Thursday, May 31, 2012

buy your kids a blender!



If you have a making, hacking, exploring type of kid, you might want to consider getting them a blender


My son asked for his own after we attended a paper making co op. 


So, we scrounged one up and he went to town making lots and lots of homemade paper. (we actually scrounged up two and took one apart to look at the motor).


And then the projects kept coming.


With a blender my kids have ground up nearly every type of leaf and flower in the yard making potions that went right back in to the yard. 


My son also made monster repellant with lots of garlic. 


And many, many batches of fruit sorbets have been whipped up for treats.  


Of course, you need to feel confident that your children can use a blender safely before you set them loose, or you can supervise them when they feel the need to blend. 


It is one of the most open ended toys for older kids I have experienced


Would you let your kids have a blender? Or do you think I am nutty? (it's ok - I am used to it).



Wednesday, May 30, 2012

exploration lab :: make some potions





I had not intended to post this project, but it was such a hit I had to share. A a group of homeschool friends got together for a Harry Potter themed party at the park. I will admit, I was overwhelmed looking at party ideas on Pinterest. They seemed so intense and parent driven.  So, remembering that kids actually have the most fun and create the most interesting projects when adults support instead of direct the play - we simplified the party. 


There was a wand making station, spell books, some fun food, and the best of all - a potion table. 



For the potion table each family brought ingredients to fill the table. The kids used empty jars, droppers and spoons and sticks to stir. There was not a lesson to be taught, the kids simply made their own potions in a glorious, messy afternoon. All the items came from our kitchens (and one great family who brought a few blocks of dry ice to kick it all up a notch).


We had: 
splinters - stick tea
snot - laundry starch
ground up unicorn bones - baking soda
unicorn blood - silver glitter
mermaid tears - blue vinegar
spider hairs - pencil shavings from the pencil sharpener
dragon skin - sheets of sea weed
slug blood - cherry juice
micro creatures - yeast
bat claws - colored rice
mermaid hair - colored pasta
stardust - salt
vampire bile - red water
live slime - gak that we had made earlier in the week
giant's mustache hairs - long seaweed


and more! you get the idea... find stuff in your kitchen, put it in a jar and come up with a fun (or gross) name. We had a ton of fun doing this together the night before. 


I could tell you some of the cool concoctions and reactions we made...but I think you should play and test and hypothesize and discover them yourself. 




(one tiny hint : bubble solution and dry ice)



Tuesday, May 29, 2012

make your own laundry detergent in 5 minutes



I have been making this for a few years and find it works as well as other soaps. In a front loading HE washing machine, 1 tablespoon is all you need! It takes about 5 minutes to make. 


Do you make your own laundry detergent too? Fill free to link in the comments. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

my summer bucket list


In addition to various camps, this is the list of what we want to do this summer. 

What is on your list?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

love taking a new form


"And there are moments when I think my heart just might break with the loss of what was, what's almost over. But then I realize: it's not breaking, it's overflowing. It's not grief, I feel, just love taking a new form. Love, stitching its own sturdy seam through all our souls."

Katrina Kenison
The Gift of an Ordinary Day

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

BIG magazine and treasure maps




Have you seen BIG kids magazine yet? I am in love with this gorgeous Australian magazine that showcases art made by kids and artists (independently, collaboratively, in response to each other) based on a big theme. The magazine is filled with the most amazing art, the kind that reveals a glimpse of the rich inner life of children, as well as interviews and quotes and art prompts. 

The issue I was giddy to receive was all about MAPS - one of our favorite ideas to explore around here. And I was amazed at the variety of the contributors' interpretations and inspiring ideas. Pirate maps, bone maps, choreography maps, mind maps, story maps, color maps, star maps, adventure maps, migration maps, and more and more... 

The acronym BIG stands for bravery, imagination and generosity. Sprinkled throughout are contributors definitions of those words.  

And their guiding philosophy! I could just copy this as my unschooling/life philosophy. Beautiful! 

