the arts

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.


toddler art group

toddler art group

I always look forward to Tuesday afternoons, and I think Finn does, too. Our toddler art group has been meeting for a few months now - we're a group of four little ones, ranging in age from 19 months to 2 years.

toddler art group 3

After falling in love with Jean's blog, The Artful Parent, I was inspired to pull together a little group of our own, based on her suggestions. Many of our ideas for projects to do with the kids come from this book - one you really shouldn't be without as the parent of a toddler.

toddler art group 2

We've been rotating our gatherings between our homes - whoever is hosting organizes the art component of our gathering, while someone else brings snacks. We've even had an occasional after-art hootenany with a guitar-playing dad in the group!

These photos are from a week ago. At yesterday afternoon's gathering, we ate decorated gingerbread cookies - a fitting and festive way to send everyone off on their holiday travels, busy times, etc. The next time I post about toddler art group, it will be from our new art room, which is oh-so-close to being ready!

Off to knit Finn some mittens for his stocking. What would the holidays be without some last-minute handmade gifts?

looking for a band

music making

Beginning guitar player looking to play in a local band. Strengths: muting the strings, drooling on the strings, and bopping up and down on knees. Can sing "ah" if backup vocals are needed.

music making

We're getting more and more into a musical rhythm 'round these parts. We're always singing. In fact, I just had to ask Patrick to stop singing so that I could finish writing this sentence - we sing that much. This is nothing new - it's not like it just started when Finn was born so we could provide him with an enriching musical ambiance - we just sing. Some of us sing on tune and have a conniption if lyrics are wrong. Others of us have a more "free" way of singing and enjoy making up lyrics. I'll let you guess who's who. 

music making

Finny? He sings "aaaah". And he eats the guitar. His favorite song is "La Bamba".

The musical rhythm we've found is thanks to The Singing Day, the most worthwhile purchase I've made in a long time. Now Finn's day is peppered with even more singing, except now the songs are tied to specific activities and times of day, to help him orient himself in our family comings and goings and to help make his little life comfortably predictable. We have a song for waking up, a song for going outside, a song for swinging at the park, a song for cleaning, a song for gathering for our evening meal, and a song for bath time.

Some of the songs came directly from The Singing Day , and some were inspired by the author, who encourages you to make up your own songs. The swinging song is my own creation, and I've added one of my all-time favorite Raffi tunes to the mix before bedtime as Finn watches us brush our teeth:

When you wake up in the morning, it's a quarter to one, and you want to have a little fun, you brush your teeth. Ch Ch Ch Ch Ch Ch Ch Ch Ch... you brush your teeth (etc.)

Do you remember that one?

Singing throughout the day with predictable tunes can also help ease difficult transitions for toddlers and young children. It makes chores fun, and it has the wonderful benefit of making grumpy mamas happy once again. (I know this from personal experience!) If you're interested, read Nicole's post about the benefits of singing with her two young girls.

And with that, I'll leave you with a tune to stick in your heads - "Whistle While You Work" from Cinderella.

Off to cut some fabric for a really rad project for book number two! Do do do do do do do ....

beyond crayola

drawing with markers

I remember Crayola markers. I remember them well - I think I must have sighed in exasperation many-a-time while using them. "That green? Again?" Even for an eight year-old, the colors were meh. But I used them - I used them a lot. Didn't we all?

Since I am no longer a child (by most traditional definitions), and since I needed a nice set of illustration markers to draw the diagrams for my patterns, I opted for a set of grown-up markers. Why did I wait so long? These things are dreamy.

"But wait!" the Montessori teacher in me says. "Your children deserve a nice set of markers, too!" Did you see what Amy's girls do with their Mommy-only-stinky-markers? (Mine aren't stinky by the way ... and they cost way less than Copics.) I think every child who is past the drawing-on-the-wall phase should have nice markers. Giving children quality art materials really says something - not only does it help them produce art with less frustration, it tells them that we value their work.

I can't believe I'm saying this ... but I have to go, I need to get back to work. The pens in the corner over there are whispering my name ...

mama indulgence :: music

mama indulgence :: violin practice

I've just loved reading about the ways you take care of yourselves as busy mamas. So much wit, so many good ideas, so many kind words. Thanks for that - it kept me smiling through what could have been a frantic day of design and sewing!

