Monday, January 14, 2019

We Planned a Pretty Great Girl Scout Cookie Rally, If I Do Say So Myself

My troop was asked to help plan our Service Unit's Girl Scout Cookie Rally this year. It's the first Service Unit event that I've helped plan, and the biggest event that I've helped plan.

Good thing that it turned out so great, then!

My troop handled the programming for the rally, and so I got to leave all the infrastructure issues, such as venue and registration and sign-in and such, to the other leader in charge. This was VERY fine by me, because while I feel pretty good about lesson planning (which is all this was, really), I feel pretty NOT good about figuring out all that other stuff.

So if you need to know how to get girls to sign up for a Cookie Rally, or how to find and reserve a venue, or the most efficient way to register them, I can't tell you that. What I CAN tell you is what we did for programming, how we organized it, and how it went.

And it went so awesome.

I wanted the Cookie Rally to be fun--I mean, of COURSE!--but I also wanted the girls who attended to come away with a standard level of knowledge and confidence so that they could enter the cookie-selling season feeling skillful and prepared. There's a lot to learn, especially if it's your first year! You have to know how to speak to strange adults, which is something that, if you're small, you likely rarely do. You have to know how to present yourself and a product that you're selling. You have facts to memorize and confidently repeat. You have to know principles of advertising and marketing. You have to do math. You have to know the rules for playing fair and staying safe.

Fortunately, Girl Scouts of the USA has broken all of this down into five skills:

  1. Goal Setting
  2. Decision Making
  3. Money Management
  4. People Skills
  5. Business Ethics
I added a sixth skill, which is to have fun, and boom! There are the six stations that attendees can rotate through at the Cookie Rally. Now all I had to do was come up with an activity for each station that related to its theme.

Since I wanted my troop to take ownership of the Cookie Rally and help plan and run it (it's a terrific experience for them, and the Juniors can use it to work toward their Junior Aide award and the Cadettes and Seniors their Service To Girl Scouting bar), we had two planning meetings for this. At the first meeting, I presented the girls with a long list of a ton of possible station activities and briefly described each one to them. I displayed a giant paper with each of the six stations listed, and the girls voted not only by choosing their favorite activities, but also assigning each of those favorites to the station that she thought most appropriate. When they were finished, all I had to do was tally the votes for each station and once again it was boom! There are our six stations all assigned.

Before our next planning meeting I roughed out the winning stations, and at our second meeting we beta tested them, made modifications, and then the girls chose which station they wanted to run. Here are our winning stations:

GOAL SETTING

For the Decision Making station, our facilitators (one of my troop's Girl Scouts and one adult), led the girls through a discussion of how much profit our local troops earn from each box of cookies sold (here, it's 75 cents per $5 box), and how much money various troop expenditures might cost. They discussed how much uniforms cost, how much a fun activity might cost, how much a service or Take Action Project might cost, and how much a big trip might cost. The facilitators helped the girls calculate how much each expenditure might represent in terms of boxes sold for one girl, and then boxes sold for a troop of ten girls. 

Afterwards, the facilitators passed out green printer paper trefoils, and the girls had a chance to make their own goal for something that they might like their troop to their cookie profits for, and then they could write down or draw their goal on the trefoil and embellish it. The facilitators encouraged the girls to use the trefoils as decorations at their cookie booths or during their personal sales.

DECISION MAKING

For the Decision Making station, Matt, our resident graphic designer, facilitated, with the help of one of my troop's Girl Scouts, a workshop teaching girls how to use the principles of good design to create effective and attractive signage. He showed them various examples of good and bad design using these principles, then each girl received a 1/4-sized poster board and started working on her own sign. Again, the girls were encouraged to use their sign at their own cookie booths or during their own personal sales.

MONEY MANAGEMENT

For the Money Management station, our facilitators (two of my troop's Girl Scouts and one adult) organized a booth makeover activity. When girls arrived at this station, there was a "bad" cookie booth already set up, and girls got to watch as a customer attempted to shop at that booth and was treated poorly and the transaction mishandled.

