Aluminum Foil Embossing

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.

Materials

  • Aluminum foil
  • Thick string or twine
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Scissors
  • Paper
  • 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.

Shrink Plastic Crafts

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.

Original (left) vs. shrunken (right)
A name tag for the Dumpling’s book bag.
An Easter-themed wind chime.

Materials

  • 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.

Sanded side (left) vs. smooth side (right)
Trace or draw on smooth side. I have a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol ready on the side to wipe away small smudges or mistakes.

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.

Color on sanded side. The colors may look light, but they darken slightly once heated.

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!

The plastic curls and shrinks to approximately 50% of its original size in the oven!

Let cool and varnish with clear nail polish.

Learning Chinese Alongside My Toddler

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?!”

Semester 1 vocabulary list: 大, 小, 人, 口, 月, 手, 貓, 狗, 魚, 車, 門, 山, 男, 女

Semester 2 vocabulary list: 花朵, 青草, 杯子, 新年, 米飯, 牛奶, 兔子, 樹木, 刷牙, 洗手, 雨天, 跑步, 打球, 游泳, 爸爸, 媽媽

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).


Flash Cards

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!”

Images used in puzzle are downloaded from Freepik.
The flashcards were taped next to relevant objects around the house.

Coloring Sheets

I made coloring pages of her vocabulary words in PowerPoint, which can be done with just a few clicks!

Turn any text into outlines in PowerPoint to create coloring sheets.

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.

Some images used in puzzle are downloaded from Freepik.

Chinese and Arabic Number Puzzle (Click here to download)

I created this puzzle to help the Dumpling recognize Chinese numbers and associate them with their Arabic counterparts.

Directions: Glue each printout onto a piece of cardboard. Carefully cut out the Chinese number puzzle pieces with an X-Acto knife. Lay the Chinese numbers sheet on top of the Arabic numbers sheet.

Missing Number: 1 – 10 (Click here to download)

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.

Directions: Cut the strips along the solid lines. Label clothes pin with numbers 1-10 in Chinese characters.

Memory Game with Colors (Click here to download)

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.

Directions: Make two copies of the printable and cut out each color circle.

Mini Easter Activities Book Printable

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.

Materials


Download the template.


The content is appropriate for pre-schoolers and kindergartners with adult guidance.

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.


Inspired by one of my favorite crafters, Hello Wonderful, I also attached mini chocolate eggs to the bunny on the front page using double sided tape. Check on their version of an Easter bunny egg holder!

6 Fun Ways to Do Alphabet Hunt Worksheets

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.

Naturally she insisted on using her toy hammer.

Easy DIY Birthday Coloring Book With Printable

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.

Materials

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.

Print Setting

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.

Turn Your Child’s Artwork Into Colorful Text Prints (Part 2)

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!

Text Art 2.jpg

(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.

(The fonts I used in the demo are Ice Cream Sandwich and Watermelon Script, both of which are free for personal use on dafont.com.)

Step 2: Save the file as JPG or PNG.

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!

Here’s a demo with an image.

Update: More demo using black and white images!

Reindeer silhoutte used in the demo is downloaded from freeprettythingsforyou.com. The Esteh font is downloaded from dafont.com.
Unicorn silhouette used in the demo is downloaded from freeprettythingsforyou.com. The Esteh font is downloaded from dafont.com.
NYC skyline image downloaded from Freepik.

Turn Your Child’s Handwriting Into a Font

It started when I noticed the Dumpling drawing lines between random dots on her magnetic doodle board two months ago, so I began making more dots for her to connect. She got really into it, so we moved onto shapes, numbers, and letters and are now even solving simple connect-the dot puzzles! 

As much as I want her penmanship to improve, I know that I would miss her scribbles one day. Wouldn’t it be great if I could archive her chicken scratches forever…without keeping piles of paper?

Enter Calligrphr, a free app that I used to convert the Dumpling’s handwriting into a font. I downloaded their template, filled it up with the Dumpling’s traced numbers and letters, and then re-uploaded the template back onto the site.

I used a pencil to create the dotted letters and numbers, had the Dumpling trace them with a marker, and erased my markers when she was done.

If anyone is interested in downloading the font, click here! (Please note that only numbers and capital letters are available…no lowercase, punctuations, special characters, etc.) 

This would make great “handwritten” holiday cards or letters to Santa!

I plan to turn the Dumpling’s handwriting into a new font annually and to track how her handwriting progresses!

The Dumpling Turns Three: Cake, Cake, and More Birthday Cakes!

In what felt like a blink of an eye, the Dumpling turned three last week. It was the first year that she understood what a birthday is, and ironically, it was also the first time I didn’t throw her a party. (My rationale was a bit complicated—something to do with me no longer feeling guilty about us not spending enough time together.) Instead we did a few birthday-themed activities leading up to the big day and took a family trip to Disney Hong Kong for the grand finale.

Blowing “candles”

The Dumpling’s lungs got a workout as she practiced blowing out pretend candle made out of marker caps. We even played a bit of “air bowling” by arranging the caps like bowling pins and trying to knock them all down in one huff.

Scrap Paper Cake

We used pieces of scrap paper that were cut into varying lengths to build our first cake. I even managed to sneak in a numbers exercise by labeling the strips 1-10 and asking the Dumpling to glue them in chronological order.

IMG_9632

IMG_9612(Edited).jpg

3D Styrofoam Cake

For our second cake, we painted styrofoam circles and stacked them to create a 3D layer cake.

IMG_9685

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Birthday Breakfast of Champions

On the morning of the Dumpling’s birthday, I made her favorite breakfast food—pancakes. I added a candle because pancake is a cake…right? Those candle blowing exercises paid off because she kept blowing the candle out before I could snap a picture!

IMG_9687(Edited)

The actual birthday cake

The Dumpling wanted a chocolate cake, so I asked jigg to pick up something cute at Harbour City since the selection is somewhat limited in Discovery Bay. While I was expecting cartoon characters, he came home with this chic gourmet dark chocolate cake from Paul Lafayet. Even though the Dumpling gobbled it up, I think jigg and I need to recalibrate our definition of “cute” in the future.

IMG_9703(Edited)

Disney Hong Kong

Despite talking about going to Disney for months, the Dumpling was absolutely miserable when we got there. She only smiled on the “Small World” ride and was Miss Grumpy Pants the rest of the time. Womp womp.