mama scout lab e-course

Thursday, June 28, 2012

send a message in a bottle (even if it does not go far)

from the archives

For much of the year, we love to head to the beach late in the afternoon for play and supper, returning home in salty pajamas to stumble to bed, our bodies still moving to the rhythm of the sea. Sending messages in bottles has been a recent exploration for my kids. On this particular day, they were unable to convince their bottles to take to the sea. The bottles kept rolling back in, only to be thrown out again and again. Eventually, my diligent merkids forgot and became interested in the huge fish swimming under them.

About this time, our immediate neighbor started shouting. (They were a young couple, VERY much in love). "Oh, my gosh! Oh, my gosh! A message in a bottle!!!" yelled the bikini-ed woman to her tattooed, smoking beau. They started running out of the water to their blanket, oblivious to the fact that we were the ones to send it out. Their excitement was palpable.

I was unnerved. Should we tell them? They might just get embarrassed or angry. Or should we just look the other way? Now, a small crowd was forming. They were all trying to get the message out - using sticks and smacking the end of the bottle. Suddenly, the woman started high stepping like a gazelle to the water. "Another one! Another one!" she screamed. Oh man, they found our other one. Surely, they are now going to figure it out. 

But no, they did not figure out. They were too engrossed in their own adventure to realize there was anyone else on the beach.  They finally retrieved the messages, read them, smiled and started making out again. Bikini woman looked out dreamily at the sea and said, "baby.... we should send out a message about us...." Then, more making out.

The initial disappointment of the bottles' truncated voyage was overshadowed by the pure gift of witnessing someone else find it (and so thoroughly enjoy finding it). Like flies on the wall, hearing others discuss our creation, we knew that our original intent of sending happiness into the world was met. Albeit, in a much different way than we anticipated - which made it happy and charming for us too.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

exploration lab :: newspaper tubes

This is a great exploration lab. Low on prep and money and high on open-ended possibility. I started by showing my kids how to roll up newspaper tubes (we like them on a diagonal - but try it both ways and see which way works for you).

Then step back. Get some coffee. Go pee. Seriously, get out of the way and see what happens. I wanted to make a structure, but the muse spoke differently to my children. 

My daughter made a life size doll/puppet and it has been danced with and thrown around for the last 2 weeks in all sorts of shenanigans. The best sort of fun! (The head is a piece of silky material stuffed with newspaper and drawn on with Sharpie Markers).

My son made a trident which also saw lots of pretend play until it finally broke. 

Neither of these projects required much adult assistance. I did offer suggestions on strengthening floppy parts and helped cut duct tape when that became tiresome. 

If you try this with your kids this week, I would LOVE to see what your kids come up with!

Monday, June 25, 2012

just watching the yeast fart

One of my kids is fascinated by yeast. (He is also has a deep love of entomology and herpetology). He frequently takes yeast and jars and sets up his own experiments. I have tried to interest him in becoming a master bread baker, thinking we would all benefit form his knowledge and product - but he was not interested. 

This is one of the types of things you can not anticipate a child being interested in. I mean, who would think? But here we are, watching the yeast wake up, bubble and then eventually die. He has wondered if you could get the yeast to eat things other than sugar, which led to a discussion of the oil noshing bacteria used in oil spills. When we wondered how we could catch wild yeast, an answer came while reading The Long Winter and we soon understood why Ma kept her starter underneath the stove. 

We had discussions of bread making courses I took in France and how different bakers have different methods for developing flavor (some that deal with yeast). We also talked about and tasted all sorts of fermented foods and thought about why they might be healthy for us.

And on and on....

In interest-led learning, or unschooling, or organic learning or whatever you want to call it - this is how it goes. An interest in something seemingly common and inconsequential opens the door (and sometimes the floodgates) to so much more. Connections and relationships between things, events, and ideas begin to weave webs of understanding that are deep and real and as individual as the learner. The universe has a way of offering up the most perfect education for the truly curious. And the beauty of all this is that it does not matter what the "entry subject" is. You can learn about the world by studying anything - calligraphy, zoos, perfume, comics and even just yeast. 

