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2011 Gingerbread House and Friends
Below are a couple recipes for making gingerbread ornaments. This is a great activity to do with your children when they are out of school.  These ornaments are also great gift ideas. There are recipes for the novelist to the experienced baker. Once baked, these simply shaped ornaments can be decorated and hung on the tree, a Christmas wreath, and more!

EASY GINGERBREAD MEN
(Makes 6 ornaments)
  1/2c Applesauce
  1/2c Cinnamon
  2T Household glue

Mix all ingredients together and roll on wax paper to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a cookie cutter, cut out the shapes of the intended ornaments. Poke a small hole in the top of the ornament using the end of a straw, knife, chopstick, small dowel, pencil, or similar object. Allow ornaments to air dry for 1-3 days. When ornaments are ready to be decorated they will be completely dry and very hard.

SLOW BAKE GINGERBREAD ORNAMENTS
(Makes 15 ornaments)
  16oz. Applesauce
  1c Cinnamon
  2T Allspice

Preheat oven to 150-degrees.
Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Roll dough on wax paper. Cut out ornaments with appropriately shaped cookie cutters. Poke a hole in the top of each ornament using a straw, knife, chopstick, pencil, or similar object.

Bake in 150-degree oven for 90 minutes. Turn ornaments over. Bake for an additional 90-minutes. Allow ornaments to cool and continue drying for 1-3 hours after baking.

HEAVY DUTY GINGERBREAD ORNAMENTS
(Makes 30 ornaments)
  1c Sugar
  6T Shortening
  2t Baking soda
  2t Cloves, ground
  2t Ginger
  2t Cinnamon
  7c Flour
  1-1/2c Water

Preheat oven to 325-degrees.
Mix shortening and 1 cup of sugar together in a large bowl. Add baking soda, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, flour, and 1-1/2 cups of water. When mixed completely, refrigerate for 4-6 hours.

Roll gingerbread out to 1/4-inch thickness on lightly floured surface or on wax paper. Poke a hole in the top of each ornament using a straw, knife, chopstick, pencil, or similar object.

Put cutouts on cookie sheet and bake 20-minutes in 325-degree oven. After 20-minutes, turn oven off, leaving cookies inside oven to continue the drying process. After 1-hour, move cookies to a rack and allow to sit untouched for 1-3 days or until completely dry and hard.

When cookies are dry, spray with clear acrylic paint or brush with clear varnish and allow cookie coating to dry completely.

BROWN GINGERBREAD MEN
(Makes 30 ornaments)
  1c Sugar
  6T Shortening
  2t Baking soda
  2t Cloves, ground
  2t Ginger
  2t Cinnamon
  7c Flour
  1c Water
  1/2c Molasses
  2T Cocoa powder
Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
Mix shortening and 1 cup of sugar together in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate for 4-hours.

Roll dough out on floured surface of wax paper to 1/4-inch thickness. Poke a hole in the top of each cookie with a straw, knife, chopstick, pencil, or similar object.

Put cutouts on cookie sheet and bake 20-minutes in 325-degree oven. After 20-minutes, turn oven off, leaving cookies inside oven to continue the drying process. After 1-hour, move cookies to a rack and allow to sit untouched for 1-3 days or until completely dry and hard.

When cookies are dry, spray with clear acrylic paint or brush with clear varnish and allow cookie coating to dry completely.

 
 
The arrival of the holiday season and school breaks usually means that your family will be spending a lot more time together. While family togetherness is important and enjoyable during the holiday season, it can become stressful, especially if children experience “cabin fever” and lash out at their siblings, parents or extended family. Minimizing the chaos and keeping the peace at this time of year will require a bit of creativity, but it is possible.

Talk Together

Sharing time, space and feelings is important during the holiday season. Should conflict arise, it is important for parents and children to clearly communicate their feelings and reach an agreement. For example, if the kids are arguing over video game time, parents should clearly communicate the rules and boundaries for sharing. Talking through the conflict should lessen it.  Communicating during the holiday season doesn’t have to occur only when settling arguments. Learn from each other! If the family is just hanging out, watching TV or complaining about boredom, take part in a “conversation” activity. Create superlatives for each family member. For example, if one person in the family is especially good at keeping a clean room, he or she could be given the “most organized” title. If one child always finishes Kumon worksheets first, he or she could be given the “fastest worker” title. You’ll have fun determining who is “most likely to finish his or her broccoli” or “best joke teller,” and you may learn a thing or two about your children. 

