C'est la saison de Noël! This December I've enjoyed the gift of time with my children to do some simple crafts and activities: beeswax candle rolling, making gingerbread houses, and biking the Christmas lights at Portland International Raceway. If these experiences are new to you like they were for us, you'll appreciate a few details about how they worked and what we learned.
Beeswax Candle Rolling
I love the idea of using materials from nature to bring light to dark winter evenings--plus beeswax is such a pure-burning substance. Here in Oregon, local apiculturists like Hinode Farm sell candle rolling kits of beeswax sheets and cotton wicks; you can also buy a kit from online companies like Nova Natural or Amazon.
This craft couldn't be more simple: you place the wick on the edge of a beeswax sheet, roll the edge of the beeswax over the wick like a fold, and then finish rolling the sheet up completely. My children (ages 2 & 5) needed a little help folding over the wick, but enjoyed the rolling process. To add a little pizazz, you can add shapes cut with cookie cutters (and the heat of your hand will help them stick to the candles). Older children can enjoy the creative challenge of cutting sheets in half horizontally to roll with multiple colors.
Tips: Work in a warm room so the wax sheets are more pliable. If they seem stiff and prone to cracking, use the heat of your fingers to melt the sheet together again. (We put each sheet over the heater vent for a few seconds beforehand).
In my childhood, I never made more than a simple graham cracker hut to decorate, but after admiring the elaborate gingerbread contest creations at Sunriver Lodge in Central Oregon for the last few years, decided we would make our own gingerbread houses this year.
I doubled the Food Network's gingerbread house recipe (substituting vegan butter to make it dairy-free) and my children enjoyed mixing the dough by hand and pushing it into a flat layer on a large cookie sheet. The sheet only takes about 15-20 minutes to bake. I cut the house shapes from thick paper to trace onto the sheet of baked dough (dimensions are on the Food Network page, but we omitted the entry pieces to keep it simple). Our pieces were thick but held together after just a few minutes of letting the frosting dry at the edges.
When it came to decorating, I halved the Food Network's frosting recipe (it does have a bit of raw egg whites) and that was enough to make and lightly decorate two houses. Leftover Halloween candy made great accents, along with gummy bears and a candy necklace from the grocery store. My two-year-old put a few suckers on the roof but used most of the candy to decorate his tongue, so to speak. Even my five-year-old was content with just a few decorations and preferred to munch the rest. I guess older children and adults are the ones who truly enjoy the decorating process!
Tips: If you plan to make houses from scratch, make the dough a day or two before you bake and cut the shapes. This is a time-intensive project if you try to do all the steps on the same day.
Bike the Lights
Each Christmas, Portland International Raceway decorates their course with Christmas lights for visitors to tour from the comfort of their cars, but once per season they close the course to cars for a family event they call Bike the Lights. From 5-9pm on the night of the event, families can tour the course by bike ($6 per adult, kids under 13 enter free; free parking). It's probably about a mile and a half around the course, and you can go around as many times as you like. USA Today says PIR is "one of ten great places to see Christmas lights" in America. I wouldn't rank it that highly, but biking the lights definitely upped the awe factor and our children really adored this!
Tips: Buy a bike light set before you go (a white light for the front and a red light for the back) for safety and visibility. Arrive close to opening time or bring your own thermos of hot chocolate to warm up afterwards--the free hot chocolate and cookies ran out by about 7:30pm this year.
What simple activities do you do with young children early in December? (My children also celebrating with advent calendars!)
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