Turn Your Child’s Artwork Into Colorful Text Prints (Part 1)

I recently created a bunch of alphabet coloring sheets for the Dumpling, and we went on a coloring rampage with all sorts of materials—watercolor, chalk, craft paint, shaving cream, etc. I thought her application and choices in colors were spot on, so I cleaned up a few of her pieces in Photoshop (I helped her “color within the lines”) to create these beautiful alphabet prints!

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I received several inquiries on how the prints were created, and I was bummed out to tell others that they needed Photoshop. To make the project accessible to those who don’t have the program, I made two “electronic stencils” so they could be layered over existing artwork to replicate the same effect in PowerPoint. Since I needed “abstract” pieces for this method, it turned out to be a great way to give a few of the Dumpling’s old paintings a second life!

Alphabet-Stencil-Preview

 

Learn how to create them in PowerPoint by first downloading my “electronic stencils” and then watching my video tutorial below. I’ll demonstrate how the stencils are created from scratch in my next post!

 

Downloads

Alphabet Print Video 14
Electronic Stencil – Lowercase Alphabet
Alphabet Print Video 14
Electronic Stencil – Uppercase Alphabet

Create a Custom Coloring Sheet in PowerPoint

One of my favorite activities to keep my two year old busy is coloring: I strap her into a highchair away from walls and other furniture, layer my dining table with a large plastic bag, and let her go at it.

Instead of buying coloring books, however, I typically make my own because I can tailor the graphics to my toddler’s interest—which lately has been the alphabet.

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Creating a coloring sheet is actually quite easy in PowerPoint. Yes, PowerPoint—a program that typically comes bundled in our Microsoft Office! Check out my video* below for a quick tutorial. Print a bunch for the next rainy day activity or personalize it with someone’s name for your next gift bag stuffer along with a box of crayons!

* It’s my very first video tutorial! Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

A thought about the typefaces

One of my biggest pet peeves with children’s books, especially those that try to teach the alphabet, is their choice in typeface. Many popular ones use the two-story lowercase “a” and “g” for legibility reasons, but this could be confusing for pre-schoolers who are learning to write the one-story version. While it’s not a big deal with older kids and adults, the Dumpling and I definitely have had disagreements about this. Therefore, I tend to stick with Century Gothic as it has the one-story “a” and “g.” Comic Sans is another one that often comes pre-packaged with Office…laugh all you want, but kids actually like this!

a and g

Free Downloads

Click here to download the alphabet coloring sheets.

Inside My Two Year Old’s Toy Box: Quality Over Quantity (Part 2)

Despite my love for wooden toys, it’s not realistic for our family to escape plastic ones entirely. They are everywhere because the truth is that there is a lot to love about them—they’re affordable, easy to clean, and come in so many vibrant colors and shapes. These are the ones currently in our toy rotation because the Dumpling and I play with them so often!

Plastic Pit Balls

They are a huge crowd pleaser when we host play dates, but I normally keep just few out and hide the rest…otherwise they end up everywhere—under the couch, on the beds, inside the washing machine, etc. The balls are great for gross motor skill activities: we toss, roll, and kick them around the house since they’re too soft to do any damage.

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Play Idea 1: Paint the balls. This was a recent Earth Day activity we did with a blue ball and washable green paint.
Play Idea 2: Scoop the balls with a ladle. Variations of this busy activity include color sorting and walking across the room without dropping the ball.
Play Idea 3: Roll them down the stairs. I know this sounds asinine, but it kept the Dumpling entertained for solid 30 minute blocks when she was between 18 -24 months old. We also included other sensory balls of different size and weight and observed how differently each one moved.

Magnetic Doodle Board

I don’t let the Dumpling have free access to crayons or markers (for good reason), so we have a magnetic doodle board instead. It is a staple and has never left our toy box (our second one is currently on its last legs). We use it to free draw, review shapes, letters, and numbers, and have drawing contests!

Magnetic Foam Alphabet

Given the Dumpling’s obsession with the alphabet lately, we use this to review letters quite often.

Play Idea 1: Use the base board as a shape sorting puzzle.
Play Idea 2: Because the pieces are made of foam, they float and make great bath toys. Once they are wet, they also stick on glass!
Play Idea 3: Use the magnets as stamps on a magnetic doodle board.

