Advent Art

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One of the (many) good things about having three kids is that I can repeat projects and activities I did with the oldest years ago and they are new to the youngest member of the family.  We’ve done this Advent art project twice before and it’s become one of my favorites. It’s super simple, allows for some open ended creativity and makes a pretty finished product.

First, you take old crayons and shave them. You can do this with a crayon sharpener. We’ve also used a vegetable peeler with good results. Then you cut out a shape using white paper. The first two times we did this I had the kids first draw a simple picture on the paper and then cut around it. However, I realized that the picture gets kind of lost in the end so we skipped that step this time. Next, you place the shape you have cut out on a piece of wax paper that is bigger than the shape. Then sprinkle crayons over the paper. I don’t give a lot of instructions at this point, other than to point out that large clumps of crayon will likely turn brown in the end.

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The next step is the most fun. Place a second sheet of wax paper over top of the white paper and crayons. Then apply heat with the iron. It does not take a lot of heat to melt the crayons and have the two pieces of wax paper seal together so watch the kids carefully at this step. Finally, cut around your white paper shape , leaving a border of wax paper.

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They end up looking pretty in a window. It was a fairly grey and rainy day when we did these but they look especially nice in the sun. We also experimented this year with leaving out the white paper and just dropping crayon shavings between two pieces of wax paper. I liked the way that turned out as well. We ran out of time but I think if we do this again I would experiment more with that method.

With art projects for kids there is often a struggle between process and product. A lot of adults will talk about being more “process driven” and I agree that the value in doing art with kids is often more in the doing itself than in having a perfect finished product. But I also find that my kids like product. One of my kids in particular worries more about having the finished product look “right” even when I purposefully talk about their being no “right” answer in art.  One of the things I like about this project is that it’s so obviously open-ended and loosey-goosey that even a perfectionist kid can have fun just playing around and seeing what you end up with.

The last two times we did this:
In 2012 with a 3, 6 and 9 year old
In 2009 with a 3 year old and 6 year old

 

 

The Nutcracker Comes to America

25793079Part of the fun of the book basket is re-reading beloved favorites year after year. And part of the fun is discovering new books. Yesterday we opened the first new-to-us book of this year. Chris Barton’s The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition is an unusual look at the history behind the Nutcracker in America. This is a different perspective than usually given in kids books about the ballet. It’s not about E.T. A. Hoffman’s original story or the adaptation by Alexander Dumas or even really the ballet by Tchaikovsky. Instead it tells the story of how and why the Nutcracker became the most performed ballet in America.

I’ve seen the Nutcracker countless times as a child and as an adult and I admit to never really wondering how it became a holiday tradition. I was somewhat shocked to learn that it was first performed in America in 1944; I had imagined it as being an older tradition than that. It was also interesting to learn that about the three Christensen brothers who loved ballet and how the Nutcracker became a shared love of theirs, especially in the shadow of WWII.

I enjoyed this new addition to our Christmas book list. Ruth takes ballet and we are going to see her first “real” Nutcracker this year and I think she also enjoyed the idea of learning more about the ballet. The boys were ok with it but I’m not sure it will become a yearly read for us. It’s an interesting story but might not hold the attention of kids who aren’t especially ballet obsessed. However, if you have a ballet lover or are just looking for a Christmas book that is somewhat different, this is a good choice.

Advent Reading

Reposting from 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. 

The favorite Advent tradition in our house is our book box. I wrap all our Christmas books and put them in a box. Each day the kids get to pick a book and we read it.  I’ve posted in the past about the individual books we enjoy year after year. I thought this year that I’d compile a list with links to some of those past reviews.

