8.5″) and insert a rectangle with the following dimensions: (6″ + width of spine spine) x 4″. For my example, it would be 6.5″ w x 4″ h. The rectangle should be placed at least 0.25″ away from the edges of the slide to prevent the image from being cut off during printing.
I have also added lines (at the 3″ and 3.5″ mark) to help indicate where I needed to score the book spine.
When “filling” the the rectangle with an image, PowerPoint automatically stretches the picture, so manually change this setting by switching to “Fit” under the “Crop” drop-down. To enlarge or shrink the image proportionally, click and drag the white circles on the corners AND hold down the SHIFT key simultaneously.
13. Print. I used standard 8.5″ x 11″ card stock. When printing, select “Actual Size” in the setting to prevent the printer from changing the image size.
14.Score and fold where spine ought to be, then cut out the cover.
15. Tape the cover onto the first and last page of the book. Again I only taped the top, bottom, and outer margins. Do not tape the spine of the book onto the cover because there needs to be wiggle room for the book to open and close.
DIY metallic embossing — with embossing powder, special ink, and heat gun, has always sounded complicated and messy to me, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that a kid-friendly version can be created with aluminum foil. This project allows lots of room for error, so it is great for toddlers still working on their fine motor skills.
Trace design with glue. Smudges are okay since everything will be covered up by the foil anyways.
Glue string/twine onto the design. For my leaf design, I cut the string into varying lengths beforehand and let the Dumpling chose which ones to use. I was not picky about placement. If you are, however, the strings can easily be re-arranged since the glue took a while to dry.
Apply more glue surrounding the image and on top of the string,cover with a sheet of foil with shiny side up, and gently rub on the raised image.
Let dry, cut along the outlines, and glue the leaves onto the black cardstock. Any color paper can be used, but I preferred black since it brought out the metallic silver.
Bonus: Turn the leftover foil into abstract art. Crumples, rips, and wrinkles are interesting textures, so fold the leftover foil into strips of varying lengths and widths. Then ask your toddler for their expert arrangement to create a piece of abstract art.
One of my favorite craft materials lately is shrink plastic (a.k.a. Shrinky Dink), which is a type of clear plastic (#6 to be exact) that once heated, thickens and shrinks to approximately half of its original size. It is great for making personalized crafts and gifts since we could essentially draw or trace any design on it.
The Dumpling and I have turned our plastic trinkets into wind chimes, ornaments, accessories, name tags, and key chains, just to name a few.
Color pencils, permanent markers, or acrylic paint
Oven safe tray
Hole punch (optional)
Clear nail polish (optional)
Draw or trace your image onto the smooth side of shrink plastic sheet with permanent marker. My sheets came pre-sanded on one side and smooth on the other, so check carefully. Size the images accordingly as they shrink to half of their original size once heated.
Color on the sanded side of the plastic. Flip the sheet over and color on the sanded side — the rougher surface makes it easier for the pigments to grab on. Coloring on this side also ensures that the color doesn’t cover the design outline.
Cut along the outline. Be gentle as plastic can rip easily.
Punch hole(s) on where you want to string the shrink plastic.
Pre-heat oven to 175°C and then bake cutout for approximately 3-5 minutes in oven-safe tray. The funnest part of this activity is watching the plastic curl and then flatten into a miniature version of itself. The first time I did this, the cutout did not flatten properly — my guess was that I did not wait for the oven to pre-heat to the right temperature, so be patient!
I did not think it would happen so soon — the Dumpling is now learning Chinese words in school that is beyond my elementary knowledge of the language. Frankly my exact reaction when I saw her second semester vocabulary list was “WTF?!”
While she is not expected to write at three years old, her current curriculum requires her to recognize characters. Feedback from the school’s initial progress report stated that she “needs more practice”.
I dislike the competitiveness, methods, and intensity of the Hong Kong school education system (her current kindergarten is actually considered lax by local standards), so I am unwilling to deploy any tiger parenting tactics that would add additional pressure. That means I do not intend to enroll her in after-school tutoring or various extra-curricular courses so she can “get ahead.” I believe that learning at her age should be done seamlessly through play; anything extra should be purely based on her interest level. For example, I will only sign the Dumpling up for additional classes because it is an activity she loves to do—not something I want her to learn.
My challenge, therefore, is integrating Mandarin into our daily routine without making the process feel like a “lesson.” Despite living in Hong Kong, English is the primary and dominant language in both our household and expat community, so Mandarin is actually a very foreign sound. In order to do that, however, I first have to learn the words myself. Google Translate has been my BFF, and I have been practicing the activities below alongside the Dumpling (and pretending like I know what I am talking about).
I made flash cards and taped them on relevant or highly visible places around the house. For example, 花朵 (flower) was taped right next to my vase of flowers and 牛奶 (milk) was taped on the fridge. Sometime we would play a “scavenger hunt” for the words or we just pointed to them as we went about our day. Those few seconds of daily exposure added up — by mid-semester, the Dumpling’s progress report improved to a “well done!”
I made coloring pages of her vocabulary words in PowerPoint, which can be done with just a few clicks!
Instead of using just markers and crayons, below are few ideas to keep the activity fresh by “coloring” with different materials.
