Tag Archives: tutorials

Super-Cheap Advent Calendar

4 Dec


I love a good craft…but even better is when I can create something AND save money.

No1 really gets Christmas this year.  She keeps asking how many days and we keep referring her to the calendar, but at 3, a seven day chart isn’t exactly age-appropriate.  Also?  I’m tired of repeating myself.  So tired.

So I scoured the internet (and etsy) for a toddler-friendly advent calendar for daily activities.  There are some adorable choices out there…but I just couldn’t stomach spending any more money this month.  We’ve drained our Christmas budget.  And then it came to me, while vegging out on the couch.  Paper. Chain.

It’s linear (teacher-talk for less confusing as a calendar), easy to make, and I already had everything I needed to whip one up.


  • Construction Paper in Red and Green (or whatever colors you like – two colors helps make it an easy visual)
  • Tacky Glue (or a stapler, but I don’t trust my toddler to not pull out and eat the staples)
  • Markers
  • Your Calendar
  • Scotch Tape
  • Scissors (I used a paper-trimmer and it saved me tons of time, but scissors work just as well)


  • Cut construction paper into strips.  You’ll need 12 of each color.  I made mine 1 1/2 inches by 10 inches.
  • On one side of each strip, write the date and how many days left until Christmas.  Makes for a good teachable math moment each time your child takes a strip off (depending on your child’s age):
    • “We had 24 days yesterday and we took off one ring.  How many days do you think we will have now?  Why?”
    • “Let’s go to the calendar and see where today is.  Let’s count the days and see if the strip is right.”
    • “Is the chain shorter or longer than yesterday?”
    • “What color will we take off tomorrow?  How do you know?”

  • On the other side of each strip, write an activity for the day.  I used my calendar to pick babysitter days for crafts so I would have some extra help, and to plan simple activities on days I work or anticipate being busy.  Some sample activities from my calendar:
    • take a bubble bath
    • make a snowman craft ($1 at AC Moore)
    • spend the whole day in pajamas
    • take toy donations to the fire station
    • mail Christmas cards
    • make a gingerbread house (scheduled this one at Mimi’s house)
    • bake cookies
    • make handprint reindeer
    • go to the library and pick out holiday books
    • dance to Christmas music
    • paint toenails red and green
  • If you need more ideas – just google “advent calendar kids’ activities”.  There are tons of great ideas out there.
  • At this point, I wrote each advent activity on my calendar…because otherwise I knew I would forget about a craft or special activity and be caught unaware.  You could also just make a list and hide it somewhere for your reference.
  • Loop each strip through the next, being sure you’ve got them in order.  The dates will go on the outside of each ring, with the activities hidden inside.  Secure strips with glue, staples, or tape.  Your choice.
  • Make a Christmas Day poster for the 24th loop to attach to

  • Tape the 24th loop to the poster and hang!  I hung ours where I could easily put the chain out of reach for playdates.

No1 loves ripping off the day’s loop, seeing how many days are left, pointing out that there are less days and that Christmas is at the top…and then bringing me the strip to see what the activity is!  I love that it gives her some special time each day, especially since I’ve been feeling so fatigued and we’re overwhelmed with baby preparations.  None of the activities are too involved – simple things mean so much to young children.  Keep it simple and fun.

You could easily adapt this for any holiday or to countdown to a special event like the last day of school…a child’s birthday (a week-long countdown would make any kiddo feel really special)…an upcoming trip (oh!  Activities about the destination!  Coloring a map…making food from the area…read stories set in the local).  The possibilities are endless!

Butterfly Mobile Tutorial

7 Feb

I saw this in Pottery Barn Kids one day and couldn’t bring myself to spend $79 for it.  Making things for cheap?  Pure happiness.  So I fumbled through several attempts and finally got this made for Doodlebug’s room.  Pardon the picture quality.  Also?  I can’t for the life of me figure out how to center these pics.  So bear with me.

Flower Mobile

It’s been my go-to project for friends and family having baby girls.  Each time I make one, it’s completely different.  Which I love.  My new bestie just had her second baby and this one is for her.

You’ll need:

  • 2 metal or wooden rings (I used the solid halves of two cross stitch circles for this one, but have had good success with wreath rings, too.  Both can be found at a craft shop.  For this project, I used one 6” inch ring and one 14” ring.
  • 25 yards of 5/8” ribbon.  I like grosgrain, but I suppose another would work.  I order my ribbon online and get 50 yds for about $10.
  • Hot glue gun
  • Jewelry thread (or a thin fishing line)
  • Scrapbooking paper
  • Paper punch in desired shape:  I found the butterfly punch at JoAnn’s for $7 on sale (score!).  I also needed paint to do an accent on each butterfly – but this is optional.
  • Ruler and protractor (my cutting mat has angle measurements on it).
  • Marker
  • Lighter (for sealing ribbon ends)

A couple of notes before getting started…  Don’t forget to heat seal the ends of your ribbon as you work to keep them from fraying.  Pass the cut end of the ribbon quickly through a flame and you’re all set.  Also, hot glue is HOT, so be careful.

