Empowering Parents to Teach- Day of the Deer

Holiday Art: Day Of The Deer

Day of the Dead meets Christmas in this art activity


My son and I were feeling artsy.  I came up with the idea to make a Day of the Dead style reindeer.  I love the artwork on the Day of the Dead skulls and I was wondering what it would like on a reindeer face for Christmas. This intrigued him too so we decided to go for it. 


Being very technical and precise, my son wanted the reindeer face to be “just right”, so we found a book at the library to guide us on the creation of the reindeer face.  Once my son was satisfied with the shape of his reindeer’s face, we looked at a book about the Day of the Dead to refresh our knowledge of the artwork typically used to decorate the skulls.  There wasn’t too much information in the book we chose, so we ended up using the internet to see images of the skulls.


We noticed the lines, flowers, colors, and other elements that went into the skull designs. This was great practice with analyzing patterns as he had to discern the common elements among the skulls.


He made one deer using the colors and designs that he noticed from the skulls, but then we decided to use Christmas symbols to decorate our reindeer.


We brainstormed all things Christmas:

  • Santa
  • Trees
  • Snowmen
  • Snow
  • Lights
  • Poinsettias
  • Candy canes
  • Stars
  • Angels
  • Presents
  • Hot chocolate
  • Cookies
  • Peppermints
  • Elves
  • Mistletoe
  • Holly
  • Warm clothing
  • Red and Green


Here a couple of the reindeer that we drew:


Empowering Parents to Teach- Day of the Deer

You can see how much my little guy drew and erased to achieve his final version!



Empowering Parents to Teach- Day of the Deer

Final Version



Empowering Parents to Teach- Day of the Deer

Trying out new designs



Empowering Parents to Teach- Day of the Deer

This one was my final product


What may look like just a fun art project is really a very valuable learning experience! Through the creative process important skills are practiced,  such as research (searching through the books), analysis (synthesizing important design elements), and application of ideas (using what he analyzed to create a new project).  These skills are transferable to all academic disciplines!


What will your child’s Day of the Deer look like?




Empowering Parents to Teach- Hidden Presents

Hidden Presents: Christmas Sensory Play


First of all, you may be wondering, what is sensory play and why is it so important? If you are, read on. If you already know, scroll down  to see the sensory play activity.


Sensory play is play that engages your child’s senses. There may be interesting textures to feel, new smells or tastes, fascinating sounds to hear, or visually stimulating colors, patterns, etc.  We interpret the world through our senses, so it is important for young children to have play opportunities that allow them to do what they were born to do- explore with their senses!


Have you ever noticed a smell and it made you think of something? Whenever I smell honeysuckle I always remember walking home from school as a child because on my way home was a fragrant honeysuckle bush that I always stopped at to smell. Even as an adult, honeysuckle always brings up the same childhood memory. That’s how our brain works! We are always connecting information that we gathered from concrete, sensorial experiences.


Real life provides us with an innumerable amount of these experiences everyday.  We don’t have to sit around fretting over providing sensory experiences, it happens naturally.  Just like we buy our kids toys, take them to the park, or read them stories we like to provide our kids with fun things to do. Sensory play can be one of those fun things.


Kids enjoy sensory play because, even though they don’t realize it, they are satiating their need to examine the world through their senses. When they are engaged in an activity like Hidden Presents, they are learning!


Rice is a fantastic sensory material.  Kids can scoop it, pour it, hold it, run through fingers through it, and so much more.  What is fantastic about sensory play is that the child decides how to play with the materials provided. They learn to make decisions and experiment with their own ideas.


I tend to create activities using things I already have around the house.  In this case, I had rice, food coloring, and some sticky foam presents left over from Christmas crafts years ago. So, you can follow this idea or use it to spur your own ideas for sensory play activities using items that you have around your house.


For this activity I focused on three senses. The sense of sight was stimulated by the red and green colored rice, as well as the brightly-colored presents hiding. The sense of touch was stimulated through manipulating the rice. The sense of hearing was stimulated by the sounds of the rice being moved and poured.


Hidden Presents


  • Dyed Rice (Prepare in advance)
  • Small foam presents with a sticky back (found at craft stores)
  • Paper and Crayons to draw a tree



To make the red and green rice, simple mix the rice in a Ziploc bag with food coloring and water. Set it out to dry overnight.  Wikihow has a link that can walk you through the process with pictures to help: click here for instructions


Here is what some of the presents looked like:

Empowering Parents to Teach- Hidden Presents


What we did:

1.  First, I had my son color in a Christmas tree that I drew. I would have let him draw the tree, but he didn’t want to. He was creating the tree that he would put the presents under!


Empowering Parents to Teach- Hidden Presents


2.  Next, I showed him the bucket full of red and green rice with small presents mixed inside.  I told him that he was going to search for the presents and put them under the tree.


Empowering Parents to Teach- Hidden Presents


3. Once he found a present, he peeled off the sticker on the back to expose the sticky side (fine motor skill).


Empowering Parents to Teach- Hidden Presents


Empowering Parents to Teach- Hidden Presents


4.  He pressed the presents onto the paper.  Instead of putting them under the tree, he decided to put them on the tree!  Remember, allowing your child to take the activity in another direction is okay, in fact, it’s encouraged! It gives them the control of the activity and by allowing it, you validate that their ideas are important and worth exploring. If we want our children to keep their curiosity, we have to give them some freedom to follow it.


