mama scout lab e-course

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

astronaut training

Part of astronaught training, I told him, was to learn to make a summer fruit torte. He agreed that it was very important and took the job like a commander.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

raise an egg and your hope

While walking around our neighborhood lake, my daughter found an egg near the road, far from all the nests. It seemed abandoned, no doubt by the duck who laid it and knew it to be a dud. So, the nature, animal loving nymph immediately asked to bring it home and raise it.

I am not sure that I can rightly claim the title of "unschooler," but one big thing I have gleaned from the philosophy is to make "yes" automatic. By saying yes, we do not close down opportunities that might be inconvenient or nontraditional and have had so many adventures because of it. So, even though I was tired and worried that the egg would explode and stink up my house.... I said "Yes! See what you can do, and let me know how I can help you."

She carried the egg gently, trying to keep it warm in her hands (I did say, "no" when she asked me to pop it in my bra for safe keeping). When we got home, she found and cleaned an old tank,  hooked up a heat lamp, researched the appropriate temperature, made a nest and watched. (We also looked at the egg with a light and knew it was empty and nothing would hatch from it.)

The egg has been there for nearly two weeks now. She turns it three times a day, and adds to its nest frequently.  She is smart and knows it is not going to hatch, but she also loves magic and the improbable. And some times those things need an incubator too. I wonder how many times we as parents take away the opportunity to wonder and dream because we insist on practically and reason. Kids are a great reminder that we can actively choose to participate in fantasy for no other reason than the joy of it.

What have you been incubating lately?

*Have you read The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth? It is good! And definitely fueled some of the imaginative play around this more moderately sized egg.

Monday, August 29, 2011

the butterflies emerged

update to this post.

I will never tire of watching butterflies emerge from their chrysalises. I never saw this as a kid. At all. Maybe I did a worksheet where you cut out and order the stages of the life cycle. I don't even remember that. As a homeschooling mom, I really appreciate being able to fill in the many gaps of my early education. And hearing my 5yo excitedly explain to me how he saw the insect pull its body from the cocoon - sorta puts me over the moon.

Have you raised butterflies with your kids? Do you remember doing it as a kid?

if you give a girl a sewing machine

she will squirrel away in the sewing room, only to emerge a hour or so later bearing a gift, the kind a mom loves....

"I made this for you, Mommy...a ballerina cat. I used some of your linen, I hope that is ok."

"Of course that's ok.... thank you."

 Such is the joy of a having a daughter.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

go to the bank and write a story

Never underestimate the power of a word bank for creative writing! My kids love word banks to get their juices flowing. This is especially useful for perfectionist children who might get caught up in the mechanics of spelling and are unable to get into the rhythm. Sometimes my kids collectively dictate a word bank or sometimes I offer one up on our easel to use during their writing time. It is also a simple way to introduce new themes into their writing. Have you used word banks? If so, how was the response?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

photo alphabet hunt

This was a super activity to keep my active 5 year old busy while I was working with my other two kids. He used his digital camera to hunt and shoot things around the house that started with a letter I gave him. So, for instance, he took a picture of our cat for C and then came to show me. After I looked at it, I gave him another letter. He became increasingly creative as the project went on... focusing less on concrete objects, and more on loose associations to the words he wanted to use.  This activity was a hit and I think I might try it with numbers, colors or even feelings.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

wet alphabet

This is simple and engaging. Write the alphabet on a chalkboard and let your child trace the letters with a paint brush dipped in water. This is great for working on the proper strokes. We have used water to draw on the chalkboard before but never thought of writing letters or words until I saw this pin on pinterest.

Monday, August 22, 2011

write your alphabet with wax sticks

Wax sticks, which are available everywhere now, are just sticky enough to stick on walls and doors without damaging surfaces. The are great to offer to a young speller to write simple words or just to practice the alphabet with. There are some decisions that have to be made about size and ways to shorten the sticks with out cutting them. They are a great tool to have in the arsenal of fun.

How do you use wax sticks?

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book review:: the write start

I recently received a copy of The Write Start: A guide to Nurturing Writing at Every Stage, from Scribbling to Forming Letters and Writing Stories, by Jennifer Hallissy. Boy, I wish I had this book when my kids were younger. It is packed with great information and projects to support your children's emerging writing skills.

Hallissy is a pediatric occupational therapist, so she offers a different perspective on writing than many of the more creativity driven books in my library. She spends the first third of the book explaining the stages children go through when they are learning to write. She insists that skills like learning to hold a pencil and  positioning paper correctly as well as sitting in a properly sized chair are paramount to becoming efficient writers. Efficient writers, then go on to become quicker note takers, better focused students, and more productive writers.

The real meat of the book is the 52 projects that make up the rest of the book. The  projects are simple ideas that promote a writing rich home. Some are classics, like making mail, playing restaurant and diary writing. But others are more unique. How about keeping track of your finances (real or fantastically imagined) in a real ledger? Or making a simple score board for back yard games? I am particularly interested in making a big dry erase thought bubble to play around with and writing words with cooked spaghetti. Each activity helpfully comes with notes on the four stages of writers, so you can adjust and know what to expect based on your child's level. There are also resource and tool lists as well as a link to a website where you can print off the many well made templates that she uses through out the book.

If you have or work with young children, this is an essential book to have on your shelf. It inspires parents to take time to explore and play with words with their children.

For the rest of the week, I will be posting some very simple activities that promote literacy, particularly learning the alphabet.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

back with a new perspective

I am back! My week off was pretty great - I made pickles and homemade maraschino cherries with my husband, lost and re booked an apartment for NYC in September, hosted a mini-slumber party, bought a few hundred pounds of produce for canning, rode my bike with all 3 kids (by myself!), and tried to get my fall somewhat organized. I stayed off the computer as much as possible and realized that if I am going to blog, and sell badges, and support others, I need to set a schedule of when I am can be online. Being connected all day is exhausting and rattling my brain! How do you manage your online time?

I will be here tomorrow with a book review and a themed week!

Friday, August 12, 2011

endless summer - a wee break

Whew! This summer was one for the books. We tend to be busier in the summer because of all the fun classes and camps that are available. This summer, the classes combined with all sorts of milestones - and boy are we exhausted! We met new levels in swim, won ribbons and conquered some big fears. Bikes were ridden without training wheels and kids went to either their first camp, or their first all day camp. Ears were piereced and sleep overs and solo playdates were enjoyed by all. Body surfing and bowling were mastered, first words were read and chapter books endlessly consumed. Throw in a juice fast and lots of blogging, and you just about have the picture!

Alot of people are taking off August, which seems like such a great idea, but I think I would like to take off just one big week. We are in the midst of furniture rearranging and some renovations, so I doubt I will be resting too much. I will see you here again on August 22nd :)

{this moment}

image from the week. no words. via soulemama.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

make a story lantern

After reading through the latest issue of Alphabet Glue*, we decided to make story lanterns.  This project was simple but both my 9yo and 5yo loved it and the end result was so stunning, I am thinking of all the applications (gifts, birthday jars, memory jars, solstice jars, wish jars....).

My daughter wrote a poem based on the writing prompt from Rip The Page, "If I planted my heart...." and my son dictated an adventure story. We simply wrote up, or typed the text, glued it on the jars (smooth jars work the best) and glued water colored illustrations and tissue paper on the entire jars. When we lit them up that evening, they were enchanting! So beautiful and moving to see your words illuminated! They lit our table for dinner and went up with us to story time. I had to wait until everyone was asleep to blow them out.

I am inspired by this project.... it makes the words you write flicker and dance themselves alive. I feel like I should do this with my creative group - let my words light up too!

*Alphabet Glue is a very fun e magazine filled with crafts, project, and book lists for kids and grown ups who love books (um, that would be me! hand raised!).  You can find out more about the first two issues here. They are a great bargain for only $4 an issue; perfect to tuck away for rainy days or would make a great present! (Annie is donating all proceeds from sales this week to the crisis in Somalia).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

portrait:: their tree

This fallen oak tree has been a huge part of my children's outdoor adventure time. It is in a public preserve that we visit a few times a week during most of the year. They refer to it as "their tree" and have in some ways grown up on it, especially my youngest. From not being able to get up too high, to walking tightrope style and even getting around the vertical branch in the middle.

They meet there with our small homeschool group and it is amazing how each session takes on a imaginative flavor of its own, from battles, to playing house, or a perennial favorite - clay factory. They have found at the base of the tree, a moist clay deposit that they use to build bowls and little people. They play at this for hours, divvying up the jobs, the raw materials, the distribution guidelines and all with no adult interaction  - just kids negotiating. It is really amazing.

