Turn Handwriting Into a Font via Calligraphr

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.

And yes, I do realize a mistake in my pangram as it should use “jumps” instead of “jumped”.

Calligraphr

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.

2018: Tracing (three years old)
2019: Handwriting (four years old)
I can totally forge notes with this!

Salt Dough Eye Balls

Salt dough is one of my favorite DIY play materials because they’re so easy and quick to make. The classic recipe of 2:1:1 parts plain four, table salt, and water has never failed me.

We recently made a batch for a project and had bits of leftover dough. Not wanting to waste it, we rolled it up into little balls. Once dried, we turned them into eyeballs with markers.

These things actually gross me out a lot but were a big hit with the Dumpling.

Create Custom Postcards From Your Artwork

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.

Example of the digitized copy (picture taken with my iPhone) of our artwork.

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!

Blinking-Winking Owl Craft

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.

Materials

  • Owl template (click here to download)
  • Card stock
  • Thin wire
  • Tape
  • Hole punch (1/8″)
  • Scissors
  • X-Acto knife (optional)

1. Print the owl template on card stock and cut.

Tip: It is easier to cut out the eyes from the owl with an X-Acto knife!
We colored our owls by stamping them with bubble wrap.

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!)

Bind Photos Into a Book

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 book served as a personal keepsake or can be given away as a personalized gift!

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.

Then I converted the PDF into JPGs in Adobe Acrobat. If you do not have Acrobat, there are free conversion apps online.


7. Print on regular 6″ x 4″ photo paper.


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.

Cover image is downloaded from Freepik.

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.


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.

Halloween Activities: Crafting with Fabric Paint

I recently scored a free bag of puffy fabric paints from a crafter giving them away on Facebook, so the Dumpling and I have been experimenting with this new material (it’s new to us!) all week. After a quick search online, it’s quite a versatile medium for crafting!

Puffy Fabric Paint Window Cling

Window clings are like stickers, but puffy and not as so annoying to peel off (I hope). The Dumpling had fun sticking and re-arranging these not-so-spooky decorations all over. We discovered that they actually clinged not only to glass, but to any flat non-porous surface!

Materials:

Draw an image onto the ziplock bag with puffy fabric paint—that’s it! You can either free draw or trace the image by placing the design printout under the bag. I tested this step on several types of plastic (ziplock bag, polypropylene plastic bag, and clear plastic presentation cover) but the ziplock bag was the obvious winner in terms of ease of use.

Let the paint dry completely (about 24 hours) before peeling the images off. Waiting was probably the hardest part. Due to my impatience, I actually ruined a few—don’t be like me.

Puffy Fabric Paint Stamps

This was a fun way to make custom stamps, but I found that they didn’t produce the cleanest impressions. They were sufficient for the Dumpling, however, since she didn’t really care about smudges and was just amused by the whole stamping process.

Materials

  • Puffy fabric paint
  • Cardboard or styrofoam (I preferred styrofoam because I got a few uses out of the stamps by rinsing the paint/ink off afterwards)
  • Bottle cap
  • Glue
  • Stamp ink or paint

Draw your design onto the cardboard or styrofoam to create the stamp. After I drew the initial image, I traced over it again with additional paint to create a deeper emboss.

Once the paint dried, cut a square or rectangle around the image to form the stamp base.

Glue a bottle cap onto the back side of the stamp. Creating the knobs is completely optional, but we found that the stamps were easier to handle with them.

Use a stamp ink or apply paint directly onto the stamp with a brush. I found that the latter method created cleaner outlines.

Puffy Fabric Paint Masquerade Mask

The Dumpling has an upcoming masquerade at school, so I wanted to make her a mask for the party. While using fabric paint was a good way to create custom designs, the material ended up being too delicate for toddler hands since she would be pulling the mask off and putting it back on every two minutes.

Materials:

  • Puffy fabric paint
  • Ziplock bag
  • Tulle or mesh fabric
  • Tape
  • Printout of mask design
  • Scissors
  • Elastic long enough to snuggly fit around your head.

Draw or print the mask template you would like to use. Alternatively click here to download my design, but please be aware the mask dimensions measures approximately 10″ by 5.25″ so it might not fit you! I actually scaled the image in several different sizes on screen (one is wider, another is shorter, etc.) and chose the version with the best fit from the printout.

Tape the mask printout onto your work area, then tape the ziplock bag onto the printout, and finally tape the tulle or mesh fabric onto the bag. You really really really don’t want anything to move.

Trace the image with puffy fabric paint.

Let the paint dry (about 24 hours) before peeling the mask off the ziplock bag.

Carefully cut the tulle or mesh fabric following the outline of the mask. Leave a piece of fabric uncut around both ends of the mask that are closest to your ears. The fabric needs to be large enough to make a small slit to string the elastic through.

Indoor Play & Activities: Recap of September 2018

September has brought about a stretch of dry weather in Hong Kong, so the Dumpling and I have been spending most of our afternoons outdoor. For the days that we stayed in, our activities have centered around reviewing the Chinese words that she’s been learning at school, celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, and discussing the aftermath of the typhoon that hit our city midway through the month.

Learning Chinese 

Ever since the Dumpling started kindergarten, I wanted to increase her exposure to Mandarin at home to reinforce what she’s learning at school. I tried reading Chinese children’s stories with her, but the words sounded so foreign that she exasperatingly asked, “Mommy, what are you saying?!” When I switched the language of her Netflix shows from English to Chinese, it solicited such a visceral reaction that I quickly reverted everything to its original state.

