An overly honest DIY book about daddy.
WARNING: This activity uses small magnets, which can pose a serious choking hazard. If swallowed, they can cause serious injuries and even death. Adult supervision is required.
I made a self correcting game to help the Dumpling identify odd and even numbers using upcycled bottle caps and magnets.
While the game was designed to help her memorize odd and even numbers, it was also important that we discussed what the concept means. I explained that an even number is like when everyone buddies up and has another person to play with. When there is an odd number, however, there will always be someone who is by himself — the odd person out. We were eating breakfast during this math lesson, so I visually demonstrated with a handful of Cheerios on the table and grouped them in pairs to determine whether there was an even/odd number. Once she understood that, I told her the shortcut was just to memorize which numbers are odd and even…and mommy made a game for it!
- Flat magnets (12x): Need to be small enough to fit in the inside of the bottle caps. I purchased mine at a local craft shop; similar ones can be found on Amazon.
- Bottle caps (12x)
- Strong tape
Label the bottle caps “0”, “1”, “2”, “3”, “4”, “5”, “6”, “7”, “8”, “9”, “odd” and “even” with a sharpie.
Arrange six magnets with the positive side facing up and six with the negative side facing up. To do so, first stack all 12 magnets together. Next, pull apart six so that you have two stacks. Then, flip one of the stacks over. Now you have one stack that is positive and one that is negative.
Take one of the stacks and separate each magnet about an inch apart — let’s call this Group A.
Do the same thing with the second stack — this is Group B.
Secure magnets onto the insides of the caps with strong tape. Bottle caps labeled “1”, “3”, “5”, “7”, “9” and “even” (yes, “even”) get Group A magnets. Bottle caps labeled “0”, “2”, “4”, “6”, “8”, and “odd” get Group B magnets. Make sure the magnets are securely attached though, because the attraction can be strong enough to pull the magnets and tape off!
Hover the caps labeled with “odd” and “even” over the numbers and watch as they either attract or repel each other. Please note that the “odd” and “even” caps need to be held with the text facing down — meaning the inside of the cap faces up.
During the height of the Dumpling’s obsession with Baby Shark, I thought it would be a fun idea to teach her how to play the song on the piano. It was an idiotic move on my end because the main tune, which only consist of four notes on repeat, was even more annoying without lyrics…especially when played incorrectly, as my then three year old did regularly.
The Dumpling was only interested in replicating the melody, so I helped her identify the keys by writing the name of each note, starting with middle C and ending with high C, on painter’s tape and taping them onto the keys. Our “lessons” were unstructured, a few minutes long, and on an impromptu basis. My goal was to expose her to music, not formally train her. Repetition was essential. For the first month, I listened to her play Baby Shark on repeat until my ears bled.
“Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo…”
Luckily she also learned Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to give me a bit of variety.
Her enthusiasm for the piano soon stopped just as suddenly as it started, and a year would passed before we made music together again. This time around, her instruments of choice were an out-of-tune toy xylophone and a set of handbells. With a little refresher, it was not long before I found the same two songs on an infinite play loop again.
The Dumpling claimed that she could actually play five songs because The Alphabet Song (ABCs) and Baa Baa Black Sheep share the same tune as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. While technically true, it was nevertheless a good time to add new ones to her repertoire.
Handbells: I found handbells easier to work with than the piano. First, they look more fun and can be either rung or struck with a mallet (although the sound is a bit muffled). In addition to the labels on the handle, the different colors provide an easy identifying visual. Finally, because the Dumpling must deliberately select a bell and ring it, this prompts her to be more careful. The biggest downside, however, is that we are limited to working with only eight bells.
Using the bells in practice exercises, we shuffled and arranged them in proper order. We also compared the sounds of two or three randomly selected bells to determine which was lower or higher. Our collaborative playing, where the Dumpling and I took turns being responsible for ringing different notes, was probably my favorite part. For example, she would have bells C and D while I would have E and G on Mary Had A Little Lamb, then we would switch off on the next round.
Noteflight: Most of the music sheets I found were too complicated for what we were trying to do, so I re-arranged my own using Noteflight. I kept only the notes (I also included note values, but have not gone over the concept with the Dumpling yet) and the corresponding note names. Everything was enlarged and spaced out for easier reading. The premium version of the website also provides color coding, but I opted to only use the free version.
I am not sure how long this round of the Dumpling’s musical aspirations will last, but I might as well make the most of it. In the meantime, if you cannot beat them, join them! “Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo…”
When the Dumpling was around two and a half years old, there was an incident that forever changed how cooking was done in our household. My toddler was then looking for me, found me standing in front of the kitchen stove, and became thoroughly confused.
“Mommy, what are you doing?” she asked.
“Cooking,” I replied.
“No, mommy,” she said shaking her head. “You cook over there.” By there, she pointed at the microwave.
Kids say the darndest things.
In my defense I did proper cooking — from scratch with fresh ingredients. The only opportunity for me to do so back then was while she napped, so she almost never saw me in front of the stove. My M.O., however, was to make a giant batch and eat leftovers for the next several days. So whenever the Dumpling saw me in the kitchen, the chances of me being in front of the microwave were high. Very high.