The BIG vision: BIG Kids Magazine promotes a creative and curious childhood through the arts as an everyday way of thinking, engaging and responding to the world. The need to nurture and value creative thinking and play in young people is vital in building physical, cognitive and emotional intelligence in the next generation. We believe that time should be valued as a vital resource made freely available for your kids with days left over to collect the quiet unseen bits of the world, to listen and respond, to breathe and grow and think, and contribute in new ways and old. BIG Kids Magazine supports the current trend in which parents and educators recognize the value of a de-pressured and genuine childhood. 

This magazine is pricey to have shipped to the US, but I think it is worth it, especially if this topic is vital to you. I also think it would be great to encourage your local library and museum shop to carry it.

There is still time to submit for the next issue.

And because we too love map making, I have included a few of our latest maps. Maps seem to be a perineal subject for us. We make maps of our heart, treasure maps for the beach and so many maps of the lands we dream up. 


Our favorite material to make maps on is brown paper bags from the grocery store. We wad them up, kick them around and then open and smooth them flat. Sharpies, watercolors and peeled crayons for rubbing seem to make the best colors. And recently, at a map making play date, the kids loved adding gold seals to the corner that added the official touch. 

Do you make maps? 







Tuesday, May 22, 2012

just write :: too big to contain

i am participating in the just write challenge again this week. if you would like to try some free form writing, join in and link up with the extraordinary ordinary.


they sat,
eating beignets and talking. 


the snippets i heard concerned 
detailed descriptions of homes 
and 
the deadly skills they each possessed. 


they wondered what they might call themselves  when they became old ladies. 


they made maps of their worlds
with time machines 
and railroads and worm holes,
and castles and shops.


all their maps fit together with 
a special coded design key - 
but each kingdom was autonomous 
as each girl was.


giggles and fake dramatic accents, 
plans and ideas - so big,
they could barely be contained.






Monday, May 21, 2012

monday mission :: fry your food


This weeks mission is to fry your food. What? Well, not really to fry your food, unless you want to - but to cook in a completely different way than usual. 


We never fry food. Our chicken nuggets and fries are always baked. Our fish is usually grilled. Anything you might fry, we bake.


But my kids had some beignets at the downtown market and loved them. So, when my son's birthday breakfast was being planned, he decided that he wanted beignets. We borrowed a fryer and spend the week making beignets (holy yum and crazy simple).


We went on to a fry our chicken strips (!) and the best of all, we made homemade potato chips. We had so much fun trying out different herbs and seasonings and judging the merits of each. (I loved the herbs de provence, old bay was another hit). So, even though we typically eat pretty heathy, juicing and all - why not have a week of frying things? It added something hugely different and interesting to our meals.


So how about it? Do you want to do some wok cooking? Or grill in the middle of the week? How about cooking breakfast for dinner or something on a stick? An all raw dinner?


What could you eat this week that would be a novel change from the usual?

Friday, May 18, 2012

this moment :: girl group

image from the week. no words. via soulemama.



an afternoon of girl map making, with trains and time machines and manifested lands. beignets afterwards. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

how to visit art museums with kids








My background is in art history, so when I had kids, I thought they would be little art historians - enthralled with the stories of the great masters and highly sensitive to the formal elements of art. They would certainly be able to have conversations with me about how line affects mood. And they would never giggle at naked bodies in art.  Yeah, so anyway - I had kids and of course our relationship with art turned out not to be so tidy. BUT, I have discovered how to enjoy experiencing art with children and we (usually) love spending an afternoon in a museum together. 

Here are some ideas that have made it all a bit more manageable.



1. Be prepared. Well, of course. It should go with out saying that kids should be well rested with full bellies. I have tried it otherwise and it was not worth it. It is good to remind them of the rules in a positive way (no running, yelling or touching). And it might be useful for you to brush up on the artist and time period, however that leads to the next point. Which is...