On this tree they have found skinks, ate untold amounts moss, tried to fly, tested their physical limits, watched dried up resurrection ferns come alive and connected deeply to a piece of nature. So much so, that they claim ownership of the tree. And I think (and hope) that their childish "ownership" will mature into  stewardship that extends to all living spaces. I was recently very moved when I thought both about the amount and quality of time spent at the tree and felt I really needed to make a photograph that captured something of its essense.

Does your family have a natural spot that you are deeply connected to? Have you taken its portrait?

Monday, August 8, 2011

cardboard and duct tape weaponry

My boys love to battle. As uncomfortable as it used to make me, I get it now (sorta). They work through emotions and struggles through play battling - and they seem to come out closer in the end. With a few boundaries and guidelines we are all happy. They love to make their own weapons from cardboard and duct tape. It is so easy and satisfying.

They draw and cut out the shapes from cardboard. We use this cutter and it is much easier than wrestling with scissors. After cutting, they cover their weapons with duct tape (and sometimes tin foil), build up the weak spots and make adjustments. That is it. The swords, battle axes, and shields are not the only inventive aspect of this play, so are the deep, engulfing tales they create.

Do your kids battle? Do they make their own weapons?

Friday, August 5, 2011

{this moment}

image from the week. no words. via soulemama.

movie night:: The Fox and the Child

This is perhaps one of my very favorite children's films ever. It is so stunningly beautiful and captures a true and epic struggle between children and nature. My slight obsession with the movie might be tangled up with the fact that I have a red haired, blue eyed girl who reminds me of Lulu in the film, as well as a highly intuitive nature boy. So, I see two of my children clearly in The Fox and the Child.

The plot is pretty simple and classic. Lulu, 10 years old, becomes enamored with a fox she sees in the woods. She spends a good part of the year following the fox, befriending her and eventually thinking she has tamed her. The ending is dramatic and offers a coming of age and more mature understanding of the natural world for Lulu. This is an important realization for children who feel like they want to own and possess everything in nature. (I had one of those for awhile).

With minimal narration and dialogue, the film relies on lush and fantastical imagery to convey the story and mood. The woods is a comforting place, where Lulu begins to see more and more because she is quiet and really looks. One night she gets lost and must spend the night in the woods; the nocturnal animals become active and the trees seem to come alive. She is very frightened, but soon corals her imagination and sees the magic of the forest at night.  When she wakes up, the fox is next to her. She reaches out to touch it (something she had wanted to do badly from the start); you can hear her breathing, rapid heart beat and finally a melting relief as she sinks her hand into the fur on the vixens neck.

Lulu's attachment to the fox as she begins to tame it illustrates the slipperly slope when fascination with a wild animal turns into ownership. She names the fox, Lily and wants her to play human games. "She was my secret... I felt like I really understood her... she was my real friend...." This shift in engagement with the fox portends the upcoming fissure in their realtionship. We clearly see the confusion in the foxes eyes as Lulu's needs change. I will not spoil the ending other than to it all turns out okay. If you watch this with a younger child (as I have), you might want to look it up and warn them of a dramatic scene in the last part of the movie.  Lulu's emotional journey ends when she narrates, "In that moment I understood why humans and foxes could never really be freinds. I confused possesion with love." And she drops the scarf which she had been using as collar.

You can link to THIS blog for some more amazing images from the film. The natural scenery is amazing, and so is her bedroom!

Discussion questions
Why do you think Lulu is so smitten with the fox?
What are some of the ways Lulu got closer to the fox and gained her trust?
How are domesticated and wild animals different?
What do you think is the bravest thing Lulu did?
What do you think is the most dangerous thing Lulu did?
In the scene where Lulu was lost in the woods at night, why was she so frighten at first and then not?
Is it okay to take a creature from nature?
Have you ever tried to tame a wild animal?
Why did Lulu change her mind about being friends with Lily at the end of the movie?

