Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday's Art Smarts: Painting With Nature

Hello Spring!

Nothing says, "It's Spring!" like flowers in bloom.  Around here, we love flowers.  At least, Natalie and I love flowers.  I think the boys could take 'em or leave 'em (including my husband), but since Natalie and I are fans, we have them.  And decorate with them.  

Today's project is actually called "Flower Pounding," and the gist of it is exactly how it sounds.  You pound some flowers.  A lot.  And you end up with something really beautiful.  I thought this project might be the best of both worlds for my kids: Daniel gets to pound with his new hammer and Natalie gets to make giant flower gardens.

Okay, here we go.


fresh flowers and leaves
fabric (we used cheap utility fabric from JoAnn's)
butter knife
large piece of wood or mat

Since it has been such a nice day, I decided we should take this project outside.  And it's fortunate that we did, because this is a little messy.

Choose a few flowers and leaves and arrange them on half of a scrap of fabric.  I also picked a few blades of grass and weeds.  Yes, we have lots of weeds in our yard.  It's the natural look around here, folks.

Fold the other half of your fabric over your flowers...

And pound them!  Daniel loved this part.  The trick is to pound for just the right amount of time.  If you stop too soon, you won't get much color, but if you keep pounding (as I discovered) your colors start to blend in an unappealing way....leaving you with a lot of brown.

Natalie loved this art project and took it very seriously :)

Once you've decided you're done pounding, open up your fabric.

What a (colorful) mess!  Scrape off the bits with your butter knife.

You should end up with a very impressionist flower garden.

The artists:

There are so many fun ways to use these, but a word of caution: I can't vouch for how well they will wash.  The color might bleed...or fade.  So whatever you do, keep that in mind.

What did we do with ours?

I've had these hoops hanging in our dining room for quite awhile, so I decided to switch out the fabric and hang our garden in there:

Of course, I couldn't throw the extra flowers away.  

Spring!  Or summer, more like.  I can't believe June is here.  Crazy-town.

Have fun with this!  If you decide to try this project with your family (or on your own -- it was as much fun for me as it was for the kids!), I'd love for you to leave a link so that I can see how it turned out for you!

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Using Role Play to Boost Comprehension

Role play is kind of a win-win situation.  Kids - especially those that haven't yet developed a fear of being the center of attention - generally love it.  And without realizing it, they're retelling the story they just heard, which, as we all know, is a great way to remember what we just heard.  

None (yay!), except the book or story you're reading and perhaps any props the kids might want to use.

There really isn't any wrong way to have the kids act out the story, so I don't have a hard and fast tutorial.  Instead, I'll show you what we did last night and encourage you to try it with your own family!

Every night we read a story from this book:

I totally recommend it.  It's pretty thorough as far as covering the big stories in the Bible and the kids love it.  That's enough for a stamp of approval in my book.  

It can be a little wordy for my kids, though.  Sometimes I wonder if they've gotten lost because there are few pictures and it requires a fairly high level of concentration.  So one night after reading, I suggested that they act out the story they just heard.  They thought that was just brilliant.  So began our nightly tradition: read the story, act it out.  They feel like they've been shortchanged if, for some reason, we're late getting to bed and don't have time for the role play. 

Last night, we read a story out of Numbers 13:1-33: Spies in the Land and Numbers 14:1-45: The Long Desert Journey.  This was a perfect story to act out - lots of action!

Moses sent 12 men to spy out the land of Canaan. 

The spies saw the giants and 10 of them became very afraid.

All the Israelites also became afraid and complained.   

So God made them wander in the desert for 40 years until... 

The older generation all passed away. 

And God let their children enter the Promised Land.

A few words of encouragement: Don't expect very young children to be able to role play without help.  We still direct the action a little bit.  We also join in some if we find that the story requires an extra character.  If your kids aren't into it at first, I wouldn't push it.  You might try again in a few weeks.  Role play is generally more effective if the adults are into it.  Excitement breeds excitement!

And have fun!!

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Time for a Reality Check

The other day I read this book to my kids.

I started thinking.  Isn't that how God works?  He doesn't necessarily use the biggest, or the best, or the most natural choice to get something done.  He often uses the one that would have been forgotten by everyone else.  