Eventually I backed off…until one day, out of nowhere, she muttered her first Mandarin words at home. At first it was counting to five, then to ten, and now a few words and broken phrases. She was so proud of herself at times that she wouldn’t shut up! I quickly capitalized on her newfound interest by creating several puzzles to further engage her through play.

Chinese and Arabic Number Puzzle Match

Click here to download.

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

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Directions: Glue each printout to a piece of cardboard. Carefully cut out the puzzle pieces with an X-Acto knife. Finally (and optionally) cut a semi-circle at the bottom of each piece so that it’s easier to pull off from the puzzle board.

Self-Correcting Chinese Vocabulary Puzzle

(Sorry, folks—because I used stock illustrations* to make this puzzle, I do not have the license to re-distribute this as a printable.)

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The Chinese characters used in the puzzle correlate with the vocabulary words the Dumpling is learning at school. I don’t expect her to read yet, so I just sound out each character as we match the pieces.

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* Some illustrations used in this puzzle were stock illustrations downloaded from Feepik.

Chinese Color Match Memory Game

Click here to download.

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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 don’t expect the Dumpling to read just yet; I just say the colors aloud as we play. We initially started playing with only two colors and have currently built up to six.

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Directions: Make two copies of the printable, glue the sheets onto pieces of cardboard, and cut out each color circle.

Celebrating Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

The Dumpling and I experimented with different methods of making lanterns throughout September. Details can be found here.

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Dealing with the Aftermath of Typhoon Mangkhut

Typhoon Mangkut was supposedly the fiercest storm to hit Hong Kong in the last 30 years. For a few hours, our windows and door shook violently and rainwater leaked in non-stop.

The next morning, the Dumpling and I ventured outside to assess the damages. There were lots of downed trees and foliage as expected, but to our surprise there were also shattered seashells outside our flat! We live less than a quarter of a mile away from the beach, but we are also situated on a hill approximately 80 feet above sea level so these seashells were a long way from home. The Dumpling and I managed to find several intact ones which we brought home and painted.

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Our souvenirs from the typhoon.

Indoor Play & Activities: Recap of August 2018

Summer in Hong Kong is absolutely miserable—contstant rain, high humidity, or terrible air quality has forced us to stay indoors for most of August. As a result, the Dumpling and I have been extremely busy at home.

Below is a recap of all the indoor activities we have done in August. Most of them involve common household materials! I also included links to external tutorials and recipes I used.

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Create Faux Sea Glass

Apply Elmer’s glue mixed with food coloring onto glass bottles or vases to create a faux sea glass effect. Once dried, the stained glasses cast the prettiest light shadows in the sun!

Decorate a Cardboard Picture Frame

Cut the shape of a picture frame out of cardboard and wrap it with white paper. Decorate the frame with paint, pom poms, feathers, stickers, etc.!

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Decorate Cookies

I’m not much of a baker, but everything tastes better when we add sprinkles.

Turn Chopstick into Wands

I hoard “trash”—cardboards, plastic trays, bottles, even takeout chopsticks. I knew the last item would come in handy one day because they made wonderful wands!

Paint with Droppers

Another odd thing I save is kiddy medicine droppers because they can be converted into coloring tools. Combine water and food coloring in a small container and use the dropper to squirt the colored mixture onto paper towels or baby wipes.

Decorate Cookies with Puffy Paint

This three-ingredient puffy paint recipe (made with flour, salt, and baking powder) is my absolute favorite—I always have a batch stored in the fridge. The paint is actually puffy and stays puffy and it can be air-dried or microwaved dried.

Turn Colored Transparencies into Stained Glass or Lanterns

Similar to the faux sea glass activity, apply Elmer’s glue tinted with food coloring onto plastic transparencies to make stained glass or suncathcers. I also taped the sheets together to make a lantern and lit it up with my phone flashlight at night.

Paint with Toy Cars

Squirt some paint on a piece of paper and run toy cars through the paint.

Have a Soap Bubble Tea Party

Pouring stations are always a hit with the Dumpling. I added pom poms and foam soap for her to scoop into our “tea”.

Mix Baking Soda and Vinegar

Add food coloring to vinegar for a colorful eruption.

IMG_8459(Edited)

Create a Popsicle Stick Puzzle

The Dumpling loves looking at herself, so it’s no surprise she was really into solving a puzzle of herself. This classic craft is made with a photo glued onto popsicle sticks using mod podge.

Bust Out the Play Dough for Open Ended Play

I usually make a HUGE batch of fresh play dough every few months, store them in separate ziplock bags in the fridge, and bust one out whenever I’m in a bind.

I rotate the accessories that I put out with the play dough—different cookie cutter shapes, lego blocks, scissors, etc. If the dough is on its last legs, I let the Dumpling mix in all sorts of stuff…like coffee grind.

Jump On An Oobleck Muddy Puddle

Oobleck (cornstarch mixed with water) is one of my favorite messy play materials. Being seemingly both solid and liquid at the same time, the Dumpling is endlessly fascinated by it.

I set up a Peppa-themed activity with her Peppa toys, muddy puddle made out of oobleck, and bubble bath made out of foam soap…I think all of the Dumpling’s Peppa dreams came true with this one.

Jump On Real Puddles

Sometimes cabin fever can only be cured by escaping to the outside world. We just put on our boots and embrace all that the heavy rain has left behind.