Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nature Crowns

With today's post, my hope is to illustrate just how simple learning from home can be. It doesn't take much preparation or planning in the early years to create meaningful learning opportunities. Not only that, but when a parent follows the child's cues and capitalizes on their interests, the learning becomes that much richer.

Today we made nature crowns. 

Early this morning, my daughter said she wanted to make some nature jewelry. After cleaning her room (a task that needlessly took ALL morning, but perhaps that's a post for another day), we went outside. With us, I brought a sheet to sit on, a single hole punch, a pair of safety scissors, a roll of masking tape, and some yarn. And my coffee, since I drink that stuff all day long.

Since my son was with us and I wanted to get him interested in this game, I suggested making crowns and they were both all for it. 

Task one: collect some leaves. Daniel ended up collecting all the brown ones that had already fallen. At first I discouraged this because I wasn't sure if they would hold up to a hole punch. But we discovered that they worked well and he went for it. Natalie stuck with mostly live, green leaves. 

Task two: punch some holes in those leaves. 

After I took this picture, I suggested punching two holes in each leaf so that they would lay flat on the crown.

They were both able to punch their own holes, which is excellent for developing fine motor skills.

This part also took some time to complete, requiring persistence and patience (several of the leaves tore during the punching process). 

Task three: string the leaves in the same way that you'd string beads. I wrapped one end of the yarn with a short piece of masking tape to prevent it from fraying. Then I tied one leaf onto the other end and gave each child their string.

Along with leaves, they each dug up one of our pesky ferns (those things are crazy hard to get rid of) in order to find the seed and I helped them tie the seed onto their crowns. 

Natalie also collected several small flowers to poke into the punched holes in her leaves. Daniel chose to poke in a little fern. I love how they were presented with the same project and came up with very different results. 

Daniel's kind of reminds me of Lord of the Flies. The fact that he took off his shirt really only adds to the whole image in me head. (On a side note, I cannot believe how warm it's been here lately. Yes, these pictures were actually taken today, December 19.)

Such a cutie!

And Natalie's was just so sweet with her greenery and yellow flowers.

Very fitting for a sweet girl.

After they finished with their crowns, they went off to play "king" and "queen" for a little while. It fills me with happiness to watch this kind of play go down...creating something and then using that creation in their pretend world. So, so good. 

How does this fit with a Charlotte Mason education? Not only was this activity a complete game for my youngsters, but while playing, they were observing and identifying nature. We found several different types of plants and named them, and we discovered which plants were hardier and which were more fragile. 

Not only that, but the kids were working on simple skills (hole punching and stringing leaves) which will lead to the development of more complex skills (and more involved handicrafts) as they grow.  

And they loved it. They had a lot of fun. That's not specifically Charlotte Mason, but I think we can all agree that when kids are having fun learning it's nothing but a good thing. 

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Jesse Tree: Noah's Rainbow and God's Promise

This is the third year that we've done a Jesse Tree, and I don't see an end to it any time soon. I simply love this tradition - what an awesome way to lead little ones through the Bible to the story of Jesus's birth. If you're not familiar with a Jesse Tree (I wasn't until the year that we started the tradition), the general idea is this: each day during advent your family will read a new Bible story, starting with creation, moving through the old and new testaments, and finally spending the last few days on the Christmas story. After reading the story and finishing whatever devotion or activity you choose to go along with it, you'll place a symbolic ornament on your Jesse Tree. That's it. Super easy. 

The neat thing about a Jesse Tree is that there's enough structure to carry you through a meaningful advent, but enough freedom to be all kinds of creative. A Jesse Tree might look very different from one house to the next, and there's really no wrong way to do it. If you'd like to start this tradition (and you can totally start today even though we're already a few days into advent), there are plenty of websites online to give you some ideas. Type in "Jesse Tree" into Pinterest and you'll be overwhelmed with all that's available. 

In our house, I like to have a project to go along with the different Bible stories...not all of them, because that's completely overwhelming, but I try to get in maybe three a week. Today I wanted to share with you the project we did to go along with the story of Noah, the ark, and the rainbow symbolizing God's promise to His people. 

So. Have you seen those awesome melt-the-crayon projects floating all over the blogosphere? I've had several of those pinned for ages. They've been on my mental to-do list since I opened a Pinterest account. Rainbows...crayons...beautiful, color-saturated wax rolling down the paper in neat little lines? Yes, please.

Apparently, those projects are a lot harder than they look. 

Ours didn't quite turn out how I envisioned it, but I like it anyway - totally hang it up and admire it worthy. 

Noah's Rainbow and God's Promise


canvas or construction paper/cardstock, cardboard, mod podge
crayons in your color choices
craft glue
hair dryer
paint brush


First, let me just say that since I planned this project for a three year old, it was definitely collaborative. I would not advise letting young children melt the wax since it gets pretty hot. I helped Daniel glue on his crayons and melt the wax....he did the rest himself. 

