As homeschoolers, we set our schedule, which is a shocking revelation I'm sure. We take a week off for Christmas, but an additional week to recover. Well, really it's a time to just pause and enjoy the holiday. For us, the time leading up to Christmas is incredibly busy. Then the week of Christmas usually involves a bit of traveling. It seems like without this week, Christmas comes to an abrupt halt. So, we take the week after Christmas off and continue the celebration for twelve days.
That being said, even if we are off from school, the kids have to do something. I think that every parent knows that an idle child, is a wild child. Wait, is that just me? Anyways, I find that even if we aren't involved with the actual school curriculum, we continue with our themed lessons I do every week. Since it's Christmas adjacent, we wanted to explore all things gingerbread. It's such an abundant theme and can be inexpensive. Especially, the week after Christmas, wink, wink.
We began by reading a gingerbread man story. My kids know the original by heart, so we branched out to a few spin-offs. I don't want to give away the plot, but Flat Stanley segways into playing with gingerbread salt dough very well. My mother-in-law made some adorable winter theme play dough mats for the kids to form figures and shapes. We used cookie cutters too. A few boxes from the dollar tree were added so the kids could decorate their own "gingerbread houses" with the salt dough.
Salt Dough Recipe
4 cups flour
2 cups salt
2 cups water
Mix flour, salt, ginger, and cinnamon together. Then add water and mix until a dough is formed. It should be soft and the consistency of play dough. Too tough? Try adding more water in tablespoon increments until it's soft. Too wet? Add more flour until it's not sticky.
The kids can make their own gingerbread men by rolling out the dough and cutting out "cookies" over and over again. We have small rolling pins and a surplus of cookie cutters for just such an occasion. The great thing about salt dough, is that the "cookies" can even be baked and used as ornaments.
Another great find from dollar tree, are these foam, pre-cut shapes. I picked up these gingerbread men that come in packs of eight. I let the kids use stickers to decorate these. I had intended to unleash markers or even paint, but my partner-in-crime had brought some colorful counters that were encircled in metal. She had a brilliant idea of using our magnetic wands to decorate, or more often than not, strip away our gingerbread men. This is a great time to play with emotions and expressions. Other play ideas is to count, add, subtract or work on identifying colors.
We all know that the week after Christmas, everything Christmas is highly discounted. We were able to get this gingerbread house for $3.75. It worked perfectly for us, because we literally hadn't had time to complete one before. I will admit, buying a store bought gingerbread house was intimidating especially this late in the season. What if its broken? Am I just opening up my kids to disappointment and then myself to mom-guilt as I try to go out and get a new one, only to find there aren't any left? Then I decided, the price was worth the gamble.
Surprise, surprise, the house was intact! I honestly forgot just how excited my kids can get over something so whimsical as a candy house. It's an earmark of how far into adulthood I have ventured, when I can be so impressed by their sheer delight over a four dollar cookie kit.
We counted the candies as we placed them, and reviewed the colors. We used some rudimentary architectural terms as we assembled.
Sadly, dear reader, this house wasn't long for this world. Mere minutes- no seconds after assembly, a rabid kindergarten-er
bit the entire roof off in one gleeful bite. It was too good for this world. After the initial bite, the younger kids, descended on the prey. In less time than it took to construct, it was gone. No worries, I have a Sesame Street set of gingerbread characters I bought for around a dollar.
Of course, as appealing as the children made the house look, my mother-in-law and I enjoyed a German gingerbread cookie I had received as a gift. After the initial frenzy with the kids, I let them try the more sophisticated cookie and later took time to show them Germany on a map. My husband and I were able to visit Germany seven years ago, so I even showed them photos from our trip. Fun fact - my family immigrated from the area the Grimm's brothers collected their stories!
I had many more ideas to explore, but the reality of the week was that we were fighting off an illness and attention spans were short. We were so glad the gingerbread theme was a hit!