For Animal Lovers
Who Would Like a Christmas Tree? by Ellen Bryan Obed
Humphrey’s First Christmas by Carol Heyer
Cat in the Manger by Michael Foreman
Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell
One Winter’s Night by Leo and Diane Dillon
Who Was Born This Special Day? by Eve Bunting
Counting to Christmas by Nancy Tafuri
The Animals’ Christmas Carol by Helen Ward
Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown
One Small Lost Sheep by Claudia Mills
Christmas Cricket by Eve Bunting
Dream Snow by Eric Carle
The Christmas Cat by Maryann MacDonald
A Letter for Bear by David Lucas

Just for Fun
Merry UnChristmas by Mike Reiss
The Twelve Bots of Christmas by Nathan Hale
The Gingerbread Pirates by Kristin Kladstrup
The Christmas Crocodile by Bonny Becker
Morris’s Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells
The Twelve Bugs of Christmas by David Carter

The True Meaning of Christmas
Listen to the Silent Night by Dandi Dale Mackall
Little One, We Knew You’d Come by Sally Lloyd-Jones
How Many Miles to Bethlehem? by Kevin Crossley
A Child is Born by Margaret Wise Brown
The Christmas Story by Patricia Pingry
This is the Star by Joyce Dunbar
Mary’s First Christmas by Walter Wangerin Jr.
The Third Gift by Linda Sue Park

Because You Have To
The Night Before Christmas by Jan Brett
The Polar Express by Chris VanAllsburg
How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles Schultz

Starring Favorite Characters
Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney
Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson
Humphrey’s Christmas by Sally Hunter
Henry and Mudge and a Very Merry Christmas by Cynthia Rylant
Max’s Christmas by Rosemary Wells
Lyle at Christmas by Bernard Waber
Harry and the Dinosaurs Make a Christmas Wish by Ian Whybrow
Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer
Ella Bella Ballerina and the Nutcracker by James Mayhew
Fancy Nancy’s Splendiferous Christmas by Jane O’Connor

From a Carol
Drummer Boy by Loren Long
What Can I Give Him? by Debi Gilori
Silent Night by Susan Jeffers
The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats

I Dare You to Read One of These and Not Cry (I Can’t)
Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski

And Everything Else 
The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers
Christmas for 10 (a counting book) by Catherine Falwell
Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo
Coming Through the Blizzard by Eileen Spinelli
Christmas Is… by Gail Gibbons
The Snow Globe Family by Jane O’Connor
The Smallest Gift of Christmas by Peter Reynolds
Shooting at the Stars by John Hendrix
Santa is Coming to Virginia by Steve Smallman
The Nutcracker Comes to America by Chris Barton

A lot of other people do an Advent book basket. If you don’t, I’d encourage you to consider making it part of your family’s yearly tradition in some way. It’s one of the easiest and cheapest (get the books from the library or use what you already have) ways to make some great Christmas memories with your kids.

This year my 10 year old was talking about the books he knew would be in the basket. I asked him if he was too old for this particular tradition or if he was getting tired of the same books. “No way,” he said. “I’m hoping to memorize them all eventually.” So there you go. If you’re a homeschooler this can be your memory work and Advent tradition all rolled into one.

11/26/16- And now, that 10 year is a 13 year old who brought up the empty box for the books on his own because “we always have the book box”. I’d already wrapped them and put them on our shelves this year so I told him not to worry. Even as a teenager he is looking forward to many beloved favorites and to seeing what new ones I added this year from the library.

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower

31182425It’s a little late for you to enjoy this fantastic new picture book for this year’s Thanksgiving celebration but write it down on your to-be-read list for next year. Written and illustrated by P. J. Lynch this book tells the familiar story of the Mayflower crossing and the early days of Plymouth colony through the eyes of John Howland, a young indentured servant on the Mayflower. During the voyage, John is swept overboard during a storm but miraculously catches hold of a rope in the water and is pulled to safety. Along with the other Pilgrims he endures the hardships of the early years and sees many of those who sailed with him from England suffer and die. Howland initially dreams of going back to London to make a name for himself but when he finally gets the opportunity he decides to stay in the New World and make a life in this new home.

The illustrations are gorgeous. Lynch is also the illustrator of The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey and the paintings here have the same realistic richness.