1) Wrap each ring in ribbon:  I anchor the end using hot glue, wrap the ribbon on an angle, and put down more glue every few inches.

2) Determine where to tie the thread for hanging each ring:  Trace the c ircles onto a piece of scrap paper as shown.  Use the ruler to make a vertical line that goes through the center of both circles.  Then using your protractor (or in my case, a scrap of paper made using the angle marks on my cutting mat), measure and mark out lines every 60 degrees.  Basically, you’re cutting each half of the circles into thirds.  I have circled the places where you will want to tie the two rings together.  I like to take a marker and make a tiny dot on the actual rings.  No one will ever notice.  Promise.

Layout Marks

3) Decide how high you want to hang the small circle above the large circle:  I used 8 inches for this mobile.  Cut three pieces of clear thread (12 inches or so).  Tie each string (a double knot will do) onto the small ring where you marked it before.  Then measure 8 inches from each of the knots you just made and mark the threads with your permanent marker.  Now tie each thread to the coordinating mark on the large ring, matching up the marks on the threads with the marks on the rings.  Tie knots for each.

Flower Mobile

4) Tie on the thread used for hanging the whole mobile:  Take a 15 inch piece of thread and tie it onto the small ring in two places, with each knot directly across the circle from the other (end points of the diameter, for my fellow math geeks).  I usually eyeball this and it becomes very obvious if I don’t have them just right once I hold it up.

Hanging Frame

5) Lift the mobile by the hanging thread:  See how it hangs.  If anything needs to be adjusted, this is the time.  Once you feel pretty sure the mobile is well-balanced, use a dot of hot glue at each knot to keep it from slipping.  I also like to tie a knot at the very top, making a 1-inch loop for easy hanging.  I hang mine from my chandelier while I’m working with it.  The tape you see is my way of marking the halfway points of each third.  It helps me glue on my ribbons evenly.

6) Cut and attach ribbons to top ring:  Cut 24 equal lengths of ribbon.  I used 17” lengths.  Don’t forget to heat seal all the cut ends.  Loop the ribbons over the top ring and glue.  I glue the ribbon to itself (not the ring) – it lets me move the ribbons around if something’s not quite right.  Eight ribbons will go in each of the sections you made with the threads that connect the two rings.  Mine ended up spaced apart by about 3/4”.

Top Ribbon

7) Attach ribbons to bottom ring:  Take each hanging ribbon down and inside the bottom ring, then bring it up in front of the bottom ring.  You’ll want the ribbons to droop below the bottom ring.  Loop the ribbon up and over the ring and glue.

Bottom Ribbon

8) Decorate the hanging thread:  Cut a 20” piece of ribbon and heat seal.  Find the center of the ribbon and make two loops.  Take loops around the knot you made at the top of the hanging thread, and tie in a simple knot.  (The picture helps, here.)  Adjust the resulting bow until it looks pretty.  Then loosely wrap the ends of the ribbon around each thread, securing at the top ring.

Tie Bow

9) Prepare butterflies (or flowers, leaves, etc):  I punched out 120 butterflies and had a few left over for spares.  It looked flat when I started hanging them, so I stopped and painted yellow bodies on each butterfly with some acrylic craft paint.

10) Attach butterflies using dots of hot glue:  It takes some trial and error with each project to find a spacing I like.  I usually end up peeling a few off to adjust and make changes.  Here I was going for a  “a rabble of butterflies just happened to land on this green chandelier” kind of look.  And yes, “rabble” is actually what you call a group of butterflies.  I had to google it.

Butterfly Mobile

I’ve different mobiles using flowers, leaves, and butterflies.  But there are many options.  I came across this version at Living with Lindsay the other day while searching for the Pottery Barn image link.  The birds give it a more modern feel, I think.  Very pretty.  You could do stars and moons…bubbles…fireflies…or perhaps take the ribbon-wrapped mobile frame and instead of using ribbons, hang sports balls/airplanes/sea creatures from more clear thread.

Final Mobile

Here’s the final project.  Total cost was about $15 and two hours of time.  And that was with my toddler “helping” me.  I can’t wait to give it as a gift – I hope J knows how much love went into this for her new little girl.

Happy crafting!  Feel free to ask questions if anything’s not clear.  I’m happy to help.

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