5.  After a little while, he announced that he was done finding presents.  There were still more presents in the bucket, but I did not make him find all of them. Once again, this puts him in control of the activity– not me.  He also came up with his own idea of putting the rice in a dish so that he can scoop it and keep playing with the rice.  This activity started with me presenting my son with a task and ended with him taking control and creating a new idea.  Good sensory play is child led, so the fact that it ended with his idea is a positive thing.






This activity is just one of many possibilities.  What ideas does this give you? What ideas will your kids come up with?

Ladybugs- Science, Math, and Art

One of our random library picks, Insect Invaders by Anne Capeci inspired us to create or very own ladybugs!  By creating these bugs, the kids engaged in hands on practice with math, science, and art.  I’ll show you how this seemingly unassuming craft is really a learning activity and possible math assessment!



This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a book from the Amazon link, I receive a small portion of the sale at no additional cost to you.

For our nightly read aloud, I read Insect Invaders to both of my boys, age 4 and 9.  It turned out to be the perfect companion to my son’s study on food chains and ecosystems.  In the story, we follow the students as they search for two missing ladybugs and a spider.  Along the way, there is tons of information about predator and prey relationships on top of the abundant information about insects and spiders.  After learning so much about insects, ladybugs especially, I decided to have my boys create their own ladybug to reinforce some of the concepts learned in the book. I also used this opportunity to assess my oldest son’s knowledge of circles.  If your child is unfamiliar with the parts of a circle or the formulas for finding area and circumference, you could use this activity to introduce some of those concepts.


Here’s what we made:


Empowering Parents To Teach- Ladybugs

Four year old artwork on the left!



I like to be realistic in my posts.  I could attempt to create a perfectly created, pinterest-worthy ladybug to dazzle you with, but not that’s not real life. I’d much rather show you a finished product made by kids to set realistic expectations.


Materials used:

  • paper plate
  • black and red paint
  • pipe cleaners
  • paper fasteners
  • cardboard
  • computer paper
  • string and yardstick for measuring (optional)
  • pencil


Steps we took:

To start, we needed to set up the body parts that needed to be painted. The paper plate would be the ladybugs body and the cardboard would be the ladybug’s elytra (wing covers).  In the story we learned that ladybugs protect their delicate wings with their elytra.  To show that the elytra protects the wings we decided to use cardboard for the elytra and the computer paper for wings.  The stronger material (cardboard) had to fit over the weaker material (paper). We needed to figure out how big to cut our cardboard and paper before we could paint.


To do this we could have easily traced the circle on the paper plate onto the cardboard, but I wanted use this project to asses my nine year old’s knowledge of circles.  We did things in a more complicated manner so I could gain this information. I asked him how big the circle was so that we can make the same size circle on the paper.  To find this out, he said we would need to measure the circle.  “How do you measure something round?”, I asked. This could lead to many different responses.  For us, it led to measuring the circle with string, cutting the string, and measuring the string with a yardstick.

Empowering Parents to Teach- Ladybug

Empowering Parents to Teach- Ladybug


After he read the yardstick,  I asked what part of the circle he just measured.  He told me that he measured the circumference. At this point I also asked him if he remembered the equation for finding the circumference of a circle.  These questions allowed me to see what my son remembered about circles.


Realizing that it would be very hard to reform the string onto the cardboard accurately, this was a dead end for us.  Plan B was to find the radius of the circle. My son found the radius of the circle and cut a piece of string the same size of the radius.  Holding one end of the string on the center point of the cardboard and the other end by the tip of the pencil, essentially making a homemade compass, he rotated around the center point to create a new circle.  In theory, this circle should have been the same size as the original circle on the plate. In reality, due to error in holding the string, the circle was not actually the same size.  All of this is ok and part of the process of learning.  Next time we need to make a circle I will introduce a compass to my son.  After this experience, he can relate the purpose of a real compass to our homemade attempt at a compass.  He will hopefully see why the tool is necessary and more reliable.


Once we had our cardboard circle for the elytra, the boys traced the cardboard circle onto the paper to create the wings.  Our body preparation was complete.  Now, they could paint!  They painted the upside down plate black for the body and the cardboard circle red.  As my nine year old painted to cardboard circle I asked him what part of the circle he was painting.  He told me it was the area. I then asked him what the formula for the area of a circle is. My informal math assessment was complete;  I had a good understanding of my son’s knowledge of circles.  If your child is new to the concept, you could change the assessment aspect of the craft to more of a teaching activity demonstrating the different parts of a circle as they work.


The paint dried overnight and we returned to our craft.  The boys cut the cardboard and paper circle in half.  I punched a hole in the top of the cardboard, paper, and plate so that all three could be attached together using a paper fastener. The wings and elytra were finished.  Both boys put antennae on the ladybug. My four year old happily put on six legs and wing spots just as we learned in the book. My nine year old left his ladybug legless and spotless. Ladybug spots are symmetrical.  Even though, my none year old did not put spots on his, we still discussed this.


Adding to this, my four year played with ladybug, acting out things he learned from the book.  He was pretending to feed the ladybug aphids using matchbox cars!  When one of the wing covers fell off, he first called it the wing, thought for a second, and corrected himself.  Creating this project definitely helped him learn some of the important body parts of the ladybug.


To summarize the concepts learned or reinforced by creating this project:

  1. Insects have 6 legs
  2. Ladybugs, like many insects, have antennea
  3. Ladybugs have protective wing covers called elytra
  4. Ladybugs eat aphids
  5. Parts of a circle- radius, diameter, circumference
  6. Pi
  7. Formulas: Area of a circle & Circumference
  8. Symmetry


We started with a book, created our own ladybug, then read three more books about ladybugs to add to our learning.  All of the books we read can be related back to the concrete object we made– our ladybug!


Our additional reading: