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More spoons of happiness!

I love Spoonville and have been happy to see more of them popping up as I go on walks around my area and from others sharing their local Spoonville images with us.

Hmmm, maybe I should create a Christmas Spoonville!

Anyway, I couldn’t resist sharing some updates of the Spoonvilles I previously posted about as they have grown somewhat in the last few weeks…

Park Spoonville

We had some major works done to the sewers in our area lately, which included trucks needing to access our local park. I thought it was very sweet that the workers moved Spoonville to another part of the park, did their work and then returned Spoonville to its original location. It was a bit more compact afterwards – just as well spoons don’t need to socially isolate!

Photos of Spoonville in a Melbourne park in 2020

Kinder Spoonville

Collection of spoons decorated as people, standing up in a kinder garden bed

Pot Spoonville

This is a new one to share, rather than an update!

Spoons decorated as people standing in a bucket on the nature strip

 

I was also going to add in an update on the laminated people Spoonville, but when I walked past this morning it was gone. Maybe the bad weather we had over the weekend destroyed it or the family took them in to protect from the weather.

How is your local Spoonville going? Can you see it growing over time?

Sharing some teddy happiness

We are in the  midst of a global pandemic which brings with it sadness, worry, new rules and tensions. It is a tough time.

However, there are lots of positive signs, too. People are connecting around the world as we all watch and experience the Corona virus. By staying apart, we are staying together is the new slogan – social distancing and reducing gatherings is a way we can protect each other and especially the most vulnerable in our communities. Our frontline responders are standing up and doing what must be done, and people are finding ways to show our gratitude.

And teddy bears are helping put smiles on our faces!

In case you haven’t caught up on this movement, many people are placing a teddy bear or similar toy in a window or other visible spot so that local children can see them. This means that a daily walk can be fun and positive as youngsters (and those young at heart of course!) can search for teddies and see how many they can find. It’s very simple and very effective.

One on my neighbours has been putting her teddies in different themed settings each day and some families are walking past daily to see what she has come up with!

Have you been spotting teddy bears and friends in your local area? Have you put any soft friends on display?

Collage of teddy bears in windows and trees

Christmas monopoly!

Last weekend I had the chance to play Christmas Monopoly with a friend who loves Christmas at least as much as me!

the box from Christmas Monopoly

We had a lot of fun playing it and being amused by the Christmas elements of the game.

What is Christmas Monopoly?

So it’s all basically the same as the classic game of Monopoly but made Christmassy!

Game board for Christmas Monoply

At the simplest level, the differences are

  • using snowflakes instead of dollars
  • using Christmas themed tokens – a Santa, reindeer, Christmas pudding, etc
  • Christmas themed properties to buy
  • you can add grottos and warehouses to your properties instead of houses and hotels

Playing the game

We had fun playing Christmas Monopoly with seven and nine year olds, and had to apply a time limit to have an end point. Like most board games, it is a good way to spend time together and let kids (and adults!) practice some maths skills and strategic thinking.

Property cards showing 'Letters to Santa' in Christmas MonopolySome of the property ideas were cute – the yellow set is Christmas Pudding, Brandy and Cream, and my favourite was the pink set containing Santa Letters, Christmas cards and Christmas shopping! And we liked the reindeer instead of train stations!

Less endearing was a roast chicken or turkey as a game token. It seemed out of place (maybe a turkey would work for a Thanksgiving game in America, but not Christmas!) and there are other ideas they could have used like a gift, a Christmas tree or a Christmas stocking. Note there was a Christmas pudding token so food was covered already.

My first Santa’s Sack and Christmas Crackers were both ‘get out of jail free’ cards, and one came in handy a bit later on in the game. Other cards included regifting something from last Christmas, taking friends out for Christmas drinks and getting a present you like.

The role of Santa was overplayed, though. Yes, I know that seems strange for me to say as I love all things Santa, but it’s true! Santa was a game token, the name of a property (replacing Mayfair of the original game) and the banker. It got a bit confusing in explaining the rules and talking about snowflake change when buying Santa and paying Santa…

The elves, chimneys (utilities from the original) and reindeer cards all had very cute pictures on them which we enjoyed. The kids were worried something was wrong, however, when they bought properties and those cards didn’t have pictures on them.

Collage of the Christmas Monopoly game

On a practical level, the instructions were clear, both explaining the game and differentiating from the original game. Unfortunately, the divider for the snowflakes didn’t have enough sections for all the denominations (two denominations had to be placed elsewhere) and can’t be used for storage. Lined up snowflakes from teh Christmas Monopoly game

So if you like the idea of themed Monopoly games, I also discovered that there is Nightmare before Christmas (with Tim Burton) monopoly, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer Monopoly and A Christmas Story monopoly! Have you already tried one of those games? If so, let us know what you thought!