The girls were encouraged to talk about what was wrong with the booth and the customer service, and then they were divided into teams and had a few minutes to create their own good cookie booth, using some miscellaneous supplies that we had on hand for them. Finally, I was justified in hoarding all those empty cookie boxes!

After the time was up, the facilitators found things to praise about each team's cookie booth and pretended to shop using pretend money, so that the girls also got to practice handling money. We have new prices this year, so it's especially important!

PEOPLE SKILLS

For the People Skills station, our facilitators (three of my troop's Girl Scouts and one adult) had the girls do role play with cookie selling scenarios. I'd previously organized the scenarios into Easy, Medium, and Hard, so that they could give Daisies and Brownies scenarios like, "A customer asks you what your favorite cookie is," or "A customer asks you to come into her house while she gets your money," and Juniors and Cadettes scenarios like, "A customer says that palm oil contributes to deforestation and destroys orangutan habitats" or "How are these cookies any different than the ones I can buy in the grocery store?"

So that girls didn't feel like they were put on the spot if they didn't know how to answer, my Girl Scouts could go first and give a TERRIBLE answer that all the girls could then pick apart, and then they could discuss what a good answer might be before the girl had to try it out herself.

BUSINESS ETHICS

For the Business Ethics station, I asked our local police department if they could provide a police officer (female, if possible) to discuss with the girls how to keep themselves safe during cookie season. And the officer who came was AMAZING!!!! The girls all warmed up to her immediately, and she gathered each group around and they all talked to each other, completely engrossed, for the entire station's rotation. It was perfect. I also didn't have to use any troop girls or adults for this station, so it was an excellent use of our limited resources!

And yes, of course I had a Plan B if she didn't show up. I'm very glad, though, that I didn't have to pull out Safety Charades, because I don't think it would have been nearly as fun as the officer's visit was.

FUN

For the Fun station, our facilitators (two of my troop's Girl Scouts and one adult) ran a game of Cookie Twister. For the game mat, I printed three full-page color images of each of our eight Girl Scout cookie types, then laminated them. The facilitators used clear packing tape and taped them into a 6x4 array right onto the floor of our venue. As you can tell, I did not take a single photo during the Cookie Rally--I was busy!--but here's a photo of the game mat set up at our second planning meeting, after the girls beta tested it, informed me that I apparently actually don't know the rules of Twister, and advised me to rotate all of the images 90 degrees. It does, indeed, look and perform much better like this:

I provided the station with a four-sided die and an eight-sided die and a sheet on which I'd keyed each roll of the four-sided die to a limb, and each roll of the eight-sided die to a cookie. To play, the facilitators divided the girls into teams, then rolled the dice to call out each move. I left it up to them to arrange turn-taking and game order so that they could make sure that all the girls had a chance to play before the station's time was up.

This station masqueraded as fun, and the girls all seemed to really enjoy it, but its true purpose was to make sure that Daisies and Brownies could identify the eight types of Girl Scout cookies by name and look and box color. Mwa-ha-ha!

At the second planning meeting, I had each of the girls sign up for some scut work to complete at home and bring to the rally, all of which was meant to be pretty quick and simple. I handed out large-format paper so that girls could make a sign for each station; printed play money to be cut out; trefoils to cut out; and pictures of good booths and a large posterboard to make an inspiration board. All the girls did just what I asked them to and brought everything back just like they were supposed to!

After we'd hashed everything out to our satisfaction at the second planning meeting and the girls had chosen the stations they wanted to run, I wrote very detailed step-by-step instructions for each station (with the proviso that the facilitators did NOT have to follow my instructions and were welcome to organize the station the way that they thought best), and then invited the adults to choose the stations that they wanted to help at. When we arrived for set-up I handed out the station supplies to the appropriate facilitators, gave them a little guidance about where their station should be located, and left them to be in charge. One adult took charge of the cookies and milk for afterward, and one adult was a floater who handled whatever needed to be handled, everything from door security to giving a facilitator a bathroom break.

As the attendees arrived at the Cookie Rally, the other leader in charge handled sign-in and payment and gave them a name tag that had already been colored with one of six colors. The groups weren't completely even, as, of course, some girls want to be together, etc., but we didn't do too badly at allocating them. Our programming lasted for one hour, so each station got ten minutes, with me playing time keeper. After all of the rotations, the other leader stepped back in and did a drawing for a few prizes that the council had sent us to use with the Cookie Rally, and then organized all of the girls lining up for milk and Girl Scout cookie samples. She got everything distributed and all the girls reseated, and then did a countdown and got them all to dunk a cookie into milk simultaneously for a Great Cookie Dunk.

Thanks to my awesome girl and adult leaders, the programming ran like absolute clockwork. Everyone knew their responsibility and handled it completely independently. I had, if you can believe this, NO fires to put out!

You guys, the Cookie Rally could not have gone better. Everyone, both facilitators and attendees, seemed happy. Everything was organized and ran exactly as it was supposed to. And somehow, I managed to find and accomplish the one thing that actually makes the beginning of cookie selling seem a lot less stressful by comparison!

At least until the initial order deadline. And booth signup. And our first big deposit. And the first Hot-Spot booth weekend...

P.S. It's time to figure out what Girl Scout cookie recipe Syd and I are going to try this year! Mini cheesecakes were amazing, but I'm kind of leaning towards the Do-Si-Do icebox pie...

P.P.S. Want to stay checked in with all my kid-friendly plans and projects? You should be following my Craft Knife Facebook page!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Pattern Review: T-Shirt Panties from the Kid's Scrundlewear Pattern

Syd needed more underwear, and why should I spend an hour going to the store and back to buy them when I could instead spend an hour researching underwear patterns, buy one for the approximate cost of a ten-pack, and then spend another five hours sewing seven pairs on my home sewing machine?

I don't know. Why do I do anything?

Well, the fit is better, for one. The prints are cuter, and just what Syd likes. I don't have to worry about some little kid in a sweatshop laboring 14 hours a day making them; I'm in my 40s, and I only sew when I feel like it. I can use up my stash fabric sewing these, so that's pretty cool.

Also, I hate shopping, but I like to sew. Case closed!

For this project, I bought the Kids' Scrundlewear pattern from Stitch Upon a Time. It might not have been the best economical decision, because Syd is in the top size for this pattern, but I liked it the best of all of the digital patterns that I browsed and I think I'll get my eight dollars' worth from it.

Actually, I think I already did!

I have a ridiculous stash of T-shirts for crafting. Most are T-shirts that the kids have outgrown or that are damaged beyond repair, some are shirts that were given to me specifically for crafting with, and few are ones that I thrifted because they fit somebody's passionate obsession and surely will come in handy for something.

Such as this adult-sized My Little Pony T-shirt that I bought for a dollar several months ago:

Excuse the awful lighting in all of these photos. It is never not raining, and it is, to the children's great sadness, seemingly never going to snow.

Yep, all seven of Syd's new pairs of underwear are sewn from T-shirts. I mixed and matched the waist- and leg-bands from other shirts, and came up with some really cute combinations, I think:

Both kids love sharks, and Syd wore this shirt, a gift from her grandparents, until she could no longer squeeze into it. Now she can wear it again!

The kids tie-dye T-shirts at every single Girl Scout camp, and I (secretly) never think they come out cute, but it turns out that cutting it down into underwear actually makes the tie-dye look a lot nicer.
 One thing that I'm pretty proud of is my ability to sew with knits, no starch or stabilizer necessary. If a piece gets fiddly I will starch it, but all of these came together quite quickly and easily:


The Scrundlewear pattern also doesn't call for any elastic, which is nice because I then didn't have to buy a single other thing to make all this underwear. And I could have made the kid twenty pairs, what with all the T-shirts in my stash, but I started to get bored with sewing multiples of the same thing and decided that I'd see how she does with seven pairs for now:

I like the pairs with the T-shirt graphics the best, but Syd's favorites are these striped pairs.


Syd reports that they're super comfy, they wash well, and although I was worried that she'd think them too bulky, since T-shirt fabric is thicker than underwear fabric, she hasn't complained and so I'm certainly not going to bring it up!

