For Fire Roasting: Long handled pan such as a popcorn popper with holes, a frying pan with a lid that you have punched holes into the bottom of with a nail (do not use a non-stick pan) or a chestnut pan which is available online.
For Oven Roasting: Cookie Sheet
A wonderful activity to do this time of year is to roast chestnuts. You can roast them over the fire when lighting your yule log or it can be done in the oven.
Before you begin, cut an ‘X’ through the shell on the top of each chestnut for easy roasting and opening. If you do this the day before, you can keep your chestnuts covered in the refrigerator until you use them.
Over the fire: Put chestnuts in a single layer in the pan and cover. Place into the fire in a safe location where it can be left for 30-40 minutes. Shake often.
In the oven: Cut your chestnuts as above. Preheat your oven to 425 and lay chestnuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Roast approximately 20 minutes… you will know they are done when the skins have pulled back and the meat inside is soft.
Enjoy your chestnuts with family and friends. They will be very hot, so use napkins or other utensils to separate the shell from the meat before eating.
Felt Jingle Balls
Different Colored Wool Roving (can be purchased at many yarn shops or online)
Take a very small, thin piece of your wool roving and place a jingle bell inside of it. Bring the wool around the bell so it is covered completely. Roll between your palms to cover the bell (you may have to try this a few times until it covers fully.) Wet the ball with a small amount of warm water and add one drop of dish soap. Roll the ball faster between your palms helping it to felt.
Roll until you feel the layer is tight and felted. Add another layer of wool roving by wrapping it around your entire ball and repeat the above process. Do not add too much soap and water, only use it when the ball begins to get dry or if it is not felting well. Continue to add layers to your ball to create the size you want. Remember to use the color you want your ball to be for the last layer. Rinse the ball in warm water and squeeze out gently to release extra soap. Place ball in an old cut pantyhose and tie a knot. Place your ball into the dryer on hot to complete the process.
Tree Identification Book from Library (optional)
Magnifying glasses (optional)
Before this activity you may wish to prepare yourself with a tree identification book from your local library and identify evergreens that are common to your neighborhood.
Take your children outside and observe the different types of evergreen trees in your neighborhood. Study the tree as a whole first. How is it compared to the other types of trees? Which direction do the branches fall? What types of animals are using the tree for shelter? Can you describe the texture of the bark?
Then study the smaller parts of the tree. Use your magnifying glasses if you wish. What are the branches like? What types of needles does the tree have? Does the tree have cones? Can you find a few for the nature table?
Take a sample of the needles and keep them in your nature notebooks. Allow each child to touch a branch of each tree. Touch the needles. What do they smell like? Allow them to hold the magnifying glass and look through to see the object closely. Draw a picture of the tree.
For Older Children
You can share the names of each species. Explain to older children that evergreen trees are coniferous and they stay green all year long. Encourage them to research the topic in more depth at home. Make a sketch of the various parts of the tree in your nature notebooks.
Frozen Sun Catchers
Aluminum pie dish or shallow plastic tupperware dish
Outdoor materials such as pine, twigs, leaves, berries, etc.
Fill each dish approximately half full with water. Allow children to drop items into their pan. Place string or yarn, leaving a loop on top for hanging. Put each dish in the freezer or leave outside overnight. When frozen, pull sun catcher out of dish and hang outdoors (it can be kept in freezer after observation if you live in a warm climate). Watch the sun shine through your sun catcher and talk about what will need to happen in order for them to melt.
Snowflakes (you may need to save this activity for a day that cooperates!)
Snowflakes can be hard to study as they melt very quickly. To assist you, freeze the black cloth prior to this experiment. When the first snow appears, lay the cloth outside and allow snowflakes to land on the fabric. Before they melt, have each child look through their magnifying glass to see the different sizes and shapes of each snowflake.
Explain to the children that much like people, no two snowflakes are alike. Each one has its own unique beauty and characteristics, yet comes from the same source.
Go hunting for signs of the midnight frolics of wildlife. Can you find little animal tracks? Big tracks? What type of animals do you think caused them? Can you tell from the prints whether or not the animal hops or walks? Bringing along magnifying glasses will encourage your little detectives to really search for clues!
A critical thinking question to ask young children:
When the pathway has not been shoveled, would we be able to tell if a visitor had come to the front door? How could we tell?
Let older children journal about their findings. You may even choose to take photos of the tracks you find to keep in a special journal or notebook. Make drawings of each print. Which animal do you think it came from? Go to your library or online to research further.