Is your Santa black?

St Nicholas and Zwarte Piet at Sinterklaas

St Nicholas and Zwarte Piet celebrating Sinterklaas

With the exception of Zwarte Piet (Black Peter – Saint Nicholas’ companion in Holland), nearly all images of Christmas characters are white.

While I think it is ok to have a specific character be any particular colour/race/religion, there is no need for ALL characters to be one ‘type’ of person. It’s a bit like the old goodies in white hats and baddies in black hats – lots of good people actually prefer to wear black, and there are now stories of good witches and ninjas etc wearing black.

So is Santa black? Given he keeps himself hidden at the North Pole and comes into our homes when we are asleep, who knows what he really looks like? For all we know, he has purple skin and green hair!!

Teaching multiple stories.

I have just read an article by Peggy Albers about the impact of telling a single story. Called ‘Why is Santa black?’ the article explains that having a single story leads us to have a single perspective on things and can lead to narrow thinking.

Peggy suggests we read some stories from a different perspective and stories that show certain groups in different ways.

For example, I once read a version of Snow White told from the step- mother’s perspective. It told of her concerns about the teenager dropping rubbish everywhere (like a trail in the woods!), needing to be tricked into eating healthy food (like apples) and her relationship with the woodsman before running away. It was fun but children hearing that may get to understand that there is always another perspective, another side to the story – and that is certainly a valuable lesson to learn.

Peggy gives examples of Jewish characters being portrayed as poor, living with tension or fearful  of supernatural forces. The main reading I have done with Jewish characters have been set in or around World War 2 (so yes they were living with tension) or dealing with expectations based on deceased relatives (so supernatural forces) – so my own experience agrees with Peggy’s research. However, I also have some life experiences (and heard many other stereotypes) so have a broader perspective of Jews – but I can see how books give a limited view.

array of children's Christmas books

There are many books with Santa – mostly white and human, sometimes an animal.

I intend now to get and read ‘Twas the night before Christmas: An African American version* to broaden my Christmas story – and am glad I have read (and reviewed) some revised versions of Christmas stories such as:

Interestingly, there is a lot of debate about Zwarte Piet – many say he is racist and based on a book written in the 1850s while others say his origins are much older and relate to traditional European Santas having a black assistant who was invisible in the darkness and travelled through chimneys (so was covered in black soot). Accepting the book version of Zwarte Piet gives a different perspective of the character, whereas the historical version has more depth and fewer racist overtones – again, a single story impacts on the perceptions.

Does Santa’s colour matter?

The real symbols of Santa are a red suit, big belly and a white beard.

Yes, most images of Santa do have him as white but I don’t think that has to be the case (and will consciously use some other skin tones from here on myself).

And life is certainly more interesting when we have a variety of stories and cultures, so I’m all for some different Christmas and Santa stories (and there are a few around!)

So, what colour skin does Santa have in your mind? Other than it currently being unusual, would you have an issue with Santa being African or Asian in appearance?

 

* So far, I haven’t had much luck finding this book. It was written and illustrated by Melodye Benson Rosales, and published in October 1996.

How early should Christmas start?

A white Christmas tree with coloured baubles

A pretty Christmas tree display in a shop (taken during November!)

It’s now December and a lot more Christmas is around us.

For example, as of yesterday classrooms at our local school are decorated with tinsel and trees and Christmas parties are in full swing.

Obviously though, Christmas items have been on sale for a while now, along with decorated shops and Christmas centric advertising campaigns. And some will say it all started too early.

I’m ok with Christmas things around in October (on a small scale) and November, although I do find hot cross buns on sale in December a bit much in preparation for Easter!

Has Christmas got earlier?

But did you know that Christmas promotions stated in early spring (that is, during September) back in 1912 and even in August 1914? And complaints about Christmas starting ‘too early’ and ‘earlier every year’ were made in 1954 Britain and 1968 USA. So it’s not really a recent thing that Christmas is getting so early!

Ads for Christmas were published in November 1885, and retailers started with Christmas ‘events’ as early as November in 1888 and 1893.

 

Why have Christmas so early?

Well, it obviously works for retailers to promote Christmas earlier, or they’d have stopped it long ago.