The story is made even more appealing because it is true. John Howland was a young man on the Mayflower who fell overboard and was saved. He was a servant and later married a fellow Mayflower voyager, Elizabeth Tilley. Together they went on to have 10 children and 88 grandchildren. (Yes, you read that right. 88 grandchildren.) Apparently millions of Americans are descended from them, including many famous people.

All of my kids enjoyed this one. It’s a long picture book so probably best for older kids on their own (perhaps 4th grade and up) or for any ages as a read-aloud. The parts of the story are divided into short sections so it’s easy to read all in one setting or over the course of several days (Thanksgiving week perhaps).

To find out more:
P.J. Lynch’s website (where I discovered he is Ireland’s laureate for children’s literature)
Pilgrim John Howland Society (where you can see some of the famous Howland descendents)

And Happy Thanksgiving!

Project Feederwatch

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Are you watching?

Project Feederwatch is one of the best recurring projects we do in our homeschool every year. It’s simple. You just count birds at a site in your yard up to days a week from Nov-May. You can count every week or you can do it once or twice. Once you count, you enter your data on the website. There is a small fee. The first year you get a great poster of common birds in your area and some other materials. The website stores your  data from previous years and it’s fun to go back and look at trends of birds. My kids love doing it and it hones their skills of observation and awareness of nature. It also is a great way to be involved in citizen science.

The season started last week but it’s not too late to sign up and count this year.

And because everything finds its way back to books, a bird themed book list for your young bird and book lovers:

Fiction Picture Books:
Seven Hungry Babies by Candace Fleming
The Perfect Nest by Catherine Friend
Leaving the Nest by Moredecai Gerstein
Those Darn Squirrels by Adam Rubin
Louise: the Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss
Telephone by Mac Barnett
Feathers for Lunch by Lois Ehlert
Falcon by Tim Jessell
The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett

Non-Fiction Picture Books:
The Boy Who Drew Birds by Jacqueline Davies (biography of Audubon)
United Tweets of America by Hudson Talbott (state birds)
Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward
Look Up! Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate
Bird Talk by Lita Judge

Chapter Books: 
The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate by Scott Nash
Swordbird (and sequels) by Nancy Yi Fan

Our favorite Field Guide: 
Birds of Virginia by Stan Tekiela- We have others but we use this one the most because it is organized by color which is such a easy way for a beginner to try to find the bird that you are looking at.

Fall Leaf Art with Deep Space Sparkle

If you aren’t already using the Art Lessons at Deep Space Sparkle in your homeschool or with your kids after school, you should be. It is a treasure trove of art activities for kids. You can buy complete lesson plans or search the website  (by topic, by artist, by technique, by grade) for something free that meets your needs. Last week I was looking for a fall art project to do with my 2nd grader and 5th grader. (As an aside, my 8th grader claims to dislike art. He often will join us and can get really into the right project. He also has a lot more other work to do and less free time, so I treat art as a free time option for him most of the time. I figure he’s had plenty of exposure up to this point and forcing him to participate isn’t going to make him enjoy it.) I went to DSS and searched under “Fall” and found this beautiful watercolor leaves project.

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First, we sketched leaves in pencil on a sheet of white watercolor paper. Then we used black glue (Elmer’s School Glue mixed with black tempera paint) to outline the leaves. The directions were to use the squeeze bottle to apply the black glue. However, our glue bottle was old and the top was completely stopped up. I found a medication syringe and we used that instead. It worked fine but probably made our glue lines thicker than intended.

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After letting the glue dry (it took a couple of days because our glue was so thick), we got out the paints. We reviewed the color wheel first and I asked the kids to paint their leaves using colors that are near each other on the color wheel. We used liquid watercolors which give really brilliant colors. We then did some catechism practice and PE at the same time (nothing like homeschooling for multitasking) to let the leaves dry a bit before painting the background. I asked them to paint the background using more of a complementary color to their leaves. (You can see below that Ruth didn’t really follow my instructions but I think hers turned our great anyway.) Before the background paint dried, we applied table salt as a resist. I had never done this but it was really easy and gave a cool batik like effect.  You just sprinkle the salt onto the wet paint and then let it dry. Once dry you gently brush it off.