Water Drawing Alphabet Flash Card Book

I love these water “magic” pens because they also provide mess-free coloring. While the Dumpling initially didn’t pay attention to the alphabet on top, she “colored” the pictures so often that they were always in her peripheral vision.

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Play Idea 1: “Clean” the animal/object. I give the Dumpling a wet sponge, and we make a game out of wiping the cards.
Play Idea 2: Match uppercase and lowercase letters. Did I ever mention that I love flashcards? I can arrange them any way I want and use however many I want. I usually start with four or five so my toddler doesn’t get overwhelmed and build up the difficulty level from there.

Duplo Sets

We love open-ended toys because our imagination is really the limit. The Dumpling just builds and builds and builds…I’m pretty sure she constructed something like the double decker couch once.

Cutting Food Set

The Dumpling loves pretend play in the kitchen, so I’m looking to replace the set (which was a hand-me-down) with a wooden alternative since she actually tried to lick some of these.

This wraps up what is currently in our toy box. I will continue to update what is in our rotation once we shake things up a bit!

When we have guests over, all of her toys slide neatly into our corner side table. Clean up is easy peasy! (Psst, our Grimm stacking rainbow is new!)

Inside My Two Year Old’s Toy Box: Quality Over Quantity (Part 1)

I recently purchased two sets of barn and jungle animals from a mom-and-pop store in Tsuen Wan. From the outside, they looked like the plastic toys used in zoo/farm/safari “pretend play” activities that I’ve been seeing all over Instagram, so I was pretty excited to open them when I got home. The moment I ripped off the packaging, however, I was overcame by a terrible chemical odor. Luckily I was able to toss everything out before the Dumpling knew of their existence. (I normally buy toys behind her back and always examine everything behind closed doors before letting her to play.)

After this debacle, I decided to phase out most of our plastic toys because I’m tired of researching whether something is BPA, PVC, or [insert whatever chemical name]-free. Even if the Dumpling is past the phase of putting everything in her mouth, anything that’s radiating a chemical odor cannot be good.

My goal is to slowly replace the Dumpling’s toy box with quality wooden toys. Although the market is smaller and more expensive compared to its plastic counterpart, I’m only looking to purchase a few sets—specifically those that are multi-functional, offer replay value, and, if possible, have resale value as well. (I purchased two used sets that are in great condition; one of the sellers disclosed that she bought it used from someone else!)

Our household has always enforced a strict toy rotation system where the Dumpling is only allowed two boxes of toys—I cannot stand the clutter, so it forces me to be more thoughtful of my purchases and makes the Dumpling’s responsibility of cleaning up more manageable (and therefore, she’s more likely to do it). Most importantly, it challenges both of us to think of playing with existing toys in new, creative ways. This ensures that everything in our toy box gets play time; those that don’t get replaced with “new” ones until they find their way back in rotation or get stored away once she outgrows them.

These are the wooden toys currently in our collection and the creative ways we play with them to ensure that we get the most mileage!

Wooden Threading Beads

The Dumpling currently has zero interest in learning to lace, so we have been using the beads as stacking blocks and puzzles.

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Play Idea 1: Use the beads as building blocks. I like the design of this set because of the flat surfaces (some beads are curved all around).
Play Idea 2: Create a pattern matching puzzle. I printed various pattern arrangements and tasked the Dumpling with finding the pieces to match. While I used Photoshop to create the puzzle cards, you can just take pictures of your own arrangements and print them out as 4″ x 6″ photographs (they’re perfect flashcard size for little hands).
Play Idea 3: Create a block puzzle. I cut a picture into squares to the size of the block and taped them on.  (Warning: The tape could ruin the paint!) The level of difficulty can be adjusted by customizing the number of blocks used—we started with four. Technically, I can also create up to six puzzles with a different picture on each face, but I kept it to one since we’re still on easy-mode. (Picture of animals from Freekpik.)

Wooden Animal Shape Sorter Pull Along Truck

This is the Dumpling’s favorite at the moment because the animal pieces are so cute!