Earlier promotion and reminders of Christmas encourages some people to shop earlier which means

  • less fluster and rush later on for those people
  • being able to spread the expenses of Christmas over a longer period
  • having more time to think of specifics gifts and finding it
  • spreading out the number of shoppers which is good for retailers as there are fewer crowds, less staff needs, reduced risks of stock run outs, and income is more spread out

I found it fascinating to learn that an American social reformer by the name of Florence Kelley strongly supported early Christmas shopping promotions to stop “the inhumane nature of the eleventh hour rush”. She felt that the shopping frenzy in December was “a bitter inversion of the order of holiday cheer”, and I must say I agree! From her essay in 1903, a huge campaign was waged to bring shopping forward as part of Kelley’s fight against child labour and abuse of overtime.

12 month calendar

When should Christmas displays start?

Some people like Christmas advertising to start well before December as it

  • inspires them to start Christmas shopping (to reduce the last minute stress and financial burden)
  • makes them feel good and builds the Christmas spirit
  • can give some good ideas, with time to implement them
  • is a reminder of better weather and holidays ahead.

So how do you feel about Christmas being presented to us from September? Would you prefer it started in November or December?

Aussie kids can get inclusive Lego now!

Back in April, I shared the news that Lego was bringing out some inclusive Lego – and hoped that it would soon be available in Australia, or at least here in time for Christmas. I think showing our kids how diverse human life can be is a great start for making our society more tolerate and happy.

Well, yesterday, I was in our local shops with my kids so we had to visit the Lego aisle. And to my delight, I spotted a Lego playing in the park set*.

the box of a new Lego set which has a wheelchair and a baby.

Inclusive Lego is now available in Australia!

As you can see from the box, this set includes:

  1. a child in a wheelchair
  2. a man pushing a baby in a pram
  3. a man playing in the park with kids
  4. a woman mowing lawns
  5. a woman painting

And it wasn’t just me who liked this set.

My eight year old son was happy about the wheelchair and bike, and said he wants this set.

My fifteen year old daughter loved it – her own words were that it is great to see inclusive Lego and it was her who noticed the women working and a man caring for children. She nearly bought it for herself and left thinking about getting it next time…

My six year old was over the moon about there being a baby and a pram (she is obsessed with babies, as noted in her preference for a baby Lego advent calendar!)

I am proud my kids appreciated the value of this set – I might just have to give it as a combined Christmas present this year!

Would you look for this set to give any Lego fans in your life?

* I still can’t find this set online in Australia, but hopefully it will come to Aussie online toy stores soon, too.o

Inclusive Lego is on the way :)

Lego presents udner a Christmas tree beside Santa's chair

The stage is set for Santa… {from the Lego City 2015 Advent calendar}

So this isn’t really a Christmas post, but I thought it was something worth sharing anyway!

And who knows, maybe it will have an impact on this year’s Lego Advent Calendars as well…

Lego’s new characters

I haven’t been able to find these on the main Lego site, the Lego Facebook page or at any online toy stores but at a toy fair in Germany, Lego has shown two new Lego characters in their City range. One is a boy in a wheelchair and one is a stay at home Dad (complete with pram and baby bottle!)

So what’s the big deal?

Having toys (as well as books and other media kids interact with) include the variety of human situations is important to my mind. For one thing, if kids can see themselves in their toys, they feel normal and accepted – why should all dolls be white skinned and blonde for example when there is such a range of skin and hair colours amongst us? Just like it’s ok for kids to see a Dad caring for a baby and non-nuclear family types.

And even for those kids who already represented by their toys, seeing other people represented helps those kids accept differences in real people, too. Teaching kids acceptance and tolerance is really important – and a key step towards peace.

Giving the new Lego

As I said above, I can’t find the Lego online so I’m not sure when they will be generally available to purchase – hopefully they will be around in time for Christmas though. According to CNN, they will be released in June and hopefully that includes in Australia.

I also don’t know what the set is like, so it may not appeal to lots of kids (eg a wheelchair bound witness in a cop set will probably sell better than a wheelchair kid washing dishes!) but I hope we do get a number of disabled people turning up in general sets from now on.

I won’t make a big fuss about the wheelchair; rather, I will just give the relevant set to my kids in the way I’d give them any other Lego to make the point it is normal.

 

Lego Christmas stars

Checking the Love Santa Facebook page, I came across a short video of various Christmas stars made out of Lego. I showed my children the video, too.

So we couldn’t resist making some Lego stars, too 🙂

Advent calendar stars

First, we made some stars from the pieces in the Lego advent calendars (from the things received by day 21 anyway).

Christmas stars made from advent calendars

Stars made from (left to right, top the bottom) City calendar, Friends calendar, City and Friends characters, and City and Friends calendar.