What is something you have studied that led you to unexpected places?

We have done another really great yeast experiment here.

full disclosure - if you buy one of these books, i get, like a nickel.

how to live

The scenery, when it is truly seen, reacts on the life of the seer. 

How to live.

How to get the most of life...

How to extract its honey from the flower of the world.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

oh my, onion tarte

from the archives

This onion tarte recipe (Alice Waters) is so unbelievably good. This is one of those recipes where something truly magical happens in the oven. The sum is so much greater than the individual parts.

This dough is a breeze to make and feels so good to work with. You can make it ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. Maybe make a few and experiment with other fillings...mushroom, tomato, grilled eggplant!

I actually used 3# of onion this time because I love them so much. My husband said it was too much - I think it was perfect. So, adjust based on your personal tastes. I also threw in some shallots.

You might think the onions are cooked earlier, but go for the whole 30 minutes. Basically, you are making an onion-y jam and the more they cook, the sweeter they become.

No tricks here, just roll out thin, throw the chilled onions on top and pull a rustic crust up along the sides to hold all that goodness. Brush with an egg was to make it shine!
When it comes out, you will have to restrain yourself for a bit to let it cool and set up. Maybe 15-30 minutes. This is perfect with a salad or some white wine. And it is great at room temperature, so you can take it on a picnic or to a potluck.

I promise this was not burnt - just perfectly, caramelized and roasted. Truly heaven.... Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

{make} a reading stone

We love inventions and making things. Last year, we had a awesome co op session on simple machines and inventions and wanted more. So, we are working our way through Build a Better Mousetrap: Make Classic Inventions, Discover Your Problem Solving Genius, and Take the Inventor's Challenge. Buy the end of the book, you are supposed to actually invent a new mousetrap, which is ironic, because we just found out the best way ever to repel mice/squirrels from our attic. We are much more into the repelling than the catching or killing. (The trick is ammonia soaked rags in open jars - it worked overnight!)

This week we made a reading stone. This project was so easy and satisfying, I had to share. Reading stones came to Europe via the Middle East in the 8th century and were laid on flat print to enlarge the image for people who were far sided.

what you need
unflavored gelatin
hot water
small bowl

what you do
Make the gelatin according to the package. I used one package, added 1/4 c water to dissolve and then 3/4 c boiling water to completely dissolve. You can go a little short on the water because that will make the gelatin stiffer. Pour into a small bowl and chill in the refrigerator for a few hours. When it is set, run hot water over the outside of the bowl and plop it out. Use a piece of plastic wrap over the image you want to read. That is it!


My kids loved not only the objective of the project, but also working with the gelatin. It sparked all sorts of ideas for them.We want to make homemade jello with fruit juice, gummi bears and just some more really thick jello to play with. How about homemade pore strips or an air freshener?


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

teach your kids to make their own food

In my "living above the details" mindset,  I have begun allowing my kids to make their own food. By make, I mean make - from scratch. 

My kids have been cooking alongside us from the time they were very young and know their way around the kitchen. But for some reason, I have not encouraged them to have free reign. Maybe with 3 kids and a busy schedule, I just figured I could do it efficiently and with less mess. Or my husband was making something more elaborate and we used the time to work on another project.

But, when I think of the bigger picture, it is imperative to us that they know how to cook well and navigate food and wellness independently. So, the locks and chains are off the kitchen door!

My barometer has shifted. I no longer use my judgement as the sole criteria, if they tell me they can do it, I let them. (Obviously helping where I can and ensuring a safe environment). My daughter has successfully cooked cakes and biscuits from recipes on her own. And my son. Well, he is a raw food junkie.

This kid loves salad more than anything and now makes his own dressing and salad at lunch. It is amazing to watch and he needs very little instruction. His salad dressing has extra Dijon because that is the way he likes it and some lemon zest because that is the way his Dad likes it. 

I can not wait to see what they cook next!

Do your kids cook their own meals? What sorts of things do they like to make?

Monday, June 18, 2012

monday mission :: live above the details

I read this quote, "live above the details" in the ebook Mindset for Mom by Jaime Martin and it struck me. 