Next up: I bought this adult underwear pattern, and so now it's time to attempt to sew something that will meet the approval of the REALLY picky kid...

P.S. I sew LOTS of things, usually pretty weird. Want to see it all? Follow along on my Craft Knife Facebook page!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Our Favorite Books of 2018

Around the middle of March, I started a project that I've had in the back of my mind for decades:

I began to record every book I read.

I've done this off and on (I still have a Goodreads account to prove it!), but no method ever stuck. And even this time, I tried a couple of different ways to record my reading before I came to the one that I like. I really wanted to make a cutest bullet journal-style artistic layout, but I'm not actually, you know, artistic, so the first one that I tried looked like crap.

Eventually, I taught myself how to make my books look a tiny bit more bookish, and now I'm happy, and I have a list of 58 books that I've read between March 13 and today.

Yay!

As a lover of books, something as simple as just writing down the title and author of every book I complete (I don't include the books that I drop before finishing, and I only write down comics if I've read a whole volume) is a game changer. All I have to do is look through the list, and it's easy to recall plots and settings and the details that make each book what it is. I can give people book recommendations now!

I can make a list like this!

I fully plan to require the kids to somehow record the books that they read in 2019, although I don't have any idea how I'm going to do this. They'll both rebel and "forget" and complain and refuse, and I'll go nuts in my mind knowing all the ones they're undoubtedly skipping. We'll figure it out, though, because it's so worth it. Too bad that I didn't do it this year, though--I'm confident that Will has read hundreds of books this year (if you doubt that number, it's just because you don't know this kid), and Syd has listened to perhaps as many audiobooks.

Don't bother wondering what my life is like with one kid constantly reading the book in her face, and the other kid constantly listening to the audiobook in her headphones. It's generally very quiet.


SYDNEY


Syd still reads kid books, but she made a decisive move into YA novels this year, too. She listened to almost all of John Green's books, although she admitted that she didn't really understand Turtles All the Way Down. She LOVED The Fault in Our Stars, though.

I mean, of course!

Unlike Will, Syd is happy to reread her favorite books. She still listens to Wonder every now and then, and all the Rick Riordans, although she's more into The Mark of Apollo books than the Lightning Thief ones these days. This year, Syd also loved the Spirit Animals series enough that she dressed as a Green Cloak for Halloween. 

I let Syd listen to The Hunger Games, and she cried so hard when Rue died that I let her listen to Catching Fire, even though I was worried it would be too scary. She was so worried about Peeta after that book ended that I let her listen to Mockingjay. Even Will hasn't read the Hunger Games trilogy (although I LOOOOOOVE it), because she's worried it will be too scary, the chicken.

This book actually started out as a pick from the MENSA For Kids reading list, part of a book report assignment. But as I'd hoped when I gave the assignment, Syd LOVED this book. Of course she did. Have you re-read it recently? It's beautiful, and sad, and doesn't gloss over or try to explain the hardest mysteries of our burdens in life. It also has a fox, which is currently Syd's favorite animal, and it speaks to the intense relationship that one has with one's pet. Syd, who intensely loves and is loved by a certain grey tabby cat, understood what the book was saying about what it is to love an animal.

Syd isn't quite as obsessed with Garfield these days, but she still reads Foxtrot over and over, and her shining moment in the sun was the day that she met Bill Amend, himself, and bought a signed print from him. Her grandparents gave her this boxed set for Christmas this year, and since then, I think she's read through the whole thing at least twice.

WILLOW


In some ways, it's easier to figure out what Will's favorite books of the year were, because they're piled all over our library bookshelf (yes, we have three entire shelves of a giant bookshelf devoted only to library books--that's how bad our habit is!), but in other ways, it's nearly impossible because she doesn't keep track of them, and reads so many that she can hardly recall them when asked for favorites.

Here's what she admitted when I pinned her down, though, although don't expect any summarizing or opinions. Apparently we're not conversing with mothers this morning...


