the arts

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


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.)


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.


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.



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



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.


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!

giving thanks







Inspired by the fat brush strokes in Giving Thanks, Finn sat down at his desk and started to work with a selection of brushes and paints. We chit chatted about colors, lines, and curves, then I walked away. An hour later, he presented his interpretation. Then he flashed that "I'm three so I never smile in a normal way when asked" smile. 

I'm awash with gratitude for all the little things this year. If I had known that this is the way it was going to turn out two years ago at this time, I would have saved myself those truck loads of worry. I'm still pretty amazed that I get to spend my days with two healthy and vibrant little boys.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, friends! I'll be back here in a week.

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?

what's today?

Here's my answer to Finn's question:




Turns out, our days are pretty simple. Simple enough to be described by one or two main activities a day, in three year-old terms. In my terms, it's more like "wakeupprocessphotosbloggoforarunshowerpacklunchremembertoscrubthepoopoffofthatdiaperetc ..."

You know.

But isn't it nice to look at it like this instead? I think so, too.


I've edited out the name of Finn's Waldorf nursery as well as a friend's name, but here's the low-down:

- Everything I used here was found either in my scrap fabric pile or in my art closet, except for the metal clasps - I think they're called findings? - which I found at Michael's and hot-glued to the activity squares.

What you'll need:

-smooth stones, one for each child

-mat board. I found mine a while back at the Scrap Exchange, a creative reuse center

-fabric and paper scraps

-one larger piece of fabric (brown linen in my case)

-thin cardboard - cereal box thin (this is for the brown labels)

-hot glue gun

-metal findings, both rings and clasps

-Mod Podge

-acrylic paints or other paints if you wish

-Micron pen for little details

-random stuff around the house

-felted wool sweater for the "day" pockets for the stones



Go at it! I can't really give you any specific instructions other than I used collage, got crazy with the Mod Podge and hot glue, and had a lot of fun doing it!

Happy weekending, y'all.

7 tips for family music time


This morning, I stopped to ponder the road I’ve traveled to get where I am now – which led me to consider a few of those roads that I didn’t choose. The one that stood out to me was that decision, nine years ago, to pursue graduate studies in Montessori education rather than music therapy - a decision that led to living and teaching in rural Mexico for three years, which ultimately led to an interest in Latin American history on Patrick’s part, which landed us here in the land of Duke, et cetera, et cetera.


Nine years ago, despite my background in classical music, my confidence in my voice, and my ability to read music and harmonize, there was one thing on the list of qualifications for admittance to the music therapy program that made my heart sink a little. The paragraph said something about fluency in guitar or piano or both. Fluent I was not. I was a putzer. A dabbler. A “learned-the-basics-but-never-had-the-discipline-to-REALLY-master-them,” decidedly amateur musician.

Had I known then what I know now, I would have applied anyway. For what I’ve learned, these past eight years of working with little children, is that they could care less how you play the guitar, or, for that matter, how you carry a tune. What matters is that you enthusiastically demonstrate your love for music, and surround them with it.  If you do that, you’re already an amateur music therapist for your family. No need for a degree. I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned over the years that have helped make our family music time a joyful bonding experience.


1. Drop everything when there’s an interest

We don’t have a schedule in place for family music time. It happens organically, when one of us, adult or little one, feels thus moved.  This morning, Finn finished his oatmeal, hopped out of his chair, and zoomed over to play the washboard.  With no second thoughts or “we need to clean up after breakfast first” parent-y statements, we left our dirty dishes on the table and joined him. Lachlan had other plans, namely pushing his stroller around, but he eventually joined in, too.

We were recently gifted an old swing set by our neighbors, and have found it to be an unlikely help in the music department. I call it “captive music time,” when the boys are happily swinging and often “singing” along, yet both Patrick and I can bring out a few chairs, sit down with our guitars, and work on some more challenging songs and techniques. I think of it like modeling a love of reading – you aren’t going to curl up with Goodnight, Moon when you have a moment to relax – you’re going to read a good novel.  No need to play children’s songs all of the time – nourish your own love of music, too. The kiddos will notice.