Work Together

There are plenty of tasks and engagements to keep adults occupied during the holiday season, but your children may get a bit lackadaisical. Keep children busy by getting them to help with the holiday preparations. Avoiding boredom is essential to keeping the peace.  Find tasks that are fun to complete as a family. From making chocolate chip cookies for the neighbors to decorating the house, there are many ways to get the kids involved in holiday tasks, and you’ll have more fun getting ready for the holidays as a family!  Have your children make snowflakes out of napkins, paper or tissues, and hang them in the windows. Help your older children plan and make dinner one evening. Let them get creative with themes, and guide them toward healthy decisions. For instance, give them a list of possible healthy ingredients to help them experiment and create a meal.

Play Together

A major part of a child’s winter break is stopping work for a while and enjoying some play time. Though they may be drawn to video and computer games that they can play alone, be sure to engage your children in some group play time. Dust off your favorite board game from your childhood and share it with your children.  You can also get crafty with your indoor games. Have a snowman competition by dividing the family into teams, having each wrap up a team member in toilet paper and decorating him or her like a snowman. For other indoor game ideas like the snowman competition, look online or just make it up! Click herefor a site to get your creative juices flowing. Sometimes, games and activities you make up as a family will be more memorable than any store-bought item.  

We hope these ideas help you keep the peace during the holiday season or at least inspire other activities to help you do so. Whatever you do during the holidays, may they be peaceful, loving and, above all, relaxing.

 
 
Teachers are the backbone of the education system. The fall and winter months, which are often peppered with traditions of reflection and gratitude, are the perfect time to let those exceptional teachers know just how much of a difference they truly make. Kumon asked a handful of educators some questions about how parents and students can show their appreciation. The answers were informative, surprisingly simple and certainly heartwarming. 

Give Thanks by Staying InvolvedAcross the board, teachers feel most supported by parents when the parents stay involved. Supporting the teaching style, checking homework, keeping your children accountable and staying on top of report cards and class requirements were all cited as incredibly helpful. Asking questions was also encouraged, in addition to communicating with the teacher about your child’s needs and any special situations. Schoolteachers ultimately want your child to succeed; and they know that you, as a parent or guardian, play an enormous role in that success. By staying involved in the education process, you support your child’s teacher and make him or her feel deeply appreciated.

Give Thanks by Being Courteous and Prepared Skip the apple. The best ways students can show gratitude to schoolteachers are simply to be kind, attentive and prepared. A warm smile and a hello go a long way in making a teacher’s day. It is even better when a student stays engaged in class, is kind to fellow students and straightens up his or her work area. One teacher sums it up best: “Genuine common courtesy goes a long way with me.” 

Give Thanks by Providing Supplies When asked what schoolteachers often need for their classrooms, general school supplies, including pencils, paper, cleaning supplies, healthy snacks for elementary school and books for English classes, were the most requested items. Every school is different, so be sure to ask your child’s teacher what he or she needs. For some, the perfect gift could be as simple as paper and pencils wrapped in a bow or a basket filled with cleaning supplies or snacks for the class. Of course, attaching a genuine thank-you note can make it all the better. 

Why Teachers Are Thankful We wrapped up our questionnaire by asking for what teachers were most thankful. They love having diverse and challenging jobs that never get boring. Teachers are thankful when parents and the school administration provide a supportive work environment for them, but at the heart of it all are the students. Across the board, teachers feel grateful when students grow and learn. Whenever students take time to let a teacher know how their lives are going and how that teacher made an impact, the message of gratitude is made even more enduring. Whether expressed by a hand-written note, a smile or a simple thank-you, showing gratitude enriches everyone’s lives. Take the time to give thanks, and you can not only improve someone’s day, but you can also make a lasting impression. Teachers are no different from the rest of us, and they feel great when you take an interest and communicate your appreciation. If you haven’t had the opportunity to give thanks to a special educator, start today! 
 
