books and resources

poetry and the class picnic blouse

 

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Sadie took me for a walk the other day.  Fortunately, we didn't have a disagreement about the destination - a newly-opened donut shop. Before we left, we picked out poetry books for our weekly Poetry Tea Donut Time and packed them in the stroller. I must have a good excuse to head to a donut shop. This one was mildly homeschoolish. The smaller crew gathered up all of the Shel Silverstein they could find, while I brought my favorite

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I didn't need to provide directions. Sadie and her brothers knew just how to get there. They have hound's noses for donuts, my kids. Which is good, because it freed me up to take pictures of this dang cute blouse. 

It's the Class Picnic Blouse from Oliver and S that I made for Sadie about six months ago. I loved this one so much that I cut out three more. I should know myself better. Whenever I cut out several garments at once, the first one is a delight to sew. The subsequent projects start to feel like an obligation, which drains the joy out of sewing for me. I granted myself permission to relegate the un-sewn pieces to the scrap collection, a decision helped along by a growing toddler, who was quickly sizing out of the original cuts.  Ahhhh. Creative freedom! 

You've seen the fabric before, both on the Clara Dress pattern front, me, and - if you have visited my home - on a handful of curtains. I purchased an entire bolt of this Nani Iro double gauze a handful of years ago. (The crazy things you get to do when you're a sewing pattern designer!)

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Sadie is pushing along her galimoto. The galimoto is imbued with a kind of magic that can make a toddler walk for miles without complaint.  Twelve dollars well-spent, plus it's lasted through all three of my kids. 

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Destination reached. Poetry was read, and pages were made sticky with donut detritus. Bodies were moved, urban wildlife was noticed, and real-life math discussions were had. I'd call that a successful day of homeschooling.

Below is what happens when you ask her to smile! Spunky, this one. Super spunky. 

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he means business

the bossy shepherd

Don't let those cheeks fool you. This shepherd means business. 

"CHICKIES! COME! NOWWW!!!"

And don't think, for one moment, that his husky (big) voice and hands-on-hips insistence stays outside in the field. Oh, no. It goes wherever he goes, as he begins the monumental work of finding out who he is and how he can bring his best self to the world. A lifelong process, really, but one that begins with a deliberate intention at age two. Yesterday, I found myself yearning to be a spiritual mentor for someone a tad more rational than a two year old. I think I screamed silently in my head at least five times before I finally managed to get both boys strapped into the car and off to the pool. Whew. And do you know what I did in the car? I put on some of the boys' favorite music while I put in my earphones and listened to one of Dr. Laura Markham's audios about toddlers. (This one is great, too.) 

Ah, sanity. Clarity of purpose. Those feelings that can get lost when your adorable little boy is insisting that, although he requested almond milk in his granola, he DOES NOT WANT ALMOND MILK now. It can be hard to visualize the goal of raising an emotionally aware child through the fog of a two year-old's irrationality, and that's why it's nice to have your own support system to keep you motivated as you do this hard work.  Dr. Laura Markham is, without a doubt, my go-to parenting mentor. 

Who are your parenting mentors? What books/websites/podcasts have you found lately that are helping to keep you grounded as you move through your days? 

May you have a weekend filled with laughter, but beware the scantily-clad shepherd.


creative play with cards

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I've mentioned before that we've become a game playing family. It's bordering on an obsession, and cards have found their way into our EVERY day. I have one deck or another in my purse at all times, and the most commonly heard question from Finn is, "Do you want to play a game?" 

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Finn has learned a surprising amount of math from playing cards alone - both with math-specific games like Rat-A-Tat-Cat and with the standard Go Fish, War, and Uno fare. Of course, any game play is an exercise in memory and executive function, as he needs to control his impulses in order to play in turn and within the rules. 

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What I didn't expect from Finn's card-playing obsession was a form that he's become familiar with (rules, powers of different cards, etc.) that he now uses as a springboard for his own creative play - making up his own games, as well as using cards as characters in other play. 

That's where our two decks of alphabet cards from Marie-Claire, mom of two boys, come in VERY handy. Marie-Claire sent them along to help her promote her newest kickstarter campaign, and I'm a huge fan. They went into immediate action with both boys.

