Christmas in July: The Nutcracker Ballet and Beyond

Most of American children know The Nutcracker as a ballet, while some are familiar with a movie thanks to Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. But how many heard of the original story by E. T. A. Hoffmann? Why not to start a child’s introduction to Nutcracker with the book itself? Or better yet, with the story of the nutcracker doll. In fact, young children may enjoy many different activities with everyone’s favorite Christmas character.

Nice to Meet you, Nutcracker!

Show a nutcracker doll to a child and explain what is it supposed to be used for.

If you have any nut in a house, show how the nutcracker is supposed to crack the nut, but explain that nowadays nutcrackers are mostly decorative. Tell that nutcracker dolls have been first made in Germany and were often given as gifts for Christmas.

Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

I know, the original Hoffmann’s tale is for ages 10 and older. However, there are many good adaptations. Here is one of my personal favorites adapted for younger readers by Janet Schulman.  I loved the illustrations and the fact that the book introduces the story rather than the ballet’s plot. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Tchaikovsky’  ballet. I just think that the story has it’s own value and might be introduced for its own sake.

If you think the book is too long for your kid, or some parts sound too controversial, you may always skip them or retell the story and show the pictures. You and your child can even create a game that would help you to reenact the plot and practice retelling the story.

Let’s Make The Nutcracker Story Come Alive!

There are two core settings in a book: Stahlbaum’s house and Candyland. For the base of each setting you may use cardboard cut out from cereal box. Your child will help you to glue colorful wrapping or construction paper on top of the base. He might also have fun decorating the base with drawings, stickers, bright buttons, confetti, sequins, or any other colorful items you can find in a house. Don’t forget the Christmas Tree: your child (or you) may cut it out of construction paper and decorate it as well. You can find images for the characters online, print them, cut out (alternatively, your child might do the cutting). The last part is to make your Christmas Tree and characters “stand”. First of all, you can make them sturdy by gluing them to the card board and then cutting out again. My students and I made standees by cutting rings (about 3 inches tall) from paper towel tube, making two vertical cuts on both sides of each ring, and inserting the tree and the characters into the cuts. If this construction feels flimsy, feel free to make it sturdier by using scotch tape and small playdough containers underneath standees. Or better yet, create your own standee!

Voila! You and your child are ready to play and retell The Nutcracker and the Mouse King!

Finally, the Ballet!

Does your child know what ballet is? The answer is easy if she is taking ballet lessons. Still, it doesn’t mean she had a chance to watch a professional ballet. In this case (or if the whole idea is entirely new to her), start from the beginning. I bet you can show her some short segments on YouTube. You might also tell, how P. I. Tchaikovsky wrote music for Hoffmann’s tale, but changed it a little bit.

You may use the same game that you and your child created for retelling the story for reenacting the ballet’s plot. Just add additional setting: Winter Wonderland. Create it the same way as other scenes and let it snow with cotton balls or torn pieces of Kleenex.

Play the game with Tchaikovsky’s music. Your child might also want to reenact some scenes. Girls might enjoy dancing like snowflakes or flowers, while boys might enjoy fighting with the Mouse King.

Finally, when you decide to watch the ballet, make it special. Even if you can’t go to theater, you can still bring theater home.

Nutcracker is NOT Just for Christmas!

And don’t feel disappointed if you never got do any of Nutcracker activities because of holiday’s hustle and bustle. Don’t postpone until next holiday season. Kids’ imagination will transform any season into Christmas season. Just do it!

For creativity class inspired by Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker check out the following classes. Click on the image to see a short movie bout the class.

Inspire With a Story

Tell Them (or Retell) a Story

Have you recently told your child a bedtime story? A going-for-a-walk-time story? A having-breakfast-together-time story? A waiting-for-a-doctor’s-appointment-time story?

The truth is, there is no wrong time to tell child a story. Especially, when it comes to retelling stories. Yes, telling family stories is great. But I want to talk about retelling children stories, fairy tales, or even stories for older kids that you don’t think your child is quite ready to read yet.

You may ask why bother if you could just read her a book. Here is an excellent article that addresses just that issue. While article talks about teachers, the parent (or grandparent) can, absolutely, do the same. In fact, it might help to establish an additional bond between a child and adult. Since you are the one who knows your kid the best, you can adopt a story to make it a little less scary, a little funnier, or just add or omit some details. This way the story becomes so much more special: it’s designed by you with you child in mind.