2. Lower your expectations. Do not expect to lecture your kids on what you know about the art. Do not expect to get to read each didactic label or even to see every piece of art. When museum going with kids, it is much better to have an open ended agenda. Wandering through the exhibits with out a definite plan allows for surprises and more immediate reactions and connections to the art work. Instead of looking for the famous pieces, adopt an attitude of adventure and discovery. Tell your kids (and yourself), "Let's see what we find."

3. But you can still check out any kid resources the museum has to offer. Sometimes they are simply awful - like worksheets that the kid would be so busy filling out they would not even get to interact with the art. Or, they lead the child around from piece to piece, not allowing the viewer to discover anything on their own. But every once in awhile you might just run across a real gem. 

For several summers, the Orlando Museum of Art has exhibited some great children's book illustrators and has set up a reading center with couches and bean bags and books right in the middle of the gallery. It encouraged us to look at the art, hangout, and look at the art some more. It was a great concept that served families well. 

Two summers ago, while in Washington, D.C. we visited the National Gallery Art. I thought my kids would not last long, but I really wanted to try to at least stroll through. The guard offered us some automated phone device guides. I was reluctant - because usually they are too wordy and work against the group dynamic by separating each person with their electronic device. But he insisted, saying they were new and really good for kids. So, we tried them and they were amazing. We were all so impressed we ended up staying for hours and it was one of the best museum trips of the entire vacation. (The short recordings would play the instruments that were featured in an art work or recreate the scene with background noise and a simple narrative. My kids were drawn in immediately.)

4. Learn how to ask big, open ended questions to get a conversation flowing. 

Which is your favorite? Why? (especially good in a room full of abstract art)

What do you see?

What story/feeling/idea do you think the artist is trying to communicate/tell us?

How do you think this was made? (my kids love this question - especially with sculpture).

Play ISPY to encourage close looking (my youngest son loves this and it works well with both abstract and representational art)

How does this painting/sculpture make you feel?

And do not be silent about sharing your feelings and thoughts on what you like or are confused about. Kids really benefit from listening to adults "think out loud" and demonstrate the process of figuring out complicated material.

5. To seal the deal of this great art adventure, if at all possible, have a drink or snack in the museum cafe. This is an important part of museum going. It allows your mind to soak in all you have seen, and very often in a nice surrounding. I usually have small journals with me, because my kids always want to draw immediately after they have been through an exhibition. Also, if you can, enjoy the museum store.  You can buy cool little trinkets or postcards to remember the visit by. 


*bonus idea

A membership to a local museum makes it easier to stop in for short visits so that going to see art becomes a normal part of your routine. Besides supporting the arts, usually a membership gives reciprocal benefits to other museums. We recently realized that when we upped our museum membership to a higher level, the reciprocals were amazing and paid for the membership quickly. It is definitely worth investigating.  





Do you go to museums with your kids? Any other tricks you have to make the experience fun for everyone?




Wednesday, May 16, 2012

snapshot of a morning :: blocks, googly eyes, shells and a theatre


Let your kids paint, draw and wood burn their building blocks. It adds a new element and excitement to make believe play.


And make sure to stock up on googly eyes in different sizes and colors. A big canister of rocks and shells is good to have around.


You might have to pop some popcorn for the ensuing shell and rock creature drive in.





Tuesday, May 15, 2012

just write - in the woods

mothers day. we were walking in the woods, looking for the bobcat from a few days ago. she was not there, just a few alligators, black as old tires and some loud crickets. the overcast sky and impending rain made breezes that were so sweet and unseasonal we had to keep mentioning it. the moss hung heavy, as if in preparation for the summer it knew was on the way. kids walked on their own, and then scared, huddled up with us, then trailed off again. a unidentifiable floating object in the water confounded a small group gathered on the dock. she said it stood up and walked as it neared the shore. elliot knew it was an alien, i thought maybe a balloon. we never found it. 








linking up this week with:

exploration lab :: mirrors and kaleidoscopes


This exploration lab is so simple, but surprisingly engaging and fun for kids (and adults). 


By taping two mirrors (unbreakable ones are the best for this)  together in the back, you can make a little kaleidoscope. We spent a good long time making patterns from paint stains on the art table, magazine and art book images and natural items. 