It is the perfect mantra for the mindset I am constantly trying to cultivate. I have printed out the above image (feel free to do the same) and hung it in my bathroom as a reminder.

This week, I will work hard at:

-keeping the end goal in mind (happy, passionate children and adults)

-not worrying about the millions of things I could be doing at any minute

-keeping my computer off and iPhone in my purse

-scheduling free, play time each day (my kids have this, I do not)

What about you? Do you get mired down in the details of daily life? Do you get bent out of whack when the toilet is stopped up again or people in your house are bickering and cranky? What about that never ending laundry basket? Or always hungry bellies?

It is easy to forget what all the work and aggravation is for. Especially if you are a full time, stay at home parent. While some creative problem solving might be in order to make sure work loads are equitably distributed - those conversations will go more smoothly if the big picture of what you want your family life to look like is primary (and not the weird way others load the dishwasher).

Do you want to join me in running this mantra through your mind all week? To see if we can live above the details?

Friday, June 15, 2012

5 reasons to visit the dali museum

1. The architecture is beautiful. If you have an affinity for the pyramids at the Louvre, you will love this building. (Apparently, the Dali Museum's architect worked with I.M. Pei on the Louvre's renovation).The bulbous glass-fronted site overlooks the water and makes the center atrium feel light and spacious. The central spiral staircase, referencing the golden spiral (and some snails and shells) you will spot through out the museum, makes kids excitedly anticipate the visit. In fact, I can not think of a child who would not react to the "wow" factor of this building.

2. The outdoor space is great. On the water, even in hot weather there is a breeze, so you can let kids blow off some steam before you head inside. A tree festooned with old wrist bands fashioned into garlands, a hedged labyrinth, a huge mustache sculpture and physical representations of Fibonacci numbers and Pi piques interest and offers a preview of Dali's integration of science, art, nature and theatricality that awaits the visitor indoors.

3. The art.  Dali's surrealist art is fascinating and can lead to interesting observations and connections from kids. My one son loved looking for the bugs that are present in much of his art, my daughter really liked the hologram and sculptural work he did, and my other son enjoyed the amusing mustache photographs by Phillipe Halsman. There are small intimate portraits, detailed still lifes, massive, room-sized paintings with optical illusions, and films. The wide variety of Dali's oeuvre ensures that each visitor will find something to connect with and enjoy.

4. The food in the cafe is really good. Reasonably priced wine, tapas plates, and wonderful gazpacho made this a hit with our family. And as superfluous as it might seem, a great cafe can really make the visit so much more pleasant with children. One can fuel up before taking in the exhibitions or stop for a little break and let it all soak in between galleries.

5. The Dali Museum is very kid friendly. Perfect for a morning or afternoon museum jaunt, the Dali more than meets the needs of children museum goers. In addition to the above mentioned points, we were offered a fun scavenger hunt project that was just silly enough (with funny poems to solve) and easy enough (with generous hints and help from the friendly security guards) to keep my kids enthralled. The little prize they were offered at the end was good move too. 

If you are in the central Florida area visiting the beach or a big mouse, you might consider taking a day for some cultural enrichment at the Dali. I highly recommend not only the museum, but the downtown St. Petersburg area in general. There are several other great museums and lots of fun places to grab some food. 

If you are unsure about visiting museums with kids, I wrote a little guide here

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

math lab :: write a googol

Exploring huge numbers is so fun with kids. As soon as they are old enough to understand millions, and billions and trillions, the questions start coming. "What comes next?" "What if there are 10 zeros?" and "what is infinity plus one?"

So, just for fun my son decided to write a huge number - a googol. A googol is a 1 with 100 zeros behind it. 

Tape register tape is excellent for this (as well as all sorts of other projects). 

A good discussion question might be, "who uses these big numbers?" You can brainstorm how helpful they are to certain professions, how they would not be useful at all to others and show how to write numbers in exponential form. 

When math is approached in this exploratory way, it is engaging and exciting. 

What mathematical notions have you explored lately?

Monday, June 11, 2012

monday missions :: get the biggest library book

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

This week's mission is so simple - but I bet it will surprise you. 