It’s okay if you are not comfortable in retelling stories at first. Choose something simple, with repetitive story line, like The Gingerbread Man. By the way, many folktales have repetitive story lines. Make it personal, make it fun, and include your child in this process. Say together, “You can’t catch me. I’m the Gingerbread Man!” It doesn’t have to be a new story either, it just have to be FUN!

What Message Retelling is Sending

Among other benefits, retelling creates a family tradition of story sharing. As child grows older and sees retelling as a natural thing to do, he starts retelling stories too. This is a great way to practice so many important skills: vocabulary words, speaking in front of audience, and using imagination, just to name a few.

So, don’t wait for the bedtime. Retell story anytime!

For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through Elementary school visit my group on Facebook

Introduce Your Child to Fine Art on Your Own!

What if you love art, but your child seems indifferent? What if you homeschool and would like to introduce your kid to famous paintings, but not sure where to start? Fear not, there are so many amazing books for young children just waiting to help you with this task.

I have to confess: as a child I was not interested in art at all. My grandfather had a great many art books and postcards with reproductions of famous works of art. He often tried to share with me his passion, but I always found more interesting things to do. Then, he bought me a set of postage stamps depicting famous works of art and a stamp album. I’ve got interested in collecting stamps, and he kept buying them for me. Not all of them depicted fine art, but many did. And somehow, these became my favorite ones. While arranging my stamps and flipping through pages of my album, I got to know and like fine art.

Yes, it is possible to kindle an interest in a child through familiarity. Remember, familiarity breeds liking effect? The tricky part is to find the way to familiarize a child with fine art without creating disliking. Of course, there are always classes and museum exhibitions for children. I absolutely encourage you to take advantage of these, especially now, in Covid world, when many museums provide free workshops online.

I also want to share with you a great variety of art books for children. I hope you’ll be lucky to find many of them through your local library (that’s what I did). If not, you might pick and choose some of them to add to your personal book collection.

Art books That Teach through play.

These are the books that often have words like spy, spot, or find in their titles. They employ gaming techniques to arouse child’s curiosity about work of art. Here are my favorite author’s and titles.

  • Unlikely Pairs by Bob Raszka is a great book to introduce the concept of “belonging together” to young children. Young kids totally get most of the pairs in this book. And, by the way, there are other Bob Raszka’s art books for kids that you might want to check out.

ART BOOKS with projects.

These books not only introduce fine art, but also supply the projects in a style of presented piece of art.

Fun stories about art and artists.

There are many great stories about fine art and artists for young children. Here are a few things to bear in mind when choosing this kind of book.

  • At young age it’s less important for children to know the name and the biography of the artist, but more important to be able to relate to an artist. (Poor old Matisse! His was not strong enough to paint, but he could use scissors to create his cutouts. And by the way, we can use scissors to make cutouts too!)

  • If the story doesn’t provide the original work of art, I suggest finding it online and showing to a child. Often, illustrators create their own take on famous painting or sculpture, but children deserve to see the original one (even if it’s a reproduction on a computer screen.)

With that said, here are my favorite art stories for young children:

Click here to check out my Creativity Classes Inspired by Fine Art

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Inspire Creativity With Materials

It’s the most wonderful time of the year to stock up on
amazing art supplies available right there in your house!

All this wrapping and unwrapping of presents brings into the house shiny, colorful paper that is perfect for crafts. Just cut the most beautiful ones into storable sizes and keep it for crafts. Alternatively, cut out fun patterns and let your kids glue them to decorate items of their choosing.

I love tissue paper, especially, the colorful one! The best part is that it could be wrinkled and even ripped a little and still be used in variety of art projects. Just smooth it again, crumple, or tear for the most ingenious results.

Throwing away bows and colorful ribbons left after opening the gifts should be a big no-no. Not only they can be reused for future gifts, but they are fun to use in art projects. And if you are not sure how, just give them to your children: they will come up with ideas!

Good Books, Beautiful Books.