The closer you move the mirrors, the more reflections you can see and the more dynamic the pattern. By watching the mirrors while slowly opening and closing them, you can watch a beautiful morphing of color and shape. 


This is one of those little experiments that as soon as kids see what is happening they start exclaiming, "Wow! Awesome! Look at this!"


This is a good one to leave out (maybe on your nature table or window ledge) for each kid to revisit on their own to try new combinations or experiments. 




My kids especially liked making "creepy" creatures from the faces in a book of portraiture we had laying around!




Monday, May 14, 2012

monday missions :: write a letter


monday missions: a simple idea to add a little magic to your week.


This week, I want to share a newish hobby that we have been enjoying - writing letters. Once or twice a week, after learning lab (our version of homeschooling, where we work on projects and skills together) we gather supplies and work on our correspondence. My kids write letters to friends, grandparents and a particular uncle who provides us with all the wild reptiles and amphibians we need.


What is strange, is that most of the people we write to are local. And we see them several times a week! But the process of writing a letter and then telling the recipient to be on the look out for something cool or funny seems to make the process more enjoyable. Maybe because the letters go back and forth at such a fast pace? Whatever the reason, they are all having a blast!


So, what do you say to someone you see frequently? Well, we share jokes or ask questions, survey style, with little handwritten boxes. We also love to send things. For awhile there was a multigenerational  button exchange going on. Today,  my son sent his pen pal a fancy pipe cleaner and asked her to send him a cool pipe cleaner back. My very favorite exchange was when his pen pal sent a photograph of her sky and asked him to do the same - which he did. My daughter sent her much younger pen pal a tiny little container with a scrolled up note asking him to find the tiniest object he could fit into the container. One kid gives weekly updates to his uncle about the state of our tadpole colonies.


Whatever silliness happens each week, we are enjoying connecting with our friends in new ways and honing our writing skills along the way. I have been inspired to join in the fun and have been sending out some snail mail too. And when the mail comes each day and the kids all ask (as kids through out all of time must have), "Did I get anything?" I can usually say, "Yes!" And that is worth more than the price of a stamp.



Thursday, May 10, 2012

john cage, installation art, sound layering


We recently went to the engaging installation piece, John Cage 33 1/3 Performed by Audience, at the Tampa Museum of Art. We actually stumbled upon it after seeing the Romare Beardon exhibition and were surprised and then delighted as we played.


The exhibition was originally installed in 1969 at UC-Davis and this restaging is in honor of Cage's birth, 100 years ago. In the middle of a large room, a circle of 12 podiums hold record players. Bins on the side walls contain a few hundred records. Museum goers are invited to play one or many records, at whatever level they chose - mixing and overlaying sounds. 


What a blast! Buoyed by the eclectic collection (opera, world, punk...) my husband and I immediate began loading up record players and adjusting volumes. Our kids were a little shocked. I mean, I do tell them we need to NOT TOUCH in museums and BE QUIET. When they finally realized that we were part of the art, they began participating too. 


What I really love about this piece is that we have been recently playing with sound around hereThis experience just pushed it all to a new level of experimentation and playfulness. Layering sounds and physically manipulating records and volume knobs released the abstract notion of untouchable sound into something we could touch and mold - very similarly to what we do more easily in painting and sculpture. And by questioning the definition of music and even what might be pleasant to listen to, we learn that we can question basic assumption about anything.


We only have two record players at home, so I have been trying to figure out how to replicate at least a little of this exploration at home. I am thinking about gathering all the cd players (although I am not as keen on that) and maybe even playing along on the piano, guitar, organ, drums... or what about incorporating sounds from the vacuum cleaner or coffee grinder? What about all the electronic noise making toys (the ones I hate)? Try playing them all at once or in a sequence. 


How might you play with these ideas?