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Play Idea 1: Set up a “farm” and “safari” pretend play with other toy sets. (Yay, I finally did one!).
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Play Idea 2: Create [more] shape puzzles by tracing the animal outlines onto a piece of paper.
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Play Idea 3: Form an animal tower. Stacking the pieces is actually very hard because of their shape and weight! The Dumpling could only get to second row before knocking everything down in aggravation.

Wooden Magnetic Animal Puzzles

This was my first impulse wooden toy purchase, and in hindsight, probably my least favorite because there’s not much to do beyond solving the puzzle. It took the Dumpling a full afternoon to learn that she needed to flip all the pieces to face the same side, but she can now assemble everything in minutes. I guess that’s the problem with puzzles: they cease to be fun once the challenge is gone.

Play Idea 1: Create Frankenstein animals. While I like the silliness of the game, the Dumpling isn’t amused and “fixes” it every time.

Thats it for now, but I’m still looking to add two or three more sets. In the meantime, I will continue sharing new ways we play with our old toys…including the plastic ones I tend to keep in my next post!

Leaning Out: The Transition From Working Mom to Stay-At-Home Mom

“I’m retiring!”

That was what I told everyone back in New York when they asked me what I would be doing after relocating to Hong Kong. There would be no more waking up at 6:00 AM, three hour commutes, ten hour workdays, or chore-filled weekends. Most importantly, no more feeling guilty about spending more time in the office than I did with my own daughter. I had grand visions of us watching the sunrise from our oceanfront flat, brunching by the beach, and making Pinterest-worthy artwork together.

Watching the sunrise from our flat…check!

Like many trailing spouses that arrive in this city, I opted not to work so that jigg can focus on his job while I settle our family down. I never intended to become a stay-at-home mom: my goal was to spend more time with the Dumpling, not all of my time. It turned out that way, however, because there are no daycares in Hong Kong…something I didn’t know until I arrived. Anyone who has cared for young children would know that my plans for a perpetual vacation went out the window the moment I found that out.

This full-time mom gig is turning out to be the crappiest, and as cliche as it sounds, also the most rewarding job I ever had. On one hand, the Dumpling dictates when I wake up (which is now 6:30 AM instead of 6:00 AM), what we watch on TV, and basically what we do on most days. I often found myself counting down the minutes to her nap and bed times when she behaves like…well, like a two year old. Like the time she found a piece of dog poop in the sandbox. Or the time she insisted on taking the stairs up the hill to our apartment, changed her mind midway, and made me carry her the rest of the way. Or the time she made me look like a kidnapper because I had to drag her home from the playground.

The Dumpling is turning into a beach bum!

Then there were sweet moments—moments that I would have missed if I weren’t home, scattered in between that made me forget all the physical, emotional, and mental abuse that she put me through. During the last three months, I got to eavesdrop on her nonsensical conversations with herself, listen to her off-key rendition of “ABCs” on repeat, and do countless potty dances with her. It’s simultaneously annoying and heartwarming that she wants to play with me all the time (except when jigg is home, then I’m just chopped liver). I know these days won’t last; sooner or later, it would be me who wants to spend more time with her.

While I fulfilled one aspect of my life that was missing, it created a void in another. Walking away from my career felt like I threw away everything I have worked for in the last 32 years. In a time where “leaning in” is celebrated as the modern woman’s goal, “leaning out” seemed to be the antithesis of what I was taught. What was the point of my mother’s sacrifices so I can concentrate on school? Of me working so hard? Of my family, friends, and mentors investing so much time and effort in me?

For the first time since I was 14 years old, I no longer brought home a paycheck, which had served as a self-esteem booster and a measurement of success. It was also a social equalizer in our household because when I worked roughly as many hours and brought home just as much as my husband, it was hard for anyone to impose gender-based responsibilities on me (not that jigg ever did). I used to tell people what I did for a living with pride; now I’m just unemployed.

I miss working…not the hours, stress, or commute, but the opportunity to interact with smart people, be challenged, and thrive. There are ideas buzzing in my head that I wish I had more than just the Dumpling’s nap time to work on. For someone like me, I realized that I can never truly lean out. Currently, I’m trying to find fulfillment as an aspiring mommy blogger by combining motherhood, crafting, and skills from my former life.

My new boss (the Dumpling) is a hard-to-please dictator, my hours are longer, and I’m pretty much a one-woman team…so much for retirement!