After the Dumpling’s savage microwave shaming, I realized that I needed to show my toddler there was more to cooking than reheating leftovers. As I attempted to prepare fresh meals more frequently, I also got her involved in the process. At first I asked her to help with her own snacks, such as:
Peel boiled eggs: It was her chance to finally break something without getting in trouble. For easier peeling, soak the egg in cold water first.
Peel clementines: Clementines are small and have thin skin, making them easy to hold and peel with little hands. I rolled them around my counter first to help loosen the flesh from the skin.
Slice bananas: It was a bit scary to see my kid with a knife…even if it was just a butter knife. Luckily no one got stabbed. As with all activities, adult supervision is required.
Pick grapes: I still slice grapes in half before serving them, so I would ask her to help me pick them off the stems and soak them.
As she grew older, we started experimenting with various recipes — mostly dessert-related because they are enticing motivators. Below are a few of my favorites. Depending on their complexity, I separated the steps into multiple activities or only involved her in what she was able to do (ex: whisking/sifting flour, mixing ingredients, kneading dough, etc.).
Ice Cream Without Machine: A three ingredient recipe (heavy cream, condensed milk, and vanilla extract) that is super easy. We were amazed to see heavy cream turned into whipped cream before our very eyes!
Sugar Cookies: We bake sugar cookies three to four times a year because the Dumpling loves decorating them. I stretched this into three separate activities: 1) making the batter ; 2) cutting the shapes and baking; and 3) decorating.
Oatmeal Cookies: This is such a versatile cookie because I can add whatever in there (nuts, chia seeds, etc.) and the Dumping would eat it without questioning.
Banana bread: This bread could be made without an electric mixer. Overly ripened bananas were easy to mash and the batter could be mixed by hand.
Rice: It is a fun water and scooping activity. I had a strainer on hand in case half the rice got poured out during the rinse.
Jello: I absolutely hate jello, but felt the need to add it to my list. I made this once with her, hated it so much, and ended up using the rest of our gelatin to make plastic.
Although I enjoyed having the Dumpling as my little sous chef, our culinary endeavors were not all picturesque Instagram moments…and they should not have to be. There were often huge messes, a few failures, and occasional bouts of frustration. If the activity went awry, I would sacrifice a small portion of the ingredients to let the Dumpling have her way while I finished up. Sometimes I questioned whether something was safe for human consumption after the Dumpling manhandled whatever she was “cooking”. Luckily no one has gotten food poisoning…yet. In the end of the day, the most important thing was not how delicious our creations were, nor how fun, educational, or enriching cooking can be; it was that I have successfully disassociated mommy’s cooking from the microwave.
Starting last year, I decided to convert the Dumpling’s handwriting into a font every year to document the evolution of her penmanship. Her dexterity has progressed tremendously in the past 12 months — while she was only able to trace when I first started this project, the Dumpling can now free-write block letters and numbers.
I used the Calligraphr website to convert the Dumpling’s handwriting into a font. The steps are straightforward — fill out a template and re-upload it back onto the site.
But…and this is a big but, it would have been difficult to expect my toddler to write within the boxes and lines, so I had her scribble the alphabet and numbers on a piece of scrap paper first.
Then I digitally “cut” the letters and numbers in Photoshop, scaling each to the proper size and erasing stray marks along the way, and “pasted” them onto the template. I uploaded the completed template back onto Calligraphr to generate my font.
Below is the Dumpling’s font from last year compared to this year.
I was able to get away with not throwing the Dumpling a birthday party last year, but not anymore. Having attended countless birthday celebrations of her friends, the Dumpling had specific requests of how she wanted to celebrate her fourth birthday.
Between a My Little Pony or Halloween themed bash, the Dumpling surprising chose the latter — probably because she wanted to wear her princess costumes. So this year, we threw another not-so-scary Halloween birthday party.
I sent out an electronic mummy-themed invitation to set the tone of the party. As much as I love physical invitations, digital ones are just so much easier to send and track…not to mention more environmentally friendly!
Goody bags are necessary evils because the kids get so excited about them…for about 15 minutes. I tried to keep the items practical and within the budget of $2-3 per bag. My strategy was to buy items in sets and then separated each into individual gifts. Below are a few ideas I considered:
I always make my own bunting because it’s inexpensive to create custom text and colors to match my decor.
I also purchased a few small pumpkins and simple decorations from Amazon that I put up a few hours before the party.
Games & Activities
Along with a trampoline and bouncy castle that came with the venue rental, we played games to keep the kids entertained. I had prizes prepared for the winners, and theoretically every child had a chance to win something. Unfortunately there were still a few tears because everyone wanted to be winners at the same time…lesson learned for the next party!
Wrap a Mummy: We divided the kids into groups and provided them with two rolls of toilet paper. The team who finished wrapping an adult with the toilet paper (covering head, hands, body, and legs) won.
Pumpkin Relay Race: Each kid must race while balancing a pumpkin on his/her head.