For all I think, read and write about creative living with children, I strongly believe that exposure to great, complicated, avant grade, weird, conceptual and/or installation art/film/music is paramount. EVERYTIME we engage in art, we are inspired and take something tangible back to our own atelier.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

big girl as she was


"Big girl as she was, Laura spread her arms wide to the wind and ran against it. She flung herself on the flowery grass and rolled like a colt. She lay in the soft, sweet grasses and looked at the great blueness above her and the high, pearly clouds sailing in it. She was so happy that tears came to her eyes." 

Laura Ingalls Wilder
By the Shores of Silver Lake


We are deep into the last books of the Little House on the Prairie and they just keep getting better. I think I will need to revisit them every few years. Have you read them all? 

Monday, May 7, 2012

monday missions :: make a wish cake

Monday Missions: a simple idea to add a little magic to your week.



This week, how about surprising your kids with a wish cake?


A wish cake is simply the easiest cake you can make or buy (this was a box cake I had knocking around the pantry).


The candles are lit, silly songs are sang, wishes are made and candles are blown out.


That is it. 


You will be amazed at the sparkle in your kids' eyes with this simple, unexpected treat. 


And if you choose to share your wishes with each other, you might just be charmed by all the goodness in their hearts.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

keep cool this summer :: 10 tips from the deep south


It is becoming hot and humid here and despite a sweet, late spring, cold snap (hello low 70's!) things are going to be unbearable soon. In the south, we (I) see summer much like people in the north must see winter; extreme weather that is challenging, sometimes keeps you inside and is a major deciding factor in your daily schedule.

When I see blog posts and magazine spreads about fireflies and evening picnics outside, I know those are not reflective of our season. The air is still like limp pudding at 10 pm. And where fireflies might be sweet, we have killer mosquitoes. And nothing less than toxic DEET works to bring relief.



 Here are 10 things that we do to stay cool and happy in the summer.

1. Eat popsicles for breakfast. No, really. First of all, it is really fun and seems so decadent. But in reality, all I do is keep the freezer stocked with frozen orange juice pops and pass them out each morning. My kids think they are living it up. *see the specks in the popcicle? They are chia seeds - full of omega-3's, protein and fiber!

2. Make friends with a pool owner. Well, this might sound obvious or like I am a jerk. But, you might have many friends who do not even know that you would love to swim in their pool. Offer to watch all the kids, while the other mom does her shopping or takes a nap, and bring watermelon and a fun game or toy and you are in!

3Move all cooking to the grill. In the summer, if the meal is to be hot, it is cooked outside. Kabobs, pizza, even pancakes and eggs can be cooked on the grill. We have our grill hooked up to the natural gas, so there is never a issue of being out of fuel. We just flip it on and cook on it several times a day. Inside, we make salads galore, gazpacho, veggies and dips, juices and smoothies.

4. Keep a master list of free and cheap summer activities. There are so many summer activities and camps around here that I can not keep track of them. So, I literally keep a list (or file folder) full of them. In the beginning of summer, I rarely need it because we are so jazzed about all that we have going on, but by the end we need some new ideas. I am part of a small home school co op that plans fun things for our kids to do, and we usually continue in the summer. I have schooled friends who do the same thing and even plan their own summer camps. A little bit of organization can make for a fun and action packed summer. Some of our favorites are free bowling, ice skating, free theatre movies, outdoor movies and concerts, flea markets and late afternoon beach trips for a bit of play and dinner before bed.

5. Stock up on sprinklers, water balloons, and kiddie pools. I budget a certain amount of hose time into each week. It is amazing how long my kids love to play outside in the hose. When they were very young, just the idea of being wet was thrilling enough, but now that they are older, their creative games fuel the fun. Kiddie pools become oceans for paper boat battles, dolls have swim parties, complex battles  are invented with water balloons and mama can sit on the deck and focus on number 6.

6. Invent your summer 2012 cocktail. I always need to have something I am working on, and a summer cocktail takes on a certain significance for me each summer. Something fun to sip on in the late afternoon before dinner when all is flowing as easily as the water from your hose. For several summers it was freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, Bombay gin, and a sprig of rosemary. Some summers are margarita summers; this might be the year I perfect my sangria. My kids also like fun drinks while they are playing outside. This is the season for curly straws, paper umbrellas, and homemade Orange Julius'.