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The cards are sturdy, aesthetically pleasing, and promote lots of creative play besides reinforcing phonics. I'm quite pleased that she's putting together more sets, which will really help to encourage Finn's game-creation interest. Check out the Kickstarter video below, and make a donation if you can to help support the project. Best of all, when you donate, you'll receive a card deck (or more.)

the evolution of a space

trying it on

our new studio

Here's our studio, as we call it, just after we moved in. It was one of the first spaces that I put together, knowing that Finn needed a space for independent play amidst the chaos of moving boxes and complete disaster in the rest of the house.

our new studio

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It's an odd room, this studio of ours, as it also serves as our primary entry/exit door. The room is essentially cut in two by an invisible hallway leading from our exterior door to the kitchen, the area with the bookshelves having a tile floor and the rest of the room being painted plywood (until we can afford the hardwood floor.)

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It has always housed books and art supplies (both the boys and mine), as well as the occasional basket of blocks and random stuff that seems to settle in this room we use so much.

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writing letters

writing center times two

This little table that I originally brought in to house my own art supplies was quickly comandeered by Finn, and I made it into his letter writing station.

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We've tried our cozy reading spot in various locations - looking for the best light, the best use of space.

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And here it is today. I moved in the big table from my sewing room to better serve my two artists (as well as myself.) Added the shelves, which house many art supplies that are now freely accessible to Finn. These include acrylic paints, scissors, oil pastels, various crayons, sequins, beads, saved bottle caps and juice tops, googly eyes, glitter glue, watercolor, papers of various sizes, paint brushes and containers, a low-heat hot glue gun, as well as a bunch of recycled materials that I keep in the wire basket under the table. All of his letter writing materials are accessible, too. Lachlan can access the paper, crayons and some washable markers - the rest are (intentionally) too high for him to reach just yet.

Yes, we do have a computer in the space - Finn, at almost four, does 30 minutes of Reading Eggs a day, does the occasional yoga video, and occasionally watches Mathtacular or a science video. If you're conflicted about screen time, I found this post written by Jaime Martin of Steady Mom very helpful in providing me the necessary prospective. Allowing Finn a bit of time on the computer during the weekdays allows me to spend some precious moments focused on Lachlan exclusively - something that's so rare! 

The big, braided rug (an ebay find) really improved the space - now they have a large area for play. I gathered baskets for housing dress up clothes, blocks, car tracks, and puppets. Those small bolga baskets that are hanging from tree branch hooks are homes for our legos, story stones, finger puppets, and felt animal masks. Smaller baskets on the shelf include various toob animals (these are great if you can't afford the more expensive wooden animals - they inspire play just as much!) and a basket for small cars. We also have a bigger basket on the floor for larger cars, as well as a piece of wood that they use to race the smaller cars.

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Finally, our snuggly reading nook is just where it needs to be - right by the bookshelves and the cozy bird watching window seat. 

This room is how I keep my two boys, now 2 and nearly 4, busily playing, both independently and together. I'm sure it won't stay this way forever, but it feels like a very sustainable set-up, able to accommodate children of various ages and interests. Right now it feels perfect for us.

I hope you enjoyed the tour!


secret love totes

Valentines Day 2013

Valentines Day 2013

Valentines Day 2013

Valentines Day 2013

Valentines Day 2013

Valentines Day 2013

Cookies were baked, heart totes were made, first letters of friends' names were painstakingly written (and glittered over, of course), and two stealthy little boys delivered them to their unknowing companions. The totes just say "You are loved," and are unsigned. Such an exciting mystery to solve.

Just one of many little traditions that I've gleaned from our Sparkle Stories - this one from the Martin and Sylvia Valentine's audio book.

I hope they remember these little things. It certainly generated many a giggle today.


imagine childhood book review + giveaway

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That book up there? It's amazing. Of course, I knew it would be - I've been a loyal visitor the Imagine Childhood blog and a supporter of their store for many years now.

What author Sarah Olmsted has crafted is a deep, relaxing breath in the form of a book . It's an invitation to experience the wonder of nature in a creative way. An invitation to notice. An invitation to experience a forest, a creek, a pond - through the eyes of a child and alongside your child.

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The activities in Imagine Childhood, I would say, are geared toward families with young children or older children who are able to read and craft on their own. None require a developed skill set - the sewing projects are very simple, the woodworking projects extremely basic - so anyone can jump right in. Everything can be made with little and big hands working side by side.

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The boys eagerly chose to work on the mud house project, and it was a delight to work alongside them. I cut the wood forms and they did most everything else - from oiling down the sides of the wood (even the oustide of the form - unneccesary for the house, but somehow perfect work for Finn, as you can see above.) Finn made design decisions (such as choosing to hammer a door frame together rather than using a bigger block. I just followed their lead. Come to think of it, Imagine Childhood and my other favorite, Project-Based Homeschooling, are perfect companion books.