Advent Spiral Bread
2 ½ cups unbleached flour
1 package dry yeast
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup water
3 T margarine or butter
3 T brown sugar
1 ½ T salt
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
In a large bowl, mix flour and yeast. Heat milk, water, margarine, brown sugar and salt on low. Add to flour mixture. Stir several minutes. Remember to let children help during this entire process… have them take turns and be patient – the goal is not to have bread, it is to enjoy the process of making the bread. Add whole wheat flour until dough forms. Knead on floured table until smooth and elastic (children love this part!). Place in greased bowl. Cover and let rise until it doubles in bulk.
After the dough has risen, you will need to punch down the dough. The best way to do this is to let children pound the dough with their fists. After this is done, shape your dough into a spiral. If there seems to be too much, make more than one Spiral!
If you have star shaped cookie cutters, the children may cut stars out of excess dough and decorate their spiral with it.
Cover and let rise to double.
Let the children watch you place the bread into the oven in a pan and set at 400°F for 30 minutes.
You can add candles to your Advent Spiral bread and light before saying your mealtime verse.
Winter Holly Baby Ornaments
This is a sneak preview activity from the Little Acorn Learning December Afterschool guide which will be released shortly!
Roving (red, skin tone, hair color)
Natural wool stuffing
Red embroidery floss
Needle felting tools: needle and foam
Directions for Leaf Bunting
Begin with your pattern by drawing a holly leaf on a piece of paper, until you like the size and shape.
Next, pin the pattern to double thickness of green felt. Cut out two leaves.
Separate the two leaves then cut one leaf down approximately 1/3 of the way. I used the top points of the leaf as my guideline, rounding slightly lower in the middle.
With red thread and blanket stitch sew the front to the back.
You now have a little pouch bunting waiting for your baby!
Directions for Baby
Begin with a long piece of wool batting and roll into basic shape of baby’s body. Needle felt this into the shape you would like the baby to be, forming a head and a “berry” body.
Wrap the head in skin tone roving and needle felt until smooth.
Next apply the baby’s hair: A light layer of roving held across the top of the head and needled felted into place so that only the little bangs hang down over the forehead.
Now with the red outer wool, begin with the bonnet by covering the baby’s head and needle felting into place, being careful not to catch the bangs into the bonnet.
Once the bonnet is to your liking, swaddle the baby in a few rounds of red wool, evenly distributed. Needle felt the bunting into place. If you notice bare spots you can go back and continue with light layers in those areas until they are covered. Remember to frequently recheck to shape and size of your baby because these can change subtly while you work to smoothe the swaddle.
And now decorate the leaf as you wish! Here I sewed a small pinecone to the bottom point. Other ideas: needle felted berries and leaves; tiny bells, ribbon. You may also sew a loop of ribbon to the top for hanging.
The holly leaf can also be used to tuck away tiny special gifts for an older child!
Advent Spiral Calendar
Wood board – sanded (we had the ‘Little Acorn’ daddy round out the corners of our board)
Wooden stars or other shapes for each day (found at local craft store) – we used a larger star for our center star
Number stamps or black marker
Drill for making holes
Two baskets or special boxes to keep nearby
Begin by painting your board with beautiful watercolor paints. We worked to paint ours in a spiral pattern. Paint your wooden shapes as well. Let dry.
Number your shapes 1-25 for each day of December. We used our stamps for this part of the process but you could also write your numbers on with a dark marker.
Carefully drill holes in the top of each shape being mindful to make sure the holes are a bit larger than the small nails you will use on your board. These shapes should be able to be placed right on (and off) each nail.
You can also drill holes in the top of the board and add rope to hang from the wall.
Work carefully from the center outward, placing nails around the spiral. Make sure you are allowing enough room for each shape to fit.
Keep a small basket or box for shapes and another small basket or box nearby for a treat for each day after children place the shape on the spiral.
As the days pass, you will see your Advent Spiral take shape until (at last) you place the last shape in the center of your calendar.
Eileen is a work-at-home mother to four daughters. She runs Little Acorn Playgarden out of her Brookfield, Connecticut home and writes and publishes monthly seasonal guides for parents and caregivers of children at Little Acorn Learning. She has many ideas and activities for parents on her blog at Eileen’s Place. In addition to her regular monthly seasonal guides she has now partnered with Marianne Frost, a Waldorf kindergarten teacher of 20 years, to offer the Little Acorn Afterschool guides which extends Little Acorn ‘Learning’ into the afternoons and weekends.
Some photography by Julia Daby.