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Ruth’s painting. She ignored the complementary background instructions because she wanted hers to look like leaves sitting in a pile of other leaves. I really liked that she did her own thing and I liked the way it ended up looking.

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David’s finished project. You get an idea of how vivid the liquid watercolors can be!

img_1751And mine. I was the first one to try the salt and I think I used a bit too much, but it still looks ok. The great thing about art projects like this is that it’s just fun and the process is truly as much the point as the finished product.

 

The Rules of the House

26245753You may have noticed I rarely review picture books anymore. This is for two reasons.

1) We read a lot less picture books. I find that kind of sad but also just part of having kids get older. I don’t think my kids are too old for picture books and they all still like them. We  still get a stack out of the library each time we go. But now all three kids read on their own and typically go through that stack before I even get to crack a cover. Our family read-aloud time is usually chapter books or books that are somehow related to school.

2) I blog a lot less than I used to (shocking news, I know). Most of the time I know that a hundred other more prolific and faithful kid- lit bloggers have already reviewed anything that I have read. Even when I do read a picture book that I think “Oh, I really need to share this,” it’s rare that I then find the time to write about it.

All that to say that The Rules of the House was one of the few picture books I’ve read lately that I felt compelled to write about. I haven’t looked to see how many other reviews there are because I just don’t care. I loved this book and want to tell you about it.

I’m not always a fan of Mac Barnett books. I have absolutely adored some (Extra Yarn, Battle Bunny) and been left cold by others (Chloe and the Lion). But one thing I do really appreciate about all his books is that they are unexpected. I kept thinking I knew what predictable thing would happen next in this book, and then something else happened. And the something else was always way funnier than the thing I expected.

A brief synopsis of the plot is that a brother and sister go to the woods on vacation with their Dad. The brother always follows rules. The sister always breaks them. The story is about what happens when the sister breaks the rules of the house they are staying in. As you can tell from the cover, there is some mild scariness. It’s a great book for this time of year, although it doesn’t actually mention Halloween.

We read this one along with a bunch of others from the library basket one morning before starting school. I can’t remember why exactly, but Ruth was grumpy. It was the week after we returned from vacation and she was jet-lagged and sick and just not wanting to do school. So to ease her into the day, I offered to have reading time. She, David and I snuggled into bed and read through a bunch of books. None of the others stood out as much as The Rules of the House but the sweetness of the time together reminded me that we should find a way to do that more often.

 

Tickled Pink about Writing

We’ve been back from our vacation for just under two weeks. It took us about a week to get over jet-lag (worsened by illness). This past week we got back into the groove of school and activities and it felt good to return to a routine.

Overall, the school year is going well. The subject that I consistently agonize over the most is writing. I’m never completely happy with what we are doing. I have about four different writing “curriculums” and we’ve used parts and pieces of all of them at different points. I’ve flirted with Bravewriter for so long that I finally broke down this year and bought The Writer’s Jungle. I haven’t actually read it yet, mind you, but it’s sitting on my desk.

However, one of the projects we’ve done this year that I’ve been the happiest about was an extra writing/language project working with idioms. I made a list of 50 different common idioms. (There are tons of these lists online; I picked from one that was geared towards middle schoolers and that I thought had a good amount of expressions that my boys didn’t know.) The first week I gave the list to my boys (5th and 8th grade) and had them come up with definitions to see how many they already knew. Then we went over the real definitions together and discussed them.

The second week I put slips of paper with the idioms on them in a jar. I had them each pick five pieces of paper and write a paragraph using those five idioms. All three kids (2nd, 5th and 8th grades) joined in. The stories were hilarious. My 8th grader (who claims to hate writing) wrote a particularly funny story using the five idioms he picked correctly and also as many idioms as he could remember literally. There was a character who literally walked on eggshells, for example.