7. Turn your bathtub into a pool. If you have worn out your welcome at your friends' pools (hopefully it did not have anything to do with number 6) you can always swim in your own bathtub. Bath tubs are great fun when the object of the bath is not to get clean. One of our favorite things to do is to tint the water with food coloring and scent it with essential oils. So, a blue bath with peppermint and big ice cubes becomes an arctic bath. And a green bath with a handful of herb sprigs from the yard is now a swamp bath. Do this at night, turn off the lights and throw glow sticks in the tub. Your kids will be amazed at how beautiful it is - and so will you.

8. Change your rhythm  Maybe most families already have a later bedtime in the summer, but you can adjust your rhythm even more. For instance, we tend to go wake up and go to sleep with the sun, which in the summer makes for much longer days. We usually do our outside playing or working in the early morning and late evening. Afternoons are reserved for some downtime, siesta style. So, laying around reading or watching a movie allows the kids to recharge for act two when the sun begins to set.

9. Host indoor movie nights with friends Most of our play dates tend to revolve around the outdoors. However, in the summer, if there is not water involved kids are hot, sweaty and cranky. An alternative idea is to host movie nights. We have done this a few times and it is always great. You can make it super easy and have everyone over after dinner. You, the host, can have popcorn and maybe something a little sweet (this is one of my kids favorite party treats). Kids can watch the movie and then play a bit and all go to bed happy. 

10. Freeze things. Turn your freezer into a laboratory. We freeze water into as many shapes as we can and then play with the ice, either outside or in the bathtub. Balloons, milk containers, yogurt containers, and  medical gloves make great ice shapes. For extra fun, float items inside. Try flowers, glitter, rocks, cars, plastic animals, ribbons, gold coins, fake jewels, Lego creations and even glow sticks (they are preserved in the freezer even if they have already been activated).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

exploration lab:: calligraphy


Recently, my mom came over to teach us some basics of calligraphy and it intrigued everyone. She brought guides and tracing paper for us to try to make decent looking letters. It was so much harder than I expected. The letters are not drawn in the typical sequence, so you are unable to write quickly - you have to pay attention to so many little motions, constantly correcting your hold and angle. I imagine it would be very relaxing and mediative if not done with three kids swirling around.

My kids love the story of Steve Jobs studying calligraphy and the lesson that you never know what interests will be useful later in life is a good one.


A jar of ink and a few pens are pretty reasonable and can offer even the most reluctant writer to explore penmanship in a fun way. 


Even my 5 year old experimented and loved writing with the nibs. While, I do not think we have any passionate calligraphers among us, we really enjoyed learning about it and continue to use the supplies in writing letters, journalling and making treasure maps. 



If you like this, you might also want to try writing with quills and making your own ink!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

make your own board game


Have you invented your own board games? We made several a few years ago, and just recently  remembered how fun it is. Since my children are older, they required much less adult assistance and the games are more inventive and creative because of it. 


suggested supplies:
opened and trimmed cereal box
sharpie markers/watercolors
paper to make cards are scrolls
dice
small toys
old cast off pieces from other games (pawns. spinners, timers)


I helped my kids brainstorm a theme (which is Booble - their collective paracosm), offered supplies, wrote a few things and then backed off. 


The backing off is the important part, because their ideas for this game were so much more open ended than I could understand. They were playing the game and playing in the world of the game at the same time. Does that make sense? 

There was a fluidity between the rules of playing the game and the creation of the game - both of which were happening simultaneously. 


In this game there were monsters to battle, scrolls to choose and read, various die used at different times, coins to be collected and traded for arms and a wizard who when you finished the board would send the player on the next mission. 


The beauty of game making is that anything that your child is interested in can be translated into a game. And there are no rules - because they get to make them up and change and tweak them as needed. 


Have you done this with your kids? If you are having a screen free week - this just might be the project to capture everyone's imagination each evening.

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