2. Provide a handful of real, yet child-accessible instruments

It’s been really wonderful to see the boys hopping from one instrument to the next, rarely squabbling over who gets to play what. In our music corner, you’ll find a ukulele, several harmonicas, a washboard and some soup spoons, a small pair of drums with drumsticks, maracas, shakers, and jingle bells. A popular item with both boys is the small basket of guitar accessories that only comes out during music time – a guitar tuner, regular picks and a set of finger picks, a slide, and some capos.



3. Make a list of your family’s favorite songs

Do you find yourself singing the same three songs over and over because you just can’t recall any others in the heat of the musical moment? We did. Oh my, we did. Queue internal parenting dialogue: “Oh cr**. If we sing the Itsy Bitsy Spider one more time, I’m going to wish for the rain to wash me out, and I’m going to wish for many, many rainy days so I don’t have to climb up that spout AGAIN.”  Here’s the thing – I don’t think it’s just us adults that get stuck in a rut with a certain set of songs. Kids forget, and wish they could remember, other songs just like we do. Having a set of favorites that you can call on during family music time really helps.

The list doesn’t need to be fancy. It doesn’t need to be too long. I would suggest starting with at least twenty songs. Start with songs you know your child already loves. When other songs come to you – from your childhood, from a book, on Pandora, etc., write them down. Any song you enjoy singing as a family, or a song you’d like to teach your children, should go on the list. We keep ours on the side of our piano – out of the way but always there.

Not sure where to look for children's songs? We love All Together Singing in the Kitchen, Rise Up Singing, The Singing Day, Elizabeth Mitchell, Raffi, and listening to the Indie Children's music station on Pandora.

4. Learn, or make up your own hand motions and movements for songs

As tempting as it can be to hide behind your guitar and strum “D – D –A –D” over and over again, don’t. What really gets kids excited about music is movement – the hand motions, the spinning, the clapping, the stomping, the pretending.  Make sure to add several movement-heavy songs to your family music time.

We all know the Itsy Bitsy Spider – what about Pick a Bale O’ Cotton? Look to the words to come up with your own motions.  Have your kids pretend to be an animal while singing Old MacDonald – they’ll love it when you have to guess what they’re acting out!


5. Sing the same song in different ways

Nothing gets a three year-old going more than singing the same song fast, then slow, then loud, then soft, then operatic, then just plain goofy.  Sing the song like a dog. Like a cat. Like a cow.  Enough said.


6. Introduce new songs with stories

When I was teaching 3-6 year-olds in Mexico, before kids, I had a lot of time on my hands outside the classroom. I had time to knit socks, to knit sweaters – I spent a lot of time knitting. And talking to my cats. My cats spent a lot of time grabbing my balls of yarn and running around the house with them, much to my chagrin.  This happened so frequently that I wrote a little ditty about my cats and their yarn addiction, which I shared with my students. “Una gatita,” (a little cat), was a hit because it had a story behind it. My own boys now love it as much as my students did.

When introducing a new song, try to come up with a way to personalize it, to make it come alive for your audience. Be it a true story from your childhood or a made-up story of the going-ons in the natural world, a little context goes a long way.


7. Turn on the speakers and jam

No need to be purist and only make your own music! I’ve found our Pandora jam sessions to be a great variation on family music time. It’s also a great way to expose kids to different genres. This morning, for example, we ended our time together with a few blues songs. We tried to name the instruments we heard and we worked on imitating the beat.  Don’t hesitate to come up with dances for the various genres while you’re at it. Just make sure to have a video camera hidden in your hand to capture the cuteness.

May your music-making be merry!

insert-your-adjective harmonica

insert your adjective harmonica

Above, you see Finn's very best "lullaby harmonica." He also does "happy harmonica," in which he plays very fast while jumping up and down, and "sad harmonica," which is so mournful that he even made himself tear up once while playing.

These past weeks, as his harmonica playing has really taken off, I've become convinced that it is the perfect first instrument for little people. The hand-eye-ear coordination required is minimal, it always sounds good, and it immediately allows him to feel like a contributing member during family music time. You should hear Patrick and Finn play Billy Joel's Piano Man together - it's one of those situations that causes a mother to get a big, goofy grin on her face.

Finn is angling for a harmonica holder so he can play his green guitar (which is actually a ukelele) while keeping his harmonica humming.

Move over, Bob Dylan. 


sparkly googly-eyed softdough

sparkly googly-eyed softdough

sparkly googly-eyed softdough

sparkly googly-eyed softdough

sparkly googly-eyed softdough

We had a birthday party to attend this morning. This certain big three year-old has been in our lives since he was just starting to crawl around. Such a big boy deserves sparkly blue softdough with googly eyes, don't you think?