Make a Doggy Layer Puzzle

These were the instructions that someone once used to teach me how to draw a dog:

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My ten year old self thought it was the most awesome drawing tutorial ever! Actually, it’s still awesome because it’s the same set of instructions I give myself whenever I draw a dog today…which is often since it’s a regular request from the Dumpling.

I wanted to share the story with my toddler because this wisdom must be passed on to future generations! Having been tinkering with layer art recently, I thought making a layer puzzle would be a fun way to get her involved.

Materials

  • Printable template
  • X-Acto knife
  • Scissors
  • Seven sheets of cardstocks (Color choices are based on preference; I used black, beige, blue, white (2), light brown, brown)

Instructions:

Step 1: Print the template onto the cardstocks. 

  • Black: Layer 1 (Please note that I just hand wrote the title in with a marker.)
  • Beige: Layer 2
  • Blue: Layer 3
  • White: Layer 4
  • Brown: Layer 5
  • Light brown: Layer 6
  • White: Layer 7

Step 2: Use an X-Acto knife to cut out the shaded areas. I’m not that dexterous so I used scissors to clean up the frays and trimmed off any borders peeping from the previous layer(s).

Step 3: Layer the cutouts in numerical order and share the story! I also numbered the sheets so that the Dumpling can solve the puzzle on her own by applying her number sequence knowledge.

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My Toddler Tells Me a Bedtime Story

The Dumpling’s imagination has been developing rapidly in the past month. Instead of only seeing objects as they are, she can now envision them as something else in her make-believe play. For example, she played with an iPhone box as if it was a car, saw a train in the shadow casted by our curtains, and re-enacted a scene from the Minions movie with a dinosaur cookie cutter and play dough.

Imagination is an important skill for a child to acquire because the ability to think creatively and differently builds a world of infinite possibilities—there’s always a new idea, invention, or method waiting to be dreamed up. While I don’t think there’s a surefire method to teach imagination like the way shapes, colors, letters, and numbers are taught, creativity is like a muscle—the more it’s used, the more it develops. Therefore, the best I can do as a parent is to look for opportunities for the Dumpling to exercise it as much as possible.

I have shared in my past entries that reading with the Dumpling has been an ongoing challenge in our household. Instead of forcing her to do something she didn’t want to, I actually packed her books away (quite literally since we were moving) and stopped bedtime stories for a few months. I recently reintroduced them back into our nightly routine…with a new twist. Instead of me doing the reading, I asked the Dumpling to tell me a story instead. She obviously cannot read yet, so I helped her string together a simple narrative by digging deep into our imagination.

We first created the characters using illustrations from “Goodnight Little Remy,” a personalized book that depicts various animals wishing the Dumpling a good night. The actual story, as the author intended, was entirely irrelevant; we just needed the visuals as a starting point. I facilitated by asking the Dumpling a series of questions about what her characters did or intend to do, how they feel, and what their relations are with each other…essentially anything that is not shown in the artwork.

The questions were all relatable to the Dumpling’s everyday life and her responses often reflected that. If she couldn’t answer (which was often the case at the beginning), I presented her with a list of choices to pick from until she nodded her head in agreement. Below are sample questions based on a spread featuring owls in the book.

  • “What is the owl’s name? Is it Bob? Kevin? Stuart?”
  • “Does the owl have a Mommy? Daddy? Brother? Sister? Friends?”
  • “Are the owls and birds neighbors? Are they friends?”
  • “How are the owls feeling? Are they happy? Sad? Hungry? Angry?”
  • “What did they have for breakfast? Banana? Apple? Kiwi?”
  • “Did the owls ride the train or go to the playground?”

Once we gathered enough details, I pieced together a story based on the Dumpling’s answers. After repeating this activity for a week (with multiple rounds of revision on her end), she was even able to tell me bits and pieces of her own story!

As I mentioned previously, the real story was not important. I never corrected the Dumpling by reading what’s printed on the text. My goal was to nurture her imagination, therefore, it didn’t matter if her tale defied the rules of physics, space, and time. I’m pretty sure there will be many people in her lifetime that would tell her that her ideas are impossible—I’ll try not to be one of them.