The third and fourth weeks we kept the slips of paper in the jar and played two different games. One was a game where everyone took turns drawing an idiom and then restating it in literal terms without using any of the words in the idiom. For example: “If you live in a house made of breakable material you shouldn’t throw hard spherical objects.” The other game was idiom charades. Both were a lot of fun and a huge hit with the kids.

When we do fun things like this I end up being glad and feeling like we should do more of this kind of activity in our homeschool. But then I start to worry about things like spelling and grammar and punctuation and the FIVE PARAGRAPH ESSAY. Right now, we are still using somewhat of a mish-mash of formal and informal writing approaches and it’s working ok. I have another writing project (on codes) planned, but got thrown off a bit by our travel. I plan on beginning that this coming week to add a little fun into our weekly routine.

 

 

 

Scenes from Paris

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Part 2 of our Europe vacation was Paris. When we talked about taking the kids to Europe we narrowed it down to Paris or London. We knew we couldn’t afford a multi-country many week trip and wanted to concentrate on one place. We wanted to be based in a larger city with options for side-trips. We also wanted it to be fairly easy and comfortable for us. Both England and France were countries that we felt comfortable traveling to. H. did a study abroad program in England and we had both traveled there several other times, including on our honeymoon. The language barrier was obviously not a problem. Both of us had also been to Paris multiple times, including once with John at 15 months. I have very rusty high-school French but H. speaks the language well enough to get by and that made it an easier option than something like Amsterdam or Berlin or Prague.

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We gave the kids the choice of London or Paris and everyone voted for Paris. I think they were at least partially swayed by our description of Paris which included “really good bread, chocolate, croissants, onion soup, coffee, pastries, crepes…”And we did indeed eat very well while we were there. dscn1894dscn2150

Because this was their first trip (or for John, the first trip he remembered) we concentrated on the big attractions: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur. The history and art provided a great contrast to the natural beauty and outdoor focus of the Iceland part of the trip.

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We spent one day outside the city on two side-trips. In the morning we ventured to Giverny to see Monet’s Garden. It was beautiful. In the afternoon we went to Versailles to see a very different gaudier beauty.

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Scenes from Iceland

 

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We returned this week from a 10 day vacation in Iceland and Paris. We had wanted to take the kids to Europe for awhile and decided about a year ago that this was a good time to finally do it. We picked Iceland initially for the cheap airfares to Europe but then decided that we wanted to spend several days there as well.

The trip was amazing. Iceland was breathtakingly, ridiculously beautiful. Ruth said it best when she commented that “It’s hard to believe that it’s all real. It’s so beautiful it looks fake.”

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We had about four days in the country, so only saw a small amount of what it has to offer. We rented a car (a must if you want to travel anywhere) and did a lot of hiking. Our longest and favorite hike was to Hvergardi, a hike that led to a geothermal “hot river”. After furtively changing behind a wooden screen into a bathing suit we enjoyed a fantastic swim in the naturally warm water. (Top photo is of a different hike to one of many waterfalls.)

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The trip was full of firsts for the kids…”first time on a plane”, “first time to a different continent”, “first time bathing in a hot river”….A thrilling first for all of us was first time we touched a glacier. Just seeing it was pretty awe-inspiring.

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The coastal landscape reminded me in places of Cornwall (where H. and I spent our honeymoon). I absolutely love  this kind of scenery: rocky cliffs falling to the ocean. All in all, I was surprised by how much I loved Iceland. Obviously, we visited at an ideal time as far as the weather was concerned. But even so, I told H. that I thought the country was made for me: Sparsely populated, rocky landscape, ocean, abundant hot rivers/lagoons for bathing. Not to mention that it’s a country of readers and people who love books and has a culture of swimming (outdoors, year-round…but more on that in another post).

Stay tuned for photos from the Parisian part of our trip tomorrow.

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