Softdough with a twist has become our go-to gift for other children. I like to involve Finn in the gifting process, and predictably, he always chooses blue softdough with sparkles for his friends. Aside from turning on the stove, he can be involved in every step. I thought his idea of putting googly eyes in the jar was great! He was proud and excited to give this to his friend today.

Unrelated - I'm trying to figure out what in the world to do with all of my pictures from our vacation. I'll be honest and tell you that pre-mama me is like a little devil on my shoulder, telling me that it would be awesome to make a traditional scrapbook a la Ali Edwards. But man, I just dont' have the time. I do have a serious case of hobby envy, though. But I do want a printed record of our trip. Do any of you know of a less time consuming way to get these photos printed? Digital scrapbooking templates? Just print a book via shutterfly? Looking forward to your advice!


play dough sculpting

Finn keeps the new art area bustling with activity. Sculpting with play dough was the first art experience that I put on the shelf, knowing that, if we first made the play dough together in the kitchen (I used this recipe, and it's stayed good for three weeks now) then he would be gung-ho to play with it. Here he is after a sculpting session, putting everything away.

And just to disabuse you of the (albeit hilarious) notion that the fairy singing in the background is Patrick, we were listening to Joanna Newsom, an innovative musician and acquaintance of mine from high school.

Finn is free to get out the sculpting kit at any time. Most of the time he puts it away without any reminders, as that was how I presented the activity to him - the putting away was just as interesting as the playing itself. I showed him how to do it a few times, then he took over, with varying degrees of success. What you see in the video is the result of a bit of practice on his part, and a lot of holding back from unnecessary intervention on my part. I think that's pretty much the key - don't intervene unless there is noticeable frustration on the child's part. I blogged a bit about my thoughts on being okay with your child's mistakes here. There are a lot of moments in this video where we adults might be tempted to intervene, which would mean that Finn wouldn't have had the opportunity to troubleshoot or explore on his own. It takes a while, and the road to success is often circuitous, but ultimately standing back and observing (and respecting) a toddler's own process is what allows the child to learn directly from his own experiences.  

Okay, enough Montessori jibber jabber. For those of you interested in setting up your own play dough sculpting kit, here's what you'll need:

- A homemade playdough recipe. The one I used is here, there are also some great versions in First Art , and Jean has her own suggestions for jazzing it up here.

- An air-tight container that is easily opened and closed by a toddler. I used a Good Grips pop container. I've found them to be much easier for little hands to use correctly than a typical tupperware container. We also keep our cat food in one of these and Finn enjoys his daily task of feeding the cats all by himself.

- A storage container for the sculpting tools. Our little "suitcase" was used as an innovative gift wrapping for one of Finn's baby shower gifts, but I recently saw something very similar at Michael's. Again, the key is that it's easily handled by a toddler.

play dough sculpting kit

- Sculpting tools. I was very inspired by this article in the Winter issue of Rhythm of the Home. I scrounged around for tools in my own house, then went to a thrift store to see what I could find. As it turns out, Finn's favorite sculpting tools have been a butter knife, a pattern tracing wheel, and some small sticks that I found in my backyard. He also uses the handmade cork stamps.

- A canvas mat. I quickly sewed mine up from a scrap of canvas fabric that I had on hand. I backed it with the left over non-skid rubber rug pad that I used under the Rainbow Rug.

Happy Play-doughing!

finnian and lachlan's studio

finn and lachlan's studio 1

Oh, I love this room. I want to spend all day in it. I love the way the sunlight enters in the afternoons, making rainbows dance on the walls as it passes through a prism in the window, eliciting squeals from the toddler as he runs around trying to "catch wainbow."

finn and lachlan's studio - reading nook

As with everything, Finn and Lachlan's studio/play room/art room is a work in progress. I'm constantly tweaking this arrangement or that activity on the shelf, like any Montessori-teacher-at-heart would. With Finn as my guide, the set-up gets more efficient, more user-friendly with each passing day. I see this room in a state of constant evolution. Right now, it is designed to fit the needs of a baby and a toddler. Eventually, it will morph into a homeschooling studio/library/art space.