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Lachlan really got into the mud part after his nap. (Do you see him nearly falling over in one of the above pictures, unable to give in to sleep with the excitement of the mud house construction?) Hold on - I have to go give him a smooch this minute - ok, I'm back!

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And here is our mud house thus far, still drying. Come to think of it, it had a very generous watering in the last few days, first by eager boys who love to go around watering this and that, then by nature herself, in the form of a rainy day. I'm not sure if it will ever dry properly without splitting, but the experience itself was quite worthwhile regardless. There is a town of mud houses being planned, as well as many other projects from Imagine Childhood.

Building this with the boys made me remember one of my first blog posts, back when I was living in rural Mexico and building a cob wall to protect our garden. It wasn't surprising that building with mud attracted the neighborhood children; there's something so simple, functional, and rewarding about it.

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Cob wall

Roost Books has generously offered to give away two copies of Imagine Childhood to my readers, and Sarah has chipped in a $25 gift certificate to the Imagine Childhood Shop. Three opportunities to win! Leave a comment to enter. I'll pick a winner on Saturday, December 1st.

Good luck!


Comments are now closed - congratulations to Gwenn, Joy and Milena!


wrapping finn's book of words + ruby star wrapping

Ruby Star Wrapping

Though I don't think I've purchased a roll of wrapping paper (ever) in my adult life, it's not like I've made up for that by presenting gifts in beautifully-made, recycled wrapping. Until this very day, I have not been motivated (or had the time, last-minute gift-crafter that I am) to put any creative energy into gift presentation. Wrap gifts in the boys' silks? Yes. Use a old gift bag? Sure.

But I have had the intention to make my own set of fabric gift bags for a long time. Me + fabric + sewing are a good combo! Ruby Star Wrapping, by fabric-design maven Melody Miller and Allison Tannery and my friend April from Sew to Speak came together to make that happen. Sew to Speak is hosting a book tour for Ruby Star Wrapping, so be sure to enter the book/fabric/notions giveaway by leaving a comment on the Sew to Speak blog!

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I am doing my very, very best to get a head start on the gift crafting this time around. I made this little book out of a recycled cracker box and some paper and crafted this right under Finn's nose - he has no idea that this little apple book is destined for his little hands (it's tiny - about four inches tall and 3 inches wide.) It will be his Book of Words - a place for me to write down random words that he'd like to know how to read.

Ruby Star Wrapping

Ruby Star Wrapping

Ruby Star Wrapping

The book was the perfect gift for the Little Snack Sack tutorial in Ruby Star Wrapping. Simple to sew up, and totally reusable as a sandwich or snack sack. I did make sure all my edges were properly finished so that this little sack will withstand the transition from gift wrapping to lunch basket gear, with all the washing cycles that go along with that.

Ruby Star Wrapping

Enter to win your own copy of Ruby Star Wrapping over at the Sew to Speak blog, and follow along with other tour participants below:

Monday, Nov. 26 - Sew To Speak blog. 
Tues, Nov. 27 - Mary Dugan of Molly Flanders
Wed. Nov. 28 - Meg McElwee of Sew Liberated
Thurs. Nov. 29 - Kara of Me and Elna
Fri. Nov. 30 - We will announce the first winner on the Sew To Speak blog
Sat. Dec. 1st - Amanda of Sasikirana Handmade
Sunday Dec. 2nd - April Rhodes 
Monday Dec. 3rd - Sew To Speak 
Tues. Dec. 4th - Made by Rae
Wed. Dec 5 - Ericka of Low Beam Studios

Thurs. Dec. 6 - Emily of The Boy Trifecta

Friday  Dec. 7 - and finally the second winner announced on Sew To Speak blog!

projects in progress

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:: Second Milo on the needles :: Snow Pixie hats on the cutting table ::

:: Other project-themed books ::

These handful of days have been off-kilter. Following an unprecedented string of good days, in which everything seemed to flow, the boys (and myself, no doubt) trudged through the last two days with low energy, sapped patience, and a general grumpy malaise. 

This time, though, I have a peace about it. I've come to expect these days, just as I expect the perfect ones. It even feels, dare I say ... comforting. I feel grateful to pass through very human situations together as a family; grateful to learn about each other and let each other experience a full spectrum of feelings. 

It also feels good to hop into a project in the creative space that opens up after a patch of ho-humness. There's plenty to do in the studio between now and Christmas, and the gift-making is kicking into gear. I'm also really liking my circular saw, and have my eyes on some of the projects in this book once the chicken coop is done.