Will didn't mention this book as one of her favorites, but she couldn't stop talking about it after she read it for a book report assignment. She had a LOT to say about Scout's naivety, and it inspired lots and lots of discussions about civil rights and racial bias, particularly in the southern states.

I can tell you the books that Will has recommended to me and that I always loved, too:



This book is so good! Will read it on a road trip and then handed to me to read on the same trip, so that every five pages or so I could pester her with my theories and predictions and beg her to tell me if I was right or not. She never would, though, because she has a strong moral tone when it comes to book plots.

I'd read the first book in this series, So You Want To Be a Wizard, years ago, back when I was taking a children's literature class in grad school for my MLS and had to complete an annotated reading log. I remember loving it, but I didn't research it further, and so didn't realize that there's an entire series! Will, however, loves all things fantasy, and so she reintroduced me to the Young Wizards this year, and patiently fielded all of my guesses and questions and excited discussions, and now it's something that we love together.

Here's another book series that Will recommended to me, recently enough that I've only read the first two books, although I'm super excited because there are so many more! Will would hardly turn down the chance to read any book about dragons, but this series, she agrees, is something special. The way that Temeraire and his captain speak to each other is tender and sweet, the type of courtesy born of true love, and it colors all of the books with its gentle affection, giving emotional impact even to hard-boiled battle scenes.

This recommendation is recent enough that all the volumes are still on hold for me at the library, waiting for our next trip. Will tells me, though, that it's a terrific series, and combines Girl Scouts, one of my favorite things, with fantasy adventure elements--my other favorite thing!

ME



The first few books of this series are made of magic. Anne is one of the most endearing characters in all of literature--flawed, to be sure, or otherwise you wouldn't love her, but so sweet and hopeful and brave that you can't possibly do anything but adore her. The later books in the series are... well, they don't star Anne, and none of the other characters who are introduced can make up for that. Will happily read the first few books, and then I encouraged her to muscle through the rest just to have a clear view of the series as a whole. Syd listened to the first couple, and I, of course, read them all for the dozenth time this year, getting through at least a couple while on Prince Edward Island itself!

This book is a speculative biography of Nelly Ternan, a Victorian actress and most likely the mistress of Charles Dickens. It's likely that his relationship with Ternan is why he removed his wife from his home and refused to let her have any contact with their children, and she is definitely part, although not all, of the secret to the frenetic pace at which he traveled and spent, and why he seemed to continually lie about his whereabouts. More than that, though, this biography is about a Victorian woman, both subject to and flouting many of those conservative Victorian standards. She was an actress! She was unmarried! She was sexually active! And yet she was just as trapped by the web of these transgressions as she would have been living a completely conventional Victorian life. I admit that I did feel kind of sick about Charles Dickens after I read this, but hey. Celebrities, like anyone, are a lot more complicated than they'd like to appear.

I love the Cormoran Strike books, J.K. Rowling's mystery series. This one might be my favorite, as it ties up a long-running story arc in the series, but they're all fun, contemporary, genre-standard mysteries, far more well-written than you'd expect mystery novels to be.

You guys, I spent a shocking amount of this year obsessed with Floyd Collins. I read about him during our trip to Mammoth Cave National Park, and then couldn't stop thinking about him for a long, long time. This book is quite thorough in telling his story, and also tells about the interesting history of travel and tourism in the years between the world wars. But mostly, it tells the horror story of a man trapped in a small cave, hardly able to be reached, entirely unable to be rescued (or was he?), left alone to die in the cold and dark and wet.

Outsider art is one of my interests, especially genre art. The art constructed as part of Christian-themed pop culture counts as outsider art, mainly because its fan base is more interested in the content than the quality, the theming rather than the technique. I had a lot of fun reading these chapters and then looking up the artists referenced. I listened to a lot of bad music, and it took forever for my recommended YouTube videos feed to recover, but it was worth it to watch an episode of a campy TV show about a Bible-based superhero.

FAMILY



I've mentioned several times that The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy have been our family read-alouds for a long while now. We actually just finished the whole series earlier this autumn! After that, we did A Christmas Carol (we didn't love it a ton, but we did have a lot of fun making fun of it, so there you go), and we're ready to start the Harry Potter series together soon.