I started this blog with the idea that I'd be able to pass on my pearls of wisdom to an audience just hungry for fresh ideas.  But my last couple of weeks in blog world have taught me that 1) Most ideas have already been written about at least once, 2) I am incredibly little, and 3) I feel even smaller in the shadow of some of the giants -- the really big deal blogs.  

And I don't think I'm alone.  It's easy to eat up countless pictures of perfection -- living rooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, all organized and running smoothly.  All the time.  And these learning activities.  They're really great, but...does anyone watch TV anymore?  Is it bad that I let my kids watch an episode of Dinosaur Train when I take my shower every morning?

So, here's the deal.  I'm still going to send stuff your way.  Good stuff, I think.  It's not that I've been lying about our explorations or the art projects, or any of it.  All of that is happening.  But it's happening in the middle of some very organized (or sometimes disorganized) chaos.  For real.  I don't want to leave out the "real" part in "Our (real) life at home." 

So!  In that spirit, I give you my house this morning.  Nothing was staged, folks.  Here we go.

Ah, the living room.  Chairs askew.  Baby toys strewn about.  

But overall, not bad.

Let's take a peek at the kitchen.

Look at that!  Folded laundry on the counter -- I'm getting stuff done!

Nope, wait.  That was yesterday's.  And it's still there as I type.  And there're at least three more loads waiting to be washed.  Ahhhh....

Here's our school room.  The school room is a fabulous idea, really.  But man, what a headache.  This is how it looks 90% of the time.  


Moving on to the dining room,

and we find milk puddles from breakfast.  Whoops.  

The hall bath wasn't so bad.  There's the evidence that Silas was there, of course:

Oh, and a bag of Cheerios.  Moms of boys will know what those are for ;)

The kids' bedrooms.  No surprises here:

(Wow, it's like an explosion)

Aaaand, scene.

So, we're messy.  Sometimes really messy.  And we don't have a phenomenal activity planned for every day of the week.  Sometimes we just go outside and play in the sprinkler.  And the thing is, that's okay.  The internet has distorted our perception of reallity.  But I'm telling you (and I think other bloggers would agree), what you saw here today is normal.

All right now.  My cat's out of the bag.  Now I'd better go do some laundry.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How To: Make and Use a Phonics Flip Book

Education materials are kind of a niche market.  And since only a small number of stores are making and selling specialized materials and manipulatives, they charge (in my humble opinion) way too much for their stuff.  

Now, they do sell some great stuff, and it is fun to walk around the store or look at catalogs and think about the possibilities.  But I just can't afford to spend what they're asking.  So I've taken to making the same materials for far less.

Today we're going to make phonics flip books.  These books can be used to practice basic letter recognition all the way through sounding out large words with beginning blends and vowel digraphs.  In other words, they're amazingly versatile.  And very simple.

index cards (at least 20)
sharpie marker
ruler or measuring mat
page protector (not pictured)
three ring binder or index card binder (not pictured)
hole punch (not pictured)
laminating machine and envelopes (optional)
pipe cleaners (optional)

Start by cutting the index cards into 3 equal parts.  My pieces are each one and a half inches wide.  

Label the cards with your sharpie:

The following is a list of the letters that I wrote on the first stack of cards:
b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, y, z

the second (or middle) stack of cards:
a, e, i, o, u, ea, ee, ai, ou, ow

the third (or last) stack of cards:
b, d, f, g, l, m, n, p, r, t, w, y

The above list is just a guide.  Feel free to add more or less of the alphabet (including consonant digraphs and blends in the first stack of cards) depending on your child's reading level.

As you can see, I chose to focus on the letters that would make common, easy to pronounce first words and sounds.  I have not included q or x on any card.  As Natalie's reading ability grows, I'll be adding these letters into her flip book.

At this point, you might choose to laminate your cards.  I've not done that yet, but I think I might.  After working with the book one time, I can see that they'll get bent or torn easily if I don't.    

Punch holes in the top of your cards and add them to your binder.  Add a blank card to the top of the first and last stack.  I also put a page protector behind the cards to hold the extras.

To Use Your Phonics Flip Book

I always start with reviewing the short vowel sound.  Make sure your child knows this sound before going any further.  Once she has that letter and sound recognition under her belt, flip up the blank card on the last stack (here, I've flipped up to letter t).