And - I can't recommend highly enough Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert. It speaks to me right where I am as parent just starting off on the homeshooling journey, which can be totally daunting if you see all the ideas that can be done out there on the internet and all of the facts that can be passed on to a child. Here's an exceprt:

"Try to avoid pulling attention away from your child's project (his deepest interest) with random, one-off activities. Save casual field trips and similar activities for times between projects. The less you distract your child with random activities and interruptions, the more engaged and focused he'll be. You're giving him the opportunity to stay longer with what he cares about most; you're giving him the chance to build something really meaningful." 

Love.

Back to my projects. Have a wonderful weekend!


Art Co-Op

Guest blogger Charlotte, here again!  I'm constantly inspired by Meg's beautiful art ideas for children, so today I thought I'd show you what my kids have been working on with their friends.

This girl isn't mine! It's our friend, Neela.

Two or three times a month, my kids plus three other families get together and do art projects.  There are thirteen children altogether and they begin participating around age 3.  Our oldest is 10.  They are all engaged with the work, though the younger kids skip the more formal lesson portion and join in during the messy parts. This week we did print making while studying the Impressionists, as shown above.  It was also a Gallery Day, where we display their work from the month.

The materials for this week's project weren't cheap, but since there were four families and not any more ink or brayers needed than for just one child, it ended up being fairly reasonable.  We typically trade off teaching and bringing materials, and it all seems to even out in the end.  We are using the Joyce Raimondo series of books, which have great projects that are grouped by type of art, such as Impressionism, Pop Art, and Surrealism.  Each week we do just one artist and two or three projects.  We typically supplement with a few library books about the artist as well, but the planning itself is not difficult.  

Although we use these books in a group setting, they are great for family projects at home too.  Some of them only require paper and crayons or materials from the recycle bin.  

What art books for children do you enjoy most?


rah-rah storytelling

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Show Me a Story, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways ... did you recognize the stones in my calendar? Just a small tribute to what I believe to be an absolutely magnificent new book.

As a blogger, I receive the occasional catalogue of soon-to-be-published titles, and this one immediately caught my eye and I requested a review copy. That was six months ago or so, and I've been eager to have it in my hands the whole time.

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We love a good story. From the time Finn was a wee one, we would tell him stories about his day - mundane stories that he would listen to with as much rapt attention as an eighteen month-old could muster. Lachlan, though prone to more movement than his brother was at that age, now requests a Sparkle Story when we're in the car.

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Patrick is a self-made storyteller, having a wide array of humorous, real-life tales that he conjures up in social situations - from living with two elderly, Irish uncles who wandered his suburban neighborhood looking for a pint to sleeping on the edge of a cliff in an indigenous community in rural Mexico.

My storytelling is self-conscious. Hesitant. But for my boys? For my boys I can tell a story. And that's what I love about Show Me a Story . Like a puppet show, it adds a visual dimension to storytelling that takes the focus off of the teller and gives hesitant tale-crafters - either a parents or young children - something visually concrete - a hook, of sorts - on which to hang their stories.

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The book is filled with craft ideas to inspire and expand a child's (or family's) storytelling passion. The story rocks are just the beginning, and most of the projects require little by way of specific crafting skills (i.e. sewing or knitting - although some of the ideas do involve fabric and simple sewing.) I found many of the projects to be appropriate for Finn to use, if not make. Each project does have a suggested age range for use as well as an age range for making the material.

I think storytelling as an art is woefully overlooked in most curricula. The ability to "hold" an audience, to think on one's feet, to craft a compelling narrative - fiction or non-fiction - often gets lost. It gets lost in our emphasis on being consumers of stories rather than makers of stories. Of course, reading and writing skills - from listening comprehension to communicating via the written word - are key skills that play a huge role in the potential formation of the person as "storyteller," and certainly enrich our lives in their own right. But we often stop there and never explore our full potential as storytellers. For many of us, (myself included) we're just beginning to tap into storytelling as creative expression now that we have a doting and forgiving audience in our young children.

When I was living in Mexico, I had the pleasure of getting to know a wandering Italian puppeteer, a lanky fellow who sewed his own felt vests and made bread from a culture he carried around with him in the pocket of his baggy pants. His Spanish was more Italian than not, but the children loved his stories. Not all of us are destined to be nomadic story minstrels, but anyone can be a storyteller, in any profession. Patrick is one. I think his ability to tell a good story has helped him both professionally and personally. If you're interested in exploring your own inner storyteller, or if you'd love to encourage your children tap into their storytelling spirit, please grab a copy of Show Me a Story . You'll love it, I know.

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How can you not love a book that ends like this?