If you happen to have a canvas lying around, great. Use that. If, like me, this project is happening sort of on a whim, then here's a quick trick:

Find some cardboard:

And some black and white paper. I used construction paper.

Use Mod Podge to adhere your paper to the cardboard. I cut about an inch off all sides of the white paper to create a sort of black mat (totally optional). 

You might find that the cardboard starts to bend as the glue dries. To straighten it back out again, I put the whole thing under several books for a little while.

(Hi Silas!)

While Daniel's canvas was drying, we talked about Noah and the flood. This is a story he's heard a million times before, so it was really just a review. I did, however, emphasize the rainbow part of the story, a symbol of God's promise to never again flood the earth. We talked about what God did instead to take care of the sin in the world (He sent Jesus). One of the things I love about the Jesse Tree tradition so much is that, with each story, you can point your children toward Jesus and God's great plan to take care of his people. 

After our discussion, I set Daniel in front of the crayon box and instructed him to find these colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple (we also added in indigo). 

At the last minute, I decided we should take the paper off.

This might have been our downfall. In all the projects I've seen, the crayons still have their paper. Maybe that helps to keep the colors separate as they melt? I'm not sure, but for better or for worse, our paper came off. 

Then I used craft glue to glue the crayons to our canvas.

In my head, as the crayons melted, long ribbons of color would begin to gracefully ark a rainbow. 


This is what happened.

Agh! It looks like an octopus! Ah well. We will continue on. 

After you've melted those crayons, let them dry. It takes almost no time at all, but it's an important step (obviously).

(Note that the picture is being held down by books again...this is because it began to curl during the melting process. After a few minutes under some books, though, it flattened back out.) 

I had intended for Daniel to paint the rest of the picture after we melted the crayons. I was going to leave what he painted up to him. I thought maybe the flood waters would be nice, or the sun, perhaps. So I set him down at the table with his dry crayon art, the watercolors, and a paint brush, and let him go to town.

And he did. 

He ended up adding color...a lot of it. And I ended up absolutely loving the result. So maybe our melted crayon rainbow didn't work out exactly as I had hoped. Daniel saved the day by making  his own rainbow.

Noah's Rainbow and God's Promise
Daniel, age 3
...and mom

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Paper Stars Tutorial

When I was in first grade, I got in trouble with the law. And by the law I mean my teacher, and by trouble I mean a note was sent home. This was a big deal to me. Not only did I consider my relationship with my teacher to be pretty darn special since we shared the same birthday and everything, but I never got in trouble. And I do mean never. 

This particular trouble was over one of those paper fortune tellers. You might remember these things from your own grade-school days. The basic idea is that you fold your square sheet of paper into quarters, fold in the corners, flip it over, fold in the corners again, and - suddenly - you've got yourself a cool little game. Until you start adding in some elementary insults, such as "You have a bird brain." Then there's trouble.

All that to say this: if you've ever folded one of those fortune tellers (whether or not yours contained the sort of insults that mine did), then you're well on your way to understanding how to make one of these beautiful little paper stars (I first saw these stars over here). Seriously, guys, they're so easy. 

Time consuming, yes. But definitely easy.

14 square sheets of paper, all the same size (mine were 4" x 4")
glue (I used Elmer's, but any kind of paper glue would work)
paper towel


Pull out one sheet of paper:

Fold it in half vertically, open it, fold it horizontally, and then open it again.

Fold in each corner.

Then fold two opposite corners in a second time. Your paper will end up looking like a kite.

Flip the "kite" over.

Fold down the top part of the "kite".

Finally, fold the paper in half, making sure that the smaller triangle is on the outside:

There! If you've made it this far, you're well on your way. This is one of the beams of the star. Fold the rest of your papers the same way until you end up with 14 altogether (like I said, time consuming).

Now it's time to start piecing the beams together. Notice that each beam has two flaps. You're going to insert those flaps into two holes in the back of another beam.

Here's the same process from another angle:

Keep joining the beams together this way,

Until you get the full circle:

Do not add glue during this time. You're going to need to do some adjusting as you go, and if you start gluing right away, you won't be able to make those adjustments. 

After your star looks more or less the way that you like it, gently pull out one of the beams and add a spot of glue on the front and back of each flap.

Then fit it back into place. With a finger, wipe up any glue that oozes out of the side and dry on your paper towel. Continue in this way until the entire star is glued up, making adjustments as necessary. Let dry.

That's it! Now, go make several of them. It gets kind of addicting. 

I made one as a Christmas ornament:

And a few to keep up all year, just cause they're awesome.

Have fun!

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