A Christmas tree star

This Lego star was created by Cassie’s nine year old…

A Lego Christmas star on top of a Christmas tree

and this one by Martin’s 10 year old daughter…

and this one was created by Jen’s almost-11-year-old son, Nick…

martin_10_yo_girl

* Cassie, Jen and Martin shared these with us via Facebook

 

 

Names of the six white boomers

So most Aussies know that it is too hot in Australia for the reindeer (they are used to the snowy North Pole after all!) so six white boomers help Santa get around Down Under on Christmas Eve.

Many people are interested in the reindeer names, but did you know that the boomers also have individual names?

Six boomers pulling Sata's sleigh

The actual six white boomers song does not include the names, unlike the original Night before Christmas story, but they are included on the album by Rolf Harris when he produced the song in the 1960s.

So, the boomers who help Santa are…

  • Jackaroo
  • Curly
  • Bluey
  • Two-Up
  • Desert-Head
  • Snow

If you are not an Aussie, many of those names may seem a bit strange or foreign, but they seem fairly normal to me!

A genuine endorsement for real letters

Unfortunately, there are some sad people who spam others for enjoyment or to make money in unscrupulous ways.

Genuine vs spam Santa letters

baby girl holding a red envelope

Who could prevent a baby or child this delight?

What’s sadder is that there are even people who would use children’s love of Santa and the magic of Christmas, and the love of adults for those children, to try getting money out of others.

We were very pleased to find that PC mag Australia wrote about this problem and gave two reputable options for Santa letters rather than the scammers – Australia Post (for a non personalised letter) and Love Santa (for personalised letters with additional touches).

Staying safe

As well as sharing our excitement at getting such an unexpected mention, this article inspired me to give some tips on avoiding spam…

  • if you’re unsure, do NOT click on any links in emails. Type out the URL yourself so you go to a real site (there are emails that look right but have links that will take you somewhere unexpected)
  • don’t just rely on emails – check their website or Google them for reviews and comments. Personally, I don’t trust anyone who advertises by emailing strangers!
  • if in doubt, only make payments through trusted sites, such as paypal or a direct deposit from your banking facility. And NEVER give credit card details via email.
  • look at the email address – does it come from a domain that seems valid (eg a relevant business name)? does the name in the email match the email address?
  • read the website – does it feel genuine (this comes through even more in a blog and articles which are less sales-orientated), do the photos look like real people, are there contact details, and so forth.

Here’s to getting rid of spammers!

Christmas is almost here, but it’s not too late!

Images of chldren and teens enjoying a letter from Love Santa

Children of all ages enjoy getting mail and finding a Love Santa letter addressed to them

With only days to go, do you feel ready for Christmas?

Perhaps you were hoping to arrange a Santa letter for someone special but have just realised Christmas is almost here and you’ve not done it? It’s easy to let it slip with all the things that need doing at this time of year, but it is disappointing for any child to miss out.

Maybe you weren’t sure of the details to let us personalise a letter for the special child(ren) in your life, so kept putting it off until now it feels too late.

Love Santa letters are still available!

Well, you’re in luck! It IS too late to send anything via Australia Post before Christmas and a bit too close for use to write personalised letters at this stage.

However, we have prepared a non-personalised Love Santa letter for Aussie and Kiwi children that you can print off for them – pop it in an envelope in the letter box, hang it from the Christmas tree or have it sticking out of a stocking hung by the chimney, or any other creative presentation you think of!

Last minute Love Santa letters

Professionally written like all our letters, the non-personalised letter also refers to a warm Christmas and the boomers, and of course includes a craft idea and recipe for a Santa snack. We write a new letter every year (but you can still grab the non-personalised letters from 2012 and 2013 as well if you want three different letters – contact us for more than three!)

The more magic we can give children for Christmas, the better! (Did you know that Michael Grose believes Christmas magic is even more important for children than ever in this information age?)

Simply click on the button below to arrange for your downloadable Santa letter, and have a Merry Christmas!

The Easter Bilby made it – phew!

Some very happy people in our house this morning to discover that the Easter Bilby had found our house – and hidden eggs inside to protect them from the rain 🙂

little girl with chalk & chocolate easter eggs

Chalk Easter eggs were just as exciting as the little chocolate ones!

The Bilby left the littlies a carton of egg-chalks (yes, not so much chocolate and great ongoing activities!) as well as leaving too many little eggs to find.

However, it was nice to see the kids sort the eggs into colours (and into matching coloured construction toys!) and then just eat at will – maths skills and sharing/no greed in one go.

As the Easter Bilby, the Easter Bunny and Santa are friends, we’d like to take this chance to wish you all a Happy Easter – and no belly aches from too much chocolate!

sorting colours of Easter eggs

Sorting colours is a maths foundation skill

colour sorted easter eggs in construction toys

Colour sorted into construction vehicles!

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