Extension ideas
visit a wildlife rescue in your area
be open to raising and releasing a wild animal if the opportunity arises
go to the woods and sit quietly and see what happens
research the history of  the domestication of animals
match up wild versions of domesticated animals (dogs/wolves, cats/wild cats etc.)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mister Rogers

image from

I am having a little love affair. With Mister Rogers. I am sure I watched his program when I was a kid, but since I have had children, it has not been broadcast in our area and there are very few episodes available on DVD. So, the show just sorta slid by our radar. Until now. We are able to watch nearly all the episodes on our Amazon Prime account and are rediscovering the good that was that show and man.

This program offers children a safe space to explore their emotions. Mister Rogers offers suggestions and reflections on being scared, being different and even death. His gentle manner reassures children that they are loved and will be ok. His mantra that it is much more important what you are on the inside than the outside seems eerliy absent today. This show might seem sappy and sentimental - but I see my kids' (who are 5, 7 and 9) engaged and repsonding to the message. It speaks to a place inside of them that is not represented in most mainstream kids' media.

Beyond the emotional intelligence of the show, I really appreciate that Mister Rogers is always interested and curious in things. He and other adults are shown playing and experimenting with toys, props and many musical instruments. He is not portarayed as an authoriative adult who is teaching  children, rather he shares things, wonders out loud and encourages the viewer to do so as well.

The show also serves as a reminder to adults to be the best version of themselves. He is kind, considerate, helpful and patient. It is a good day when I can be all that. His consistant message of it being ok "to be just the way you are" is a really important one for parents to keep at the surface. How many times during the day do I find myself not accepting a child's (or my own) intrinsic traits? More often than I care to mention.

Much of television is so mean and low. (Have you read in NutureShock about educational shows and the connection to bullying?). While I do not exactly censor what my children see, or ask to see, I do think it is important to monitor the type of media diet they are fed. Just like I try to feed them organic, whole foods, I want their minds to have mostly the good stuff too. When we are on vacation, there is usually a lot of Sponge Bob watching going on, and we laugh and enjoy the bathroom humor - but it is not something that we feel like we need to see daily. Just like we don't need to eat hot dogs or cotton candy regularly.

Do you monitor the type of shows your family watches? Would you (do you) watch Mister Rogers with your kids?

"All we're ever asked to do in this life is to treat our neighbor-espeically our neighbor who is in need-exactly as we would hope to be treated ourselves. That is our ultimate responsibility." 
Mr. Rogers

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

build with toothpicks and marshmallows

This is an excellent, open ended activity for kids of all ages. I actually think it would be great fun as an after dinner activity with adults. All you need are toothpicks and marshmallows, things you might have in your pantry right now. I try to give minimal guidance during projects like this. I listen and watch and am amazed at the connections and discoveries. What started as simple shapes morphed into museums, dumb bells, and giant squids. Representation aside, the engineering ideas were flowing too. There were discussions about stabilization of structures as well as compression and expansion.  The kinetic potential was explored as cranes and earth monitors we built.  Every age can build and play with this, and maybe snack a bit too. It is a great activity to have tucked away for rainy (or super hot) days.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

make ice cream in a bag

This summer we have been making ice cream in a bag. It will be a classic for us. I am even thinking of taking it on the road this fall when we camp on an primitive island - if I can sacrifice the ice. This is so simple. The biggest tips I would like to share are:

1. Do this outside. The condensation on the bag is considerable and makes a big mess. If there is any leak of the actual water from inside the bag, you will have really salty water dripped all over your house (do not ask me how I know this).

2. Shake gently. If you are too rough, the ice cream bag will get salt water into it and muck up the taste. So, no need to throw the bag all over the yard. Just shake back and forth or roll it around.

3. Make sure you surround the ice cream bag with the ice. If it is just sitting on top, it will not freeze.

4. Do not skimp on salt. It makes the temperature colder than the ice and is the magic that freezes the ice cream mixture.

Monday, August 1, 2011

how to waste wisely your monday

My meditation and intention for the day. (Along with stopping the homemade bagels).

To awaken each morning with a smile brightening my face; to greet the day with reverence for the opportunities it contains; to approach my work with a clean mind; to hold ever before me, even in the doing of little things, the ultimate purpose toward which I am working; to meet men and women with laughter on my lips and love in my heart; to be gentle, kind and courteous through all hours; to approach night with weariness that ever woos sleep and the joy that comes from work well done - this is how I desire to waste wisely my days. 

Thomas Dekker


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