 
As the holidays quickly approach, I wanted to start a list of great educational items that can enhance your child's learning experience. Below is a listing of a few of our favorites. Please feel free to comment and add your own.

TOP STAFF PICKS
1.LeapFrog LeapPad Explorer Learning TabletFor children 4-9 years of age
2. Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 by Elenco Electronics Inc children 8-12 years of age
3. LeapFrog Scribble and WriteFor children 3-5 years of age
4. Melissa & Doug Wooden Hands Counting Peg PuzzleFor children 2-4 years of age
5. Playskool AlphieFor children 3-5 years of age 
We hear that other stores are out of them, but we currently h... on Twitpic
 
 
_The handwritten letter is a dying art form, but very little can compare to the joy of holding an envelope in your hand, opening it and reading a note that someone took the time to craft by hand. When thinking of ways to show gratitude to those who matter most in your life, take out a blank sheet of paper or empty note card and resolve to write a heartfelt message. Here are some tips to help you along the way, from start and to finish.

Timing
You can write a thank-you note for any occasion, but thank-you notes are especially appropriate when you have received a gift, after a dinner or party or when someone does anything especially thoughtful for you, such as lending you a book or showing you around town. It is best to send the thank you note as close to the date of the kindness as possible. Although it is better late than never, try to send your note within a two-week time frame.

The Basics
Use stationery or a nice, blank note card. Find your favorite pen (be sure to use something that doesn’t smear) and pick out a fun stamp. If your child is writing the note, he or she can moderately decorate the note and envelope. Addressing an envelope is a great way to familiarize your child with addresses and encourage his or her memory of your home address.

The Contents
Start with the salutation, the formality of which depends on who will be receiving the note. “Dear” is a classic opener, but there are many options. Be creative, warm and familiar if you are sending the note to a close friend or loved one. Stick with the traditional “dear” if you are writing to someone less close, such as a co-worker, potential employer or your child’s teacher.

The body of your thank-you note should immediately express your gratitude for the gift or service. Follow up with specifics about your enjoyment and use of the gift or service. Add a personal note if you are familiar with the recipient, such as recent life news. Then wrap up your note with an expression of gratitude and a reference to the future, such as the next time you will see the recipient or good wishes for an upcoming event in the recipient’s life.

However you chose to show gratitude to those that matter in your life, the important thing is to stop and remember to be thankful. By engaging in this simple and rewarding practice, you will set a great example for your children while brightening someone’s day!
 
 
_November is a time for reflection and giving thanks. As the holidays approach, we continue our series of helpful articles for parents with a special emphasis on gratitude. Visit our Facebook page to benefit from our weekly parenting column, share your stories and to join the ongoing conversation.

Here are the articles you can look forward to reading on our blog and on Facebook in November:

·         The Art of the Thank-You Note--The handwritten letter is a dying art form. As we encourage our Facebook fans to show gratitude in the month of November, this article will be a guide to writing good letters and thank-you notes. We will outline what makes a good letter and give parents tips on how to teach their children to write and appreciate letters.

·         Rituals of Gratitude--Rituals, such as holiday traditions or weekly outings, provide a foundation for family identity. This article will provide tips for making gratitude and reflection a fun and meaningful family habit.

·         How to Thank a Teacher--There are more ways to thank teachers along with entering them in the Kumon Thank a Teacher Contest. In this article, we’ll offer up ways that parents can support their children’s teachers at various stages: elementary, middle and high school. We will interview teachers and include their tips in the article.

·         Tips from the Study Smart Sweepstakes--This article gathers together the best study tips from the Study Smart Sweepstakes to help keep parents inspired as homework increases and the hectic schedule of the holidays approaches.

Also, thank you to all who entered the “Smart Study Tips” contest. Your study tips have inspired the entire Kumon community.

We also hope to see your participation in the conversations on Facebook and Twitter throughout the month.

 
 
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