I'm already excited by our next year of reading. By this date in 2019, I'll ideally have an exhaustive book list for each kid, as well as me, to peruse through and wax nostalgic about all the happy adventures we've had.

Oh, and if you have any recommended books for us, please let me know in the Comments. We ALWAYS need new things to read!

Friday, December 28, 2018

Parenting Book Review: The Game Theorist's Guide to Parenting


When I mentioned on my Craft Knife Facebook page that I was interested in learning more about parenting seen through the lens of game theory, one of the comments on my post was an impassioned rebuttal of using game theory to parent. The gist of the comment was that one's relationship with one's children should be collaborative, not competitive, and treating parenting as a win-or-lose scenario would be harmful to children.

That comment made me realize that many people don't understand what game theory is, which is a bummer, because game theory is AWESOME and fully relevant to a whole myriad of human interactions.

Game theory is essentially the study of strategic decision-making. So yes, it covers games and how to win them, but it also deals with how to achieve the optimal result whenever strategy is called for. And optimal result doesn't necessarily mean winning--if you want everyone happy, then that's your optimal result. If you want a fair allocation of Christmas presents or parental attention, then that's your optimal result. If you want your kid to grow up to be a good, honest, fair, friendly person, then that's certainly your optimal result!

So when I read The Game Theorist's Guide to Parenting (I had my local university's library inter-library loan it for me!), I wasn't trying to win parenting, but to see if they had any strategies that would, say, get my kids to stop fighting, or help me figure out how to teach my kid who's also a lying liar who lies how to stop lying all the dang time.

There is a chapter on lying. Spoiler alert: there is no quick and easy strategy to get your kid to stop lying, dang it.

There are LOTS of ways, however, to make sure that you're treating kids fairly, and that's actually the part of the book that I enjoyed the most. The authors emphasize that of course fair does not mean equal--if you give your kids equal slices of a half-chocolate, half-vanilla cake, but the kid who only loves chocolate gets vanilla and the kid who only loves vanilla gets chocolate, then that's not fair. So the authors go through tons of different ways to divvy up resources, and you can read through them and utilize whatever appeals to you. Bigger families might like the auction approaches, but I have long been a heavy utilizer of the I Cut, You Choose school of choice-making.

You know that one. Whenever you give your kids or partner a list to choose from, whether it's chores or vacation destinations or movies for Family Movie Night, but you've made the list and so you're cool with everything on it, that's I Cut, You Choose. It's my favorite.

There's also a good chapter on how to best utilize punishments and rewards, if you use them. For one, don't make a punishment that punishes YOU as much as it does the kid--for instance, don't automatically ground your kid from the car if it means that you're just going to have to play chauffeur yourself. Instead, think about what has the most impact from the kid's point of view. If they're misusing the car, then, perhaps they should pay for their own insurance, or gas, or drive Meals on Wheels for a while. That kind of thing.

But even the punishment/reward chapter is more invested in social contracts than purely cause and effect. Like, not how to punish your kid, per se, but how to help her fulfill the social contract that she made to you concerning how she would use the car. The authors claim that pre-committing to the consequences help enforce this. It's why school sports programs have academic requirements, and everybody already knows what will happen if a kid violates them. So the authors encourage bringing another person into your contract: if one kid steals the other kid's water bottle one more time, tell them both that she can also do that kid's dishwasher duty that day. Now you have someone else to help you enforce the contract!

Lying is one of my kid's main faults. She's always been very bright, and very bright kids do have a tendency to become manipulative, or resort to lying, simply because they can often make it work to their advantage. Lying is a hard flaw to correct, and the authors would tend to agree with that, because they don't have any clear-cut solutions. They do, however, have one piece of advice that I've since taken to heart: ask LOTS of questions, and get lots and lots and LOTS of details. The idea is that lying requires mental and emotional labor. You have to think through your lie, and maintain it while knowing that what you're doing is wrong. So in every tempting scenario, ask lots of questions. Solicit LOTS of details. If the kid is telling the truth, then there's no extra mental or emotional labor involved in offering more information. If the kid is lying, then even if you don't catch her in her lie (which I often don't, because like I said, my kid is very bright), then you're still making her work a lot harder than she would be working if she was just telling the truth. Ideally, that labor will eventually become so costly that lying is no longer worth it.