We all know about books’ benefits for children. But have we ever thought of importance of illustrations? Not only pictures in books help child to grasp the plot, they often serve as his very first encounter with art. Long before visits to museum, picture books are there to entice visual pleasure. The one who understood it best, was Eric Carle when he founded  Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

What does it mean for us, parents? It means the books we choose for our little (and not so little) ones may not just develop their minds, but help them relate to the world around them, express their emotions, expend their imagination, and do so much more!

So, how to choose a book that would provide child with both, great literary and visual experience? One way, of course, is to rely on our own taste or childhood memory. Another way, is to look for books awarded Caldecott Medal, although, there are many great books with amazing illustrations that never got awarded anything.

If you consider book as a gift this holiday season, I have a few suggestions of my favorite authors who, often, are amazing illustrators as well.

  • Chris Van Allsburg, the author of Polar Express. Make sure to check his other incredible books, like Zathura, Jumanji, Just a Dream, and The Sweetest Fig. For older children (yes, picture books are still important even if your child is reading chapter books!) check out The Stranger, Queen of the Falls, and The Chronicles of Harris Burdick (this one could be used to provide writing prompts for creative writing or just for making up stories.)
  • Maurice Sendack, the author of Where the Wild Things. Here are less known books by this enormously talented author and illustrator: In the Night Kitchen, The Sign on Rosie’s Door, Chicken Soup with Rice, and my favorite, Little Bear series (although Sendack only illustrated them.)
  • Laurent de Brunhoff. I love Babar. Even though, the original 6 books, like The Story of Babar were written and illustrated by Laurent de Brunhoff’s father, Jean de Brunhoff, later books continued in the same style as original ones.
  • Steven Kellogg. From The Mysterious Tadpole to the tall tales like Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, and many more, his books are always bright and upbeat.
  • Patricia Polacco wrote and illustrated such a remarkable variety of books! My favorite one, though, is for older kids (here we go again, I love picture books for older kids too!) Pink and Say.
  • Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, a great duo, produced well known and loved James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and many others. I invite you, though, to check out their books of poetry, like Vile Verses.

For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through elementary school visit my group on Facebook

Give Them an Experience as a Gift

We all know, this Holiday Season is unlike any other. But thanks to many great online companies, there are still plenty of holiday experiences to enjoy with the family.

One of them, is timeless favorite, The Nutcracker ballet. Check out the places streaming it (some are even for FREE!)

Of course, there are always George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker or The Nutcracker with Mikhail Baryshnikov (my personal favorite) to be rented and savored.

Whichever you choose, there is a way to turn it into exciting event even if you are not heading to the theater.

  • Make a bright invitation and pack it in a nice box as a gift.
  • Tell kids the plot or read the the story of the Nutcracker. Here are my personal favorites: The Nutcracker adopted from original Hoffman’s story (more suitable for older kids) and the shorter version based on a ballet (works well for younger children.)
  • Make your own tickets or ask kids to make them.
  • Dress up nicely like for a night out.
  • Prepare your room to look like “a theater”.
  • Children may “sell” the tickets and pretend to be ushers.
  • Watch with them as much or as little as they will be able to enjoy or break it into parts and finish on another day.
  • Have fun!

For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through elementary school visit my group on Facebook

More Gifts for Holidays: Family Games

Let’s Move Together!

This year, many of our kids spend more time in front of the computer then before. So, let’s get them moving with family games.

Wonder Forge Cat in The Hat I Can Do That! Game. I have yet to find a young kid who would resist this game! Unfortunately, it’s currently only available on eBay (or similar sites). However, the same company created a new game that seems to be alike: Wonder Forge Marvel I Can Do That! Game

Wonder Forge Marvel I Can Do That! Game full of fun challenges + a little bit of counting to know who won.

Have you ever played Hot Lava in your living room? If you need help to set it up, check out this game: The Floor is Lava – Interactive Game for Kids and Adults

And how about family game of charades with kids as young as 4? Just choose age appropriate cards from the stuck of Pressman Charades for Kids and watch them go!

Goliath Games Phlat Ball  is not just for throwing outside, although it’s a lot of fun. Try playing Hot Potato with it and enjoy all the giggles you get when it pops!

I have to admit: I am a big fan of carpet skates! If you have a carpet in your house, these Simtec Fun Slides Carpet Skates might be just the ticket to make your guys moving on a rainy day.