Music always has been, and always will be, the way I recharge my batteries. You might recall that, for the holidays, I received a gift certificate for a violin rental from Patrick. Since then, I've been pitter-pattering around the violin strings. I took lessons, and I plan on starting them up again sometime in the near future. I'm no virtuoso - in fact, the cats still think I make appalling shrieks on the thing and implore me to stop by attempting to grab my bowing arm with their paws. Ahem. I'm not that bad! 

I don't get to practice everyday. I try to do a little bit of playing every other day or so, even if it means ten minutes. Patrick really supports me in my musical endeavors and helps to carve out a space for me to pursue them. I try to do the same for his guitar/piano playing. We figure that since music is so important in our lives, Finn should be surrounded by it from a young age. Once he's old enough to be worn on the back in a carrier, we can play our instruments while wearing him. We also plan on working family music making into our daily routine. We already wake up and fall asleep to classical piano music. Once Finn settles into more consistent awake periods, we'll start our family hootenannies.

Singers will sing, musicians will play, and, just like they absorb human language and movements, babies will take in the music that surrounds them and make it their own. We have a culture of joyful music making, 'round these parts.

A warm welcome to our new sponsors - Handmade Montessori Materials and Lullaby Slings!

bluegrass boy

first bluegrass concert

Friday night, we took Finn to his first live music performance. I'm not sure what he liked better - the music?

first bluegrass concert

Or his Daddy?

Close call, but Daddy wins, as always. It was, however, a great concert at a kid-friendly venue. Pretty soon he'll be dancing along like all the others.

first bluegrass concert

In the meantime, he can bounce to the beat in his sling.

Here's to summer weekends!

in which i jump up and down and clap my hands

russian nesting dolls 1

You can't see me, but that's what I'm doing. In my head, at least. Look at what arrived on my doorstep this morning!

russian nesting dolls 2

Vintage, hand-painted Russian nesting dolls from Blue Bell Bazaar. The set of five contains two men and three women. I just can't get over the details - the little boy in the middle with his yellow tea cup, the wistful girl with purple sleeves who is thoughtfully touching her cheek, the green coat of the red-headed maiden, the twirled mustache of the gentleman ...
russian nesting dolls 3
These are for the baby's room. At first, they will be displayed on a wall shelf out of reach. Once he passes the "exploring the world with the mouth" stage, they will be offered as an opening and closing exercise on the Montessori practical life shelf. We had a set of Russian nesting dolls in my classroom in Mexico, and it was a hit.

This set, however, seems extra special. It's signed by the artist. Each doll is different, and I've never seen a set that features men. Perfect for a little boy. 

Excuse me ... I have to go stare at the dolls again.

learning all the time

my violin obsession

I present to you - the Christmas stocking contents from Patrick. Well, more or less. It's amazing what a humble piece of paper will produce upon redeeming it at our local music store. It's a rental. Plus lessons. I had my first lesson last Friday, and I can already eek out scales and the ubiquitous Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (although I prefer calling it Mozart's variations on Ah, Vous Dirai-je, Maman, which has the same tune - it makes me feel so much more, um, sophisticated).

I've always wanted to learn the violin, and I don't buy into the whole "you can't learn an instrument if you're over 12 years old" hogwash that seems to float around under the guise of common knowledge. I think that it's too often forgotten that learning should be a lifelong pursuit, and not just a stage that ends when you turn in your final college essay.

John Holt, the educational philosopher behind the unschooling movement, learned to play the cello in his 40's and became proficient enough both to enjoy himself and to play in community orchestras. (If you haven't read any of his books yet, I highly suggest Instead of Education: Ways to Help People do Things Better and Learning All The Time ). Learning a new skill as an adult has its set of challenges, but it has plentiful advantages, as well. I want to eventually learn to fiddle and be able to participate in family music time in new ways (I already play the guitar, and Patrick is a pianist ... what will baby boy play? I'm thinking that we will set up a percussion basket in our music area as soon as he is able to grasp objects!) Music time is fun, no pressure, and joyous. Gathering together to sing and play is already a cherished cornerstone of our relationship as a couple. In my humble opinion, I think that every family should own a copy of Rise Up Singing: The Group Singing Songbook. Even my Dad, who has always been told that he can't hold a tune in a bucket (although I think he's quite capable - he's a jolly good whistler) enjoyed our sing-along sessions.

Most importantly, I realize how important it is for us, as parents, to model the kind of joyful pursuit of learning that we desire for our own children, be it musical, artistic, scientific, or kinesthetic. We, in turn, can feed off of the child's ebullient curiosity in the world. The quality of our own lives can improve so greatly by being open to the child-like pursuit of knowledge.