I have been trying this one, and I think it's working. It's best if I do the questioning in ways that don't sound like I'm trying to catch her in a lie, because then she just doubles-down with her stubbornness and she'd die before she let me win when she's being stubborn, but asking lots of questions and eliciting lots of details, as well as having a reputation for checking in and following through (which, by the way, is EXHAUSTING if you think about how much you ask a teen and tween to do independently without you having to check that they've done every single thing), is at least better than screaming and frustration.

Why is my kid so feral? Sigh...

Other chapters, such as how to help your kids learn to get along, or how to encourage them to do their best in school, weren't as relevant to me, and I fully admit that the voting chapter got a little over my head, but overall, I highly recommend this book, most particularly if you, like me, seem to have at least one budding little manipulative game theorist of your own.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Best Gifts for Nerdy Tween and Teen Girls

That just kind of says what it is, right? I mean, my girls are a tween and a teen, and they're pretty nerdy. They come by it honestly, at least. They're also TERRIBLE to shop for, with neither of them giving me ANY ideas for Christmas this year. That's so unhelpful that it's almost mean!

They do like some stuff, though, so if you, too, have a situation in which you, too, have a nerdy tween or teen girl and no idea what stuff they might like, here's a list of my kids' favorite stuff. Feel free to try some of this out on your own little nerd!

ComicBoxer Subscription and/or ComiXology Unlimited


You know that comics and graphic novels are the traditional havens for the nerdy tween/teen. Our whole family loves comics, and we read them often. One year I bought Matt a subscription to ComicBoxer, and the whole family got really into it, sitting around and watching him unbox each package when it came, hanging out the whole evening after and passing around everything that came in it, then waiting impatiently for new issues of our favorites to come out at the local comic shop or the collections to make it to our library.

ComiXology Unlimited is even better for the avid reader, because you've got at your fingertips access to a huge collection of comics, some complete sets and some ones that get you hooked on the series. The girls' uncle bought this for Will one birthday, and we haven't been able to do without it since.

Fair warning: comics are written for all maturity levels, and both of these services have comics that you might not want your kid to read.

Indie Comic Strip Prints

Along the same lines, but more directly supporting a real, live artist, there are SO many awesome comic makers out there who shill their own work by producing high-quality, signed prints. If your tween or teen is into anyone in particular, they will, I guarantee, LOVE a signed print of their own. I own several prints and collections created by Emily's Cartoons (she does My Life as a Background Slytherin), Syd treasures her signed Bill Amend print--


--and Will, too, follows a ridiculous number of science- and nerd-themed web comics.

Crocanana


Your kid probably doesn't want a boring old teddy bear. We first saw the Crocanana at a Comic Con, and both of my kids are OBSESSED with them. I don't pretend to understand the appeal--I think it's something that speaks uniquely to the tween and teen mindset--but hey, they're a small business that markets mostly at comic-cons. What's not to love about that?

Hatching Dragon Candle


You can also find a hatching dinosaur candle or a hatching unicorn candle, so there's one for everyone! I bought Will this hatching dragon candle for Christmas last year, and our whole family thinks that it's just about the most stinking cute thing ever. Will won't really burn it down to reveal the whole dragon, as a matter of fact, because she likes the look of the egg candle too much!

The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Book Series



Start with The Hobbit, go all the way through the Lord of the Rings, and don't watch the movie until you've read the book! This series was our family read-aloud for years, and we just finished the final chapter of the final volume earlier this autumn. Tolkien's world is gorgeous and immersive, and while most kids have read a Harry Potter or two, if you're lucky YOU could be the one to introduce a kid to this, their other future great love in literature.