1. Go to the library and find the biggest book you can. 

2. Look through it. 

3. Take a picture of your child with the book.

Our library has a shelf full of the biggest, most oversized books you can imagine! So big, you can hardly lift them! And you know if a book is that big, the subject matter must be impressive. 

Turn it into a quest, a treasure hunt. I can assure you that what ever books you find, they will be intriguing. 

We spent a rainy evening captivated by this Circus book, wondering about the freaks and the multi generational families and life on the road. But we could have just as easily looked at a huge architecture book, or one on biodiversity or space. They are all that good.

If you do this mission - please share! I would love to know what BIG book you found.

Friday, June 8, 2012

the snails are back

We raised snails last year and really loved it. This week, it has been overcast and raining - so we thought we might find some snails to watch again this year. We headed out to "snail alley" and they were there! Happily drinking up the water from the showers. So, we are setting up the habitat again. These are meditative and fascinating to watch. Here is my post from last year that shows how we did it. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

5 reason swimming is the perfect sport for kids

My kids are big swimmers. They take several classes every summer, one has particpated on swim team, they swim at their grandparents, friends and the beach frequently. As I spent the last few years waiting for kids in class or team practice, I began to feel that this sport is really amazing for kids bodies and minds and for some reason, maybe under rated. 

This is my commercial for swimming.

1. Swimming keeps your body and mind healthy. Swimming is amazing exercise for all kids, no matter what their level. The physical exertion is huge, but because the exercise is low impact, kids can work longer and receive more of the  benefits of rigorous. 

It is a great sport for overweight kids because they can move easily in the water. And asthmatic kids are said to do much better with swimming than any other sport. Kids with autism or attention disorders often do very well in swimming too. 

And unlike other sports where you might not get play time because of your skills (or lack of skills), in swim everyone is swimming the whole time. 

The effect on the mind is just as amazing. When my daughter first started swimming, she had a hard time falling asleep at night and often complained of stomach aches. Swimming cured her racing and unsettled, worrying mind. Not only was she working out stress through her body, but her mind was basically benefitting from long meditation sessions. She told me when she swims, it is like she is flying and she is free. I have read similar accounts from swimmers who feel the pressures of life melt away as soon as they start swimming laps.

2. Swimming has the benefits of both team sports and individual sports. For the noncompetitive kid, swimming offers the camaraderie of a team, but the ultimate competition is always against yourself; trying to beat a time, or perfect a stroke or flip turn. 

3. There are few injuries in swim Because of the low impact nature of swimming, injuries are rare. The biggest potential issue might be muscle over use, but swim coaches should know how to condition their team so that this is never an issue.

4. Being a good swimmer keeps kids safe around pools and on boats. That is pretty obvious, but my kids seems to have assumed a very safety conscious attitude around water and it makes me feel much more secure at events where water is involved. 

5. Swimming is a life long activity. This is one of the biggest benefits of swimming. You can swim when you are old! The gift of proper form and built up endurance as a kid will help swimming carry you through your life as a paradoxically gentle and rigorous activity. 

Do you have kid swimmers in your house? What are some of the benefits you have noticed?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

writing lab :: word bank comics

Word bank comics are such a fun writing lab with kids of all ages. 

1. To make the word bank, we took turns rolling an alphabet die (you can see it lurking around in the bottom picture). Then we each thought of the funniest/craziest/most unique word we could and wrote it on an easel. This part alone was super fun and helped get our creative juices flowing.

2. Then each kid used comic blanks (I print mine off from here) to make a zany comic using as many of the words from the bank as they can (or want to - sometimes, they end up going in a completely different direction, and that is ok).

The end results are always hilarious: Dracula trying to get a kiss from some fancy ladies, warnings not to step on cracks (to avoid breaking mothers' backs) and pick up Quidditch games with dogs (and there is usually some poop humor too). 

My kids love drawing comics as much as they like reading them. We keep them all in page protectors in a binder and I can frequently find them on the couch rereading their work and laughing out loud. 

Do your kids like comics? Do they draw them too? Any great resources to share?