Goodnight Little Remy
Retold by the Dumpling (with help from mommy)

There was a sleeping bird who flew across the night sky, over an empty house where an old grandpa once lived. The sleeping bird watched fireworks and visited a bird family. There was a Daddy Bird (because he’s big), Mommy Bird (also because she’s big), Brother Bird, Sister Bird, and Baby Bird. There was also a Friend Bird who will grow up to be a dinosaur. RAWR! The Friend Bird was very popular because he had multiple girlfriend birds.

The Baby Bird lived in a nest with two other eggs, but the eggs would become the Dumpling’s snack when she gets hungry. Nom! Nom! Nom!

All of the birds like going to the playground and down the slide with their friends and neighbors, the owls! The owl family has a Daddy Owl, Mommy Owl, Brother Owl, Sister Owl, and Baby Owl. The owls were not happy because they didn’t love each other.

The end.

Tissue Paper Cherry Blossoms

It seems like I’m have developed an obsession with tissue paper lately. When I saw this pretty cherry blossom piece on Pinterest, I knew the last of my tissue paper tiles leftover from my suncatcher project will have ANOTHER life…just in time for Chinese New Year and spring too!

This turned out to be a great “big kid” project with the Dumpling because it involved multiple steps (technically two, but that’s double the number she was used to following!). Each step also allowed room for exploration (read: deviation) and the end result would still look fabulous. Below is my tutorial modified specifically to working with a two year old.

Materials

  • Printout of a cherry blossom branch (Note: I hand drew mine because I still don’t have a printer yet. I used brown and black washable markers, then traced the drawing with a wet brush to replicate a watercolor vibe. The link of the printout is to an external website.)
  • Red, pink and/or white tissue paper cut into approximately 2-3 cm tiles
  • Glue
  • Plastic tray (optional)

Step 1: Crumple the tissue paper into little balls

I showed the Dumpling how to crumple the tissue paper with her fingers and in the palms of her hands. Unlike the tiny beads needed for the mosaic hearts, the balls can be tight or loose for this activity—both work and produce different effects.

Step 2: Glue the crumpled tissue paper onto the branches

To prevent the Dumpling from going overboard with the glue, I poured a thin layer into a plastic plate, asked her to dip the crumpled tissue paper in, and replenished the glue as needed.

It was a game of chance where the Dumpling pasted on the flowers but I did try to direct her attention to the branch ends where they would naturally cluster. When she missed the tree entirely, I complimented on how lovely the falling petals looked. I also occasionally rotated the paper so she didn’t concentrate too much in one area.

When I felt there were enough florals on the tree (which was entirely based on personal preference), we concluded the activity by admiring the tree in full bloom. Yay!

Happy Chinese New Year!

Mosaic Hearts with Tissue Paper

On Valentine’s Day eve, I realized that the Dumpling didn’t have a card for daddy… which really meant that I didn’t have a card for jigg. While it would be easy for me to cut and paste something together, I wanted the Dumpling’s involvement since the card would be from the both of us.

I still had a bag full of tissue paper tiles left over from my suncatcher project, so I re-purposed them into beads to make mosaic hearts.

Materials

  • Tissue paper cut into approximately 2-3 cm tiles
  • Glue
  • Heart cutouts approximately 3-5 cm wide
  • Plastic tray (optional)

Instructions

Step 1: Roll tissue paper into tiny beads

I made approximately 40-50 beads per heart, but the number would vary based on the size of the tissue paper tiles and heart cut out.

Step 2: Apply glue generously on one side of the heart

I spread a thin layer of glue onto a plastic tray and instructed the Dumpling to put the hearts in. Naturally she smeared them around so they picked up a generous amount of adhesive. I  then quickly took the hearts out with the sticky side facing up and hid the glue.

Step 3: Cover the sticky side of the heart with tissue paper beads

I asked the Dumpling to pour the beads on the hearts.

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Alternatively I placed the heart inside a plastic container with the beads, closed the lid, and asked the Dumpling to shake.

As always, I was on the sidelines filling in large gaps where the glue didn’t pick up the beads and making sure the Dumpling didn’t rip the tissue paper off once they were glued on. She actually was too busy pouring the beads from one container into another to pay much attention to the hearts at this point.

Once the hearts dried, I glued them onto a card. We love you, daddy! Happy Valentine’s Day.