finn and lachlan's studio - baby play mat with hanger for mobiles

Here you can see the playmat with a mirror for Lachlan, along with a mobile hanger where we will rotate mobiles to maintain his interest.

finn and lachlan's studio - toy storage

Currently, the toy shelf houses a few of Finn's things. Once Lachlan starts grasping at objects and moving around, the lower shelf will be dedicated to baby toys, while the higher shelves will contain Finn's toys. (More on the rainbow rug later this week!)

finn and lachlan's studio - toy, yarn, and child development books storage

You can also see that I've reserved some shelf space for my stuff. My yarn stash and my child development books can be found there. I've found that having this space for Finn allows me to have just a few more precious moments of knitting time while he's occupied with play or art projects. The basket on top of the shelves contains my current works-in-progress, ready to be picked up at any time.

The bottom shelf of the skinny bookcase is showcasing Finn's rocks and minerals as well as any other finds from our time outside. I guess you would call it a Nature Shelf.

finn and lachlan's studio - art area

Here's the art area, which deserves a post of its own later in the week.

finn and lachlan's studio - art area 2

And finally, since I know you will ask, I'm going to list where I found many of the items you see here. Most of this was accomplished with re-arranging furniture and supplies we already had on hand.

The Rainbow Rug: handmade with recycled t-shirt supplies from Green at Heart.

The Reading Canopy: handmade by sewing a 108" x 54" silk to a circular hand-quilting hoop (like an embroidery hoop, only huge!), adding lengths of hemp twine to the hoop, then attaching them to a sling ring. Another (square) piece of white silk was draped over this contraption, and we used fishing wire to hang it from a hook in the ceiling. The large floor pillow and faux lambskin were scavenged from elsewhere in the house. I'd like to eventually replace the pillow with a handmade bean bag chair.

Baskets: I find most of my baskets at the thrift store, but have a few from a local fair trade store that are handmade in Ghana (the colorful ones.) I've also seen similar ones for sale at Whole Foods.

Silks: These really are SO versitile in play - Finn uses them for everything, from peek-a-boo to putting his animals down for a "nap." We found ours from Birch Leaf Designs, a family-run business.

The Barn: This was Finn's Christmas gift from us, from Nova Natural. We also have the doll bed from Nova Natural - it was used as a prop in my new book!

Baby Play Mat: I'm not sure if this is the version we have (we've had ours since Finn was born) but it's a similar, thin, foam crib mattress from IKEA.  The clear mobile hanger is from Michael Olaf. The mirror is just one of those cheap closet mirrors turned on its side that we scavenged from the oh-so-full-of-treasures attic. (You never know what you'll find in an old rental house!)

Bookcase: The IKEA Expidit, relocated from our bedroom.

Chalkboard: Handmade by Patrick. We'd like to eventually find an old, wooden frame for it. The galvanized metal bucket hanging from the hook is from our time in Mexico, but you should be able to find something similar at Montessori Services (although not nearly as cheap, I'm afraid!) The bucket contains chalk and an eraser, and I drape a damp washcloth from the hook as well for Finn to use to wipe off his chalky hands.

Red shelving: From my old sewing studio, this was originally purchased on the cheap at an unfinished furniture store. This shelf is where I display art activities for Finn. Currently, you can see the supplies for play dough sculpting.

Art Table: This was our big purchase for the room, and it's certainly worth it. I was going to steal Patrick's desk from him and cut off the legs, but when he found out, he suggested this alternative. Harumph. The old desk would have looked so cool. But anyhow, this table is of excellent quality, is just the right height for little ones, and can easily fit two children at work. We ordered the 24" x 48" table with 18" table legs.

Mama and son print: A gift from the lovely Regina of Creative Kismet - it's called "I Will Help You Grow," and it means a lot to me for obvious reasons.

Paper dispenser/roll: We found ours locally, but if you live near an IKEA, you can get one for a very reasonable price. Too bad they don't offer shipping for those items!

Marker holder: I'll tell you more about this later, but Finn and I made ours following the instructions in First Art .

Tabletop Easel: This is something I've had for quite a while, but I think they still sell a version at Michael Olaf.

That should do it! Let me know if you have any other questions and I'll try to amend this resource list. I'll be doing a whole week of posts about this space - I even have a video to share with you tomorrow of Finn in action! I hope you enjoyed the tour.