花朵, 青草, 樹木: Scavenge for small flowers, grass, and branches to glue onto the characters
米飯: Glue rice (I dyed mine with food coloring)
兔子: Glue cotton balls or white pom poms
刷牙: Paint with toothpaste (preferable a colored one) on with an old toothbrush
洗手: Paint with colored foam soap/shaving cream
雨天: Draw raindrops with white crayon and paint over with blue watercolor (wax resist)
Below are a few other learn-through-play activities I have done with the Dumpling in the past:
Self Correcting Puzzle with Vocabulary Words
The Chinese characters used in the puzzle correlate with the vocabulary words from her Semester 1 vocabulary list.
This was another puzzle to help the Dumpling get familiarize with Chinese numbers. When we first started the activity, the Dumpling actually lacked the coordination and strength to pinch the clothing pins open, so clipping them on became an exercise in itself.
To play, lay the pieces with their backsides facing up. Flip over two pieces on each turn with the goal of finding two matching colors in as few moves as possible. Again, I do not expect the Dumpling to read just yet; I just say the colors aloud as we play. We initially started with only two colors and have currently built up to six.
For the Dumpling’s school Easter party, I made a mini activities book that I am sharing as a free printable. I love using this template because the book is printed single-sided on a regular piece of copy paper and is assembled without any gluing or binding — just fold and cut.
Print. Under the print options, select “Fit” under the Page Sizing section. This ensures that no matter what size paper you’re using (whether A4 or Letter), the entire image would be scaled appropriately to fit within the print area.
(Confession: I actually forgot this step and my books came out slightly cut off on the edges.)
Fold and cut. Cut along the solid lines and fold along the dotted lines according to the guide below. Remember to trim the rectangular border on the perimeter of the sheet as well.
I recently printed a free A-Z alphabet hunt pack from Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls to review letter recognition and sounds with the Dumpling. To spice up the activity so that she was not just circling the letters 26 times on repeat, we divvied the worksheet pack into four to five separate exercises and “circled” the letters a different way each time.
1. Apply Sticker Labels
I wrote the letters out on circle labels and asked the Dumpling to stick them on as each letter was identified.
2. Dab On Colored Glue
If you do not have colored glue, create your own by mixing food coloring or liquid watercolor (add more drops for higher color intensity) to white Elmer’s glue.
3. Stamp with Fingers, Bottle Caps, Etc.
4. Paint With Watercolor
This step is optional: I pre-circled the letters with a white crayon so the correct answers were “revealed” once they were painted over.
5. Squirt Watercolor With Liquid Dropper
Sometimes just switching up the tool does wonders to renew my kiddo’s interest. Using a liquid dropper saved from an old medicine bottle, the Dumpling squirted liquid watercolor on top of the letters.
6. Puncture With Push Pins
Placing a folded towel (or two) underneath a worksheet, the Dumpling punctured each letter that she found with a pin.
N.B. Needless to say, the pins are sharp and adult supervision is required.
The Dumpling’s kindergarten is throwing a birthday party for all November babies at the end of the month. Since she’s one of the birthday kids, I wanted to do something extra. So along with treats, I also made her classmates a coloring activity book as a party favor that I’m sharing as a customizable printable!*
The book is super easy to make because it’s printed single-sided on a regular piece of copy paper without any gluing or binding. While the customizable version provides the option to include a short message, I have also made a generic version with a simple “Happy Birthday” on the cover. The content is suitable for pre-schoolers and kindgardeners.
Customize the cover text in Adobe Reader (skip if using the generic template )
Open up the PDF file in Adobe Reader and click on the form fields (highlighted in blue) to edit the text.
Print. Prior to hitting the print button, select “Fit” under the Page Sizing section. This ensures that no matter what size paper you’re using (whether A4 or Letter), the entire image would be scaled appropriately to fit within the print area.
Trim the page border. Although this step might look extraneous, it ensures that all your pages will be of equal size.
Fold and Cut.
I managed to whip out 20 of these within the hour…mom-life is hard work!
* Please note that the two graphic elements in the template are different than the version featured in the video—the font used on the cover and the balloon design on the letter tracing spread.
Could you have guessed that all these prints were created in PowerPoint with the Dumpling’s scrap art? It’s actually quite easy—all you need to make custom text art are scanned copies of your child’s artwork and access to PowerPoint!
(Before starting the tutorial below, please refer to Part 1 for tips on how to set up the PowerPoint slide to fit your paper that you would be printing on. I have since given up trying to narrate a tutorial because I’m just a terrible speaker!)
Step 1: Create and format your text in PowerPoint.
In a blank PowerPoint slide, go to “Insert”, select “Text Box” and draw a text box on the slide. Then type in your custom text and format it to your preference, but do not change your text color—keep it black.
Go to “File”, “Save As”, and then select either “PNG” or “JPG” from the file type drop down.
Step 3: Delete the text box.
Click anywhere on the text box perimeter to select the box, then delete it—we don’t need it anymore!
Step 4: Insert your child’s artwork file.
Go to “Insert”, “Pictures”, and select the image file of your child’s artwork. Please note that it’s best to use a piece that’s abstract, bright and colorful, with lots of paint area coverage. Feel free to also resize the dimensions to fit your side if necessary.
Step 5: Insert the text art file.
Go to “Insert”, “Pictures”, and select the image file of your text that was created in Steps 1 and 2. This would temporarily cover your chid’s artwork, but don’t worry!
Step 6: Make the text transparent.
With the text art file selected, go to “Format”, click “Color”, and select “Set Transparent Color”. Then click anywhere on the text that is black. This function tells PowerPoint to transform anything that’s colored black into a transparent area. As a result, we see your child’s artwork layer that’s hidden underneath. Pretty cool right?
The “Set Transparent Color” function would work if you used black and white images as well—just insert them along with you text box in Step 1!