Monday, June 4, 2012

monday mission :: spread kindness

This weeks mission is to spread kindness. 

But, I have a different take on it. Instead of premeditating a kind act (like paying parking meters or leaving muffins on a neighbor's doorstep), let's go all guerrilla kindness!

Go about your regularly schedule life but turn off the constant inner monologue. Try your very hardest to  keep yourself open all week. 

By getting out of your own head when you are in public places, you will be able to REALLY see others, connect to their humanity and feel what they might need. 

I thought of this idea the other week and was treated to an amazing experience the very next day (an experience that I almost missed because of my own self involvement).

My family and I were headed out of town for an impromptu museum and adventure day. My husband pulled up in front of the library so I could run in and quickly grab a book on tape for the hour and half ride. As soon as I entered the library and scanned the new books, an elderly man approached. 

"Do you know the computer?" he asked me in a heavily accented voice as he held out a receipt with a website and some numbers scrawled on it. "Uh, yeah" I replied a little confused, "you need to go over there to the computer lab."

I walked him over, only to find out that he already had a computer and was stuck on filling out his application to Wendy's. My heart dropped. My kids were outside so excited to get on the road, this looked complicated, and why was this old man applying to work at Wendy's? 

One real look into his pleading, watery blue eyes, made me sit down. We got started and when I realized that this was going to be complicated, I told my waiting family to come in, I would be awhile. By being open, I could feel something flowing in me, just beneath the surface. It whispered, "Be here with him. Help him."

While I helped him fill out his application, I learned that this 76 year old Italian immigrant had worked as a chef in New York and Hawaii for the last 40 years. I realized that he must have remembered living under Mussolini and spent WW2 in Italy. I knew he had lived a big life just as a consequence of his longevity and surely had some amazing stories to share.  He was now in Florida with family and given the current economy needed to find a job. 

My heart broke. He was so energetic, optimistic and willing to work every day for 12 hours, if he needed to. But he was also sort of helpless. He willingly handed me his driver's license, social security card, phone numbers and address. No one else in the computer lab would help him. So he found me when he was wandering around the lobby seeking assistance.

Confused at why he could not apply for a job in person, we found the internet application to be weird and insulting. 

He was asked insipid questions like, "if there is a cup on the floor, will you pick it up, or call a manager over to get it?" He could not understand why they would ask questions like that. Because that is how far some of us have fallen, I wanted to say. We can utilize a computer to apply for a job, but lack the common sense to pick up a cup. We laughed at alot of the questions and I gave him the number to a local Italian owner restaurant, thinking he might have better luck there. 

The whole encounter did not take much longer than 30 minutes and when I refused money for helping him, he shook my hand and wished for many blessings to befall my family. A blessing which I must say, I am still benefitting from. 

So, this week look for opportunities to serve others. If someone approaches you, relax. Do not immediately try to angle to get away. Stop trying to protect yourself and your attention. See what blessing might come your way.

Oh, and for a bit of irony. This man shared the same same name of the artist we were in such a big hurry to see.

If you have a story and encounter this week, I would love it if you shared it here. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

mini maker faire

This last weekend we excitedly attended the mini Maker Faire in Orlando and thoroughly enjoyed it. My kids were entranced by the R2D2 builder's club display, robotics demonstrations, Lego creations, traditional book binding demonstrations and some wild hacked musical instruments. 

The highlight for them was the learn to solder workshop. My 6 year old is really interested in electronics and robotics and has soldered a bit at home, but this little lesson helped build his confidence and skills. The facilitator was really great in empowering and encouraging him.

Outside we looked through an electric (and solar) car display, watched a mini racer demonstration and met a 16 year old student who was building a huge model of this sculptor/engineer's work
Mini Maker Faires are popping up all over the country. If you have not attend one - GO! The projects, displays, demonstrations and products highlighted are all wonderful, but the best part is being surrounded by a community of passionate do-ers, builders, and makers. 

Mainstream education should be studying multi-generational community events like this when planning STEM education. The open, playful, celebratory environment is fertile ground for inspiring 
new creators and inventors.


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