Hot Pumpkin: Similar to hot potato, each kid must pass the pumpkins around. Whoever was holding a pumpkin when the music stopped, was out.
Craft Station: I set up a small table with crayons, coloring sheets, and craft supplies. This little corner surprisingly became a huge hit!
A big thank you to everyone who came to celebrate. Happiest birthday to my little Dumpling, who really isn’t so little anymore!
Here is a little secret: I upcycle the Dumpling’s old artwork all the time — either using them as raw material in new projects or digitally giving them second lives.
Remember the geometric tape resist animals from last summer? I framed the originals in her room and turned the digital copies into postcards using PowerPoint and printing on heavy card stock.
I shared my PowerPoint template and instructions of how I created the postcards below:
Take a picture of the artwork with your phone
Take pictures of the pieces (it can be anything, not just paintings) you would like to use with your phone, email, and save them to your desktop. Alternatively, scan the images and save them as high resolution (300 dpi) JPGs. I prefer the first method because I can make basic touch-ups (adjust brightness, color saturation, etc.) on my phone’s photo app if necessary.
Insert the images into the PowerPoint template
Download and open postcard template in PowerPoint. Slide 1 is where you insert the custom images, and Slide 2 is for your messages, addresses, and stamps. Please note that the template yields two A6 (4.1″ x 5.8″) postcards.
Click on the left white rectangle to prompt the SHAPE FORMAT option to appear. To fill in the shape with an image, click on SHAPE FILL → PICTURES → INSERT PICTURES FROM A FILE. Select the artwork file on your desktop.
Adjust the image size
PowerPoint automatically stretches the image to “fill” the shape, which sometimes distorts the picture size disproportionately. To fix this, click on the image and select PICTURE FORMAT → CROP → FIT.
Click on one of the white circles located at the corners of the image (NOT the black lines), and expand or contract the image while holding down the SHIFT key to adjust the dimensions proportionally. To re-position (ex: centering the image), click on the image and drag it to the desired position. Click on CROP again to set the new dimensions and placement.
From here, you can get fancy by adding custom text on top of the image, but that is entirely optional.
Repeat filling in the image and adjusting its position on the right rectangle.
Print on card stock
I prefer to save my PowerPoint file as a PDF (FILE → SAVE AS → PDF) prior to printing so that it can be universally opened by outside printers since I do not have a printer at home.
Print the PDF in actual size, double-sided on card stock and cut along the borders.
In this day and age, handwritten letters is becoming a lost art — something I intend to change with my kids. The Dumpling and I made an activity out of visiting the post office, sticking on stamps, and dropping our postcards in the mail box. We hope our friends and family would appreciate receiving these in the mail!
Alcohol ink is one of the most fascinating art media I have ever seen. It seems to have a mind of its own, blending and repelling itself into mesmerizing abstract patterns.
I have been wanting to get my hands on a set, but decided to make my own by following a simple recipe using markers and rubbing alcohol. The idea of using rubbing alcohol has never occurred to me, so I further experiment with mixing it with other household dyes to see what happens — some yielded interesting results…some not.
- Rubbing alcohol
- Gel food coloring
- Washable markers, both dried-up and usable ones
- Glossy photo paper or yupo paper
Experiment #1: Marker ink mixed with rubbing alcohol
My first attempt was following the recipe I found online where I clipped off the caps from a set of dried up markers (perfect upcycling project!) and soaked the ink pads in rubbing alcohol overnight.
We used a dropper to apply the inks onto the photo paper and watched the colors mixed and repelled each other — just like real alcohol inks. The recipe worked!
We experimented with adding ink on top of an almost dried layer and un-dyed rubbing alcohol, which diluted the colors of existing layers.
Experiment #2: Food coloring mixed with rubbing alcohol
In my next experiment, I replaced marker dye with liquid water color. Unfortunately, the solution clumped up so I added gel food coloring instead.
This still ended up being a failure in my opinion because the inks had both watercolor and alcohol ink properties — but were neither here nor there. Eventually everything started turning brown after several rounds of layering.
Despite the inks not turning out properly, we added the remainder onto a piece of photo paper and tilted it to let the colors run downwards. The results reminded me of corals so I digitally overlaid a doodle of underwater botanicals on top. Pretty cool right?
Experiment #3: Dropping rubbing alcohol on marker ink
For our final experiment, we colored on photo paper with regular markers and added un-dyed rubbing alcohol on top. Even though the Dumpling’s coloring were rough, uneven scribbles, this method seamlessly blended everything together.
Out of the three methods, the first one replicated the basic properties of alcohol ink the best. Although the homemade recipe was inferior to the real thing, it worked well enough for me to make the faux version again if I have any old markers around.
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.
- Aluminum foil
- Thick string or twine
- Elmer’s glue
- Black cardstock (optional)
Draw or print a design on a piece paper. Simple images without much detail work the best. Click here to download my leaf design.
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.
- Shrink plastic sheet
- Color pencils, permanent markers, or acrylic paint
- Oven safe tray
- Oven mittens
- 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!
Let cool and varnish with clear nail polish.