Model how to blend these two sounds together.  Don't break up the sounds.  In other words, you shouldn't say, "a. t."  Instead, say, "aaaaat."  It should sound like you're saying the word in slow motion.  While you're saying each sound, point to the letter of the sound you're making.  Slowly move your finger to the next letter as you say the next sound (sometimes kids get a kick out of using a pointer to point to the letters.  Almost any longish object can be used as a pointer, but I've suggested a pipe cleaner).

Have your child blend the sounds with you, then by herself.  Finally, have her say it fast - "at."  If she says it the wrong way or seems confused, try it again.  Don't go on until she gets it.  Once she does, flip up the blank card in the first stack.  

Model blending the word "bat" in the same way - in slow motion, not by breaking up the sounds.  You should say, "baaaat," not "b. a. t."  Have her say it with you, then by herself.  Just like before, practice until she understands.  Then try a new beginning sound.

It's okay if some words are pretend:

When Natalie tried this activity for the first time, we started with the word, "ab."  The "b" at the end of this word can be a little tricky.  Often, children want to say, "buh" when sounding out this letter.  Don't let them do it!  We don't say, "a-buh."  We say, "ab."  

Here, she's sounding out the word "dab."  Notice how she's pointing to the letters as she says the sound.  

And here she's sounding out "fab."

In her Periwinkle costume.  Gotta love doing school as a fairy ;)

These phonics flip books are so great for super beginning readers (like Natalie) and for those kids that might need a little review or practice.  They work at so many different levels and can grow along with your child.  I hope that you're feeling encouraged to go make one for your house - even if you aren't homeschooling.  With summer just beginning, these would be an awesome way to practice early reading skills over the break.

Have fun!

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Happy Memorial Day!

A perfect Memorial Day might include...

Sticking fern seeds onto the end of sticks.

Examining minute pieces of dust at the end of the sidewalk.

Putting together nature collections on the front porch.

A little swimming.

And some intense concentration paired with wild silliness.

Happy Memorial Day!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday's Art Smarts: Block Printing for Kids


Foam trays (Our local grocery store - Publix - gave us this entire stack.  Sometimes all you have to do is ask)
Tempera Paint (alternatively, you can use ink, but washable paint is a lot easier to use and less stressful)
foam roller
tool for carving into the tray (unsharpened pencils)
art paper (we used card stock)
art mat (optional)
scissors (not pictured)

Have you ever made a block print?  I've made several different prints.  My first was way back in college and I absolutely loved the instant satisfaction it gave me -- you roll the ink on, slap that baby down, and when you pull it up, you have one awesome picture.  Usually.

Today's art project modifies the process of block printing to make it child friendly, and it was a total success with the kiddos!  Here's everything you need to know to try this at home.

First, check out the back of your trays.  Ours had text printed on them (boo), so I cut out the center rectangle and used the front of the tray instead.

Give the kids a pencil and let them make a design on their tray.  Encourage them to press really hard to make deep marks and crevices.

Choose your paint color and pour a little paint into an empty tray.  Spread the the paint thinly and evenly onto your foam roller. 

If you don't have a foam roller, a regular paint brush might work.  My one caution would be to make sure that the paint is applied very thinly on the foam tray.  If it's too thick, it will seep into the marks in the design and not make a very clear image in the end.  

Apply the paint.  Natalie's technique was to roll super fast.

Daniel chose a slower approach.  I also love how Daniel used the pencil.  He didn't "draw" with it as I expected.  Instead, he pushed it down into the tray to make polka dots.  

Once you've rolled on the paint, the last step is to stamp it onto your art paper.  Turn the stamp over, place it slowly where you want it (once it's down be very careful not to move it), and press very hard.  Make sure to push down on the corners as well as in the middle.  Then gently remove the stamp to reveal the finished piece.

The kids were so excited about how these turned out.  They immediately wanted to make another one :)

So much texture!  That was an unexpected and delightful little touch.

A Map of the Whole World
Natalie, age 4

A Parrot with Mouth and Eyes
Daniel, age 3

If try this project with your kiddos, I'd love for you to leave a comment with a link to your pictures.  It's fun to see what each child ends up with!

Thanks for reading and have fun!