Lava Lamp


This is pretty old-school, but if you've got a kid who's not into whatever the trendiest thing is, then it's likely that they'll appreciate some old-school entertainment. Lava lamps are inexpensive and tend to be super sturdy; our family is still regularly using the one that I received as a present back when I was a teen, myself.

Not to mention: this thing is soothing as hell, and tweens and teens these days need all the anxiety relief that they can get!

Miniature Classic Nintendo


I don't normally do electronics as gifts for my kids, but this is another old-school classic that's worth the exception. Matt actually gave this to me for Mother's Day this year, because he knows me completely, and the kids have been super into playing with me. It's nice because video games are so complicated these days that this is just about the only kind that I can manage to navigate to play with the kids, and there's nothing that kids like better, even kids at the ripe old ages of 12 and 14, than to play with their parents!

Novelty Ear Headphones


This won't fit in with every little nerd's favorite interest, but if it works, then it really works! I mean, everybody needs headphones, so it's a practical gift, but headphones with cat ears or a unicorn horn, or earbuds with elf ears attached, are a pretty epic score for those who are way into fantasy.

Here, look at this:

That's my kid listening to an audiobook on her light-up cat ear headphones, while making an elaborate string art portrait of a unicorn. That's what I'm talking about.

Quirkle


We've loved this game since the kids were small, and we still love it--it's a family game night favorite. The idea is to make sets of shapes, and there's a lot of great strategy involved. It's especially nice because our visual thinker is naturally good at this game, while her usually more logic-minded sister has to work hard to keep up. Fun fact: we have NEVER kept score during this game, nor have the kids ever asked to. We try our best, of course, but when we're finished, we generally just admire the pretty patterns that we've made and then pick them up to play again.

Sculpey Polymer Clay



Like Perler beads (which aren't on my list this year, but are nevertheless hard favorites with my kids), Sculpey is a great nerdy gift not because of what it is, but because of what you can DO with it. I buy this specific set over and over again, and over the years, we've collected a few special tools and I sometimes stock up on larger packages of colors, but this set is the kids' favorite. Sculpey is dead simple to work with, and there are so many step-by-step tutorials to make everything under the sun on YouTube that you can't really mess it up. And you can make ANYTHING! Syd uses it more, and has made the most magical things with it--she recently finished making her Secret Santa in the ballet program an actual avatar of that actual kid in her actual Nutcracker costume, and it was epic--but even Will can follow a tutorial or her own imagination to make dragons and castles and unicorns, and my favorite piece of jewelry is a Sculpey tentacle pendant that I made using this exact tutorial, and I'm not an artist.

Tweens and teens who are very passionate about specific things often spend a lot of time immersed in that one thing, so this is a good way to engage them in a different kind of activity while still allowing them to indulge their obsessions.

Themed Craft Kits


These are along the same lines as the Sculpey, but for folks who need more guidance to create the nerdy artwork of their dreams. We own SO many of these--we've got Disney art kits, Marvel and Star Wars felt stuffie kits, Halloween and Star Wars origami kits, paracord crafting kits to indulge Will's military interests, Sherlock and Doctor Who coloring books, Harry Potter and Tolkien and Dr. Seuss cookbooks...


Whatever your kid is into, there is undoubtedly some fan art craft kit for them somewhere.

Tsuro


This tile-laying game is one of those board games that's easy to learn and impossible to master. The randomness of the draw, as well as the unpredictability of others' moves, means that even a novice can have luck on her side, but there's nevertheless tons of strategy involved, and the design of the game, itself, is gorgeous. Look at that dragon on the front of the box!

Women of NASA LEGO Set



If your girl is into STEM subjects, then she's probably a fan of at least one of these women of NASA. Mae Jemison, in particular, is super inspiring--the girls and I got to hear her speak at our local university a few months ago, and it was amazing!

A lot of this you can apply to whatever your kid is a nerd about. No matter passion, there's pretty likely some fan art of it, a craft book for it, a LEGO kit to build it, books or games themed around it, etc. With a little effort, your little nerd could find herself wearing themed pajamas, eating a homemade cake decorated to her thing, playing with a kit that's related to her theme, with something even nerdy on for background music. That's how you live the dream!

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