More Great Choices

Magnetic Tiles seem to be hot nowadays, and they well deserve it! But what about other old favorite building and manipulative games? Here are my two cents.

I love mosaics, especially mushroom pegs. They are great for development of fine motor skills, promoting creativity, and so much more. Check out this one: ArtCreativity Mushroom Peg Puzzle for Kids with 10-Challenges.

And don’t forget about geometric shape pattern blocks, like 155 PCS Wooden Pattern Blocks Set Geometric Shape Puzzle, and geoboards, like JCREN Wooden Geoboard 8×8 Mathematical Manipulative Material Array Block Geo Board. Both types of games provide multiple opportunities for practicing shapes and problem solving skills. And kids love them too!

May I suggest classical music as Holiday gift?

I love classical music, and I think that 4 is a perfect age to start introducing it in more direct way. Many of us, likely, played “baby Mozart” type of music for our babies and toddlers. Some of us, probably, attended “mommy and me” types of classes where our little ones moved to the classical music. It’s all good. But now, at 4 (or 5) your child is old enough to sit and listen, even if only for a short period of time. He or she is ready to recognize the “clues” from music, to enjoy beautiful melody, to imagine what lies behind these sounds, and, most importantly, your kid can follow a longer story with more complicated plot. It all means, they are ready to embark on magnificent adventure into the world of classical music.

So, why not introduce them to classical music this holiday season with musical gifts? Here are a few of my personal favorites.

Books, CDs, and MP3s

Maestro Classics has amazing collection of CDs and MP3s with musical stories for children from age 4 to 8+. Each CD (or MP3) has a story accompanied by the music performed by London Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition, there is a booklet with information about composer, fun activities, and even curriculum guide.

My personal favorites from Maestro Classics for younger kids are Peter and the Wolf  and Juanita the Spanish Lobster.

For older kids (probably 6+) check out Classical Kids CDs. My favorite ones are Vivaldi’s Ring of Mystery and Mr. Bach Comes To Call.

Just a few of my favorite books with CDs for young ones.

  • The Carnival of the Animals (there are a few of them, each one has it’s own pros and cons). I like the one with Prelutsky’s poems.
  • Tubby the Tuba, beloved classic, and great for introduction of orchestra.
  • Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf another classic story specifically written as introduction of orchestra instruments to kids
  • Vivaldi’s Four Seasons book with CD (make sure CD is included!) by Anna Harwell Celenza, a good book for older kids (Ages 6+). Check out her other books for elementary school kids.
  • The Sleeping Beauty Ballet Theatre amazing toy/book/CD set for reenacting main scenes from ballet. CD is included.
  • From the same author there are The Nutcracker Ballet Theatre and The Sleeping Beauty Ballet Theatre. Each set is wonderful, but hard to come buy lately. If you find it on eBay with all characters, CD, and a booklet, your young ballet lover (and you) will sure to enjoy it!

Check out our Creativity Classes Inspired by Classical Music

It’s beginning to look a lot like Holliday Season…

More suggestions for Holiday Gifts: this time board games and brainteasers!

Board Games and Logical Puzzles

Have you ever played cooperative board games? They are fun, but most importantly the players need to put their heads together to solve the problem rather than to beat each other. Check out this Canadian company that makes them. The games are not too flashy, but they are great. Here are my kids (and my) favorite ones:

And what about logical puzzles and brainteasers? I love the ones from ThinkFun. Rushhour Jr. is actually for children as young as 5 years old. And even though, the age on a box of my other favorite one, Chocolate Fix, is 8, I’ve seen children much younger then solving some of the puzzles. So, don’t underestimate your kid!

Pretend Characters That Inspire Learning and Creativity

Michaels stores carry inexpensive character tubes Safari LTD Toobs that inspire learning through pretend game. Below are some of my favorite ones:

  • Safari Ltd® TOOBS® Wild West
  • Safari Ltd® TOOBS® Powhatan Indians
  • Safari Ltd® TOOBS® James Town Settlers
  • Safari Ltd® TOOBS® Knights and Dragons
  • Safari Ltd® TOOBS® Arctic
  • Safari Ltd® TOOBS® Insects
  • And many more…

For more fun and educational ideas and activities for kids ages from Pre-K through elementary school visit my group on Facebook