Every birdy needs some love especially during these freezing cold days of winter! Here are a few ideas to help you show the birds (and let's be honest - the squirrels are gonna eat some too) that you care.
1. Fruit garland!
Shared (This is the one we tried this year - giving our Christmas tree a second life near the bird feeder outdoors!)
2. Berries and Cheerio Heart Ornaments for Valentine's Day!
4. Apple Birdseed Feeders
5. Orange-ya Glad the Birds Visited?
6. Last but not Least! More for Mommy:
As ever, mama needs some special time to go birding on her own in the winter. Try keeping a nature journal of what you observe during a nature walk- either writing or sketching or both. This article by Claire Walker Leslie is good for inspiration!
Scenes from a New England Winter
The Hygge You Say?
According to The Little Book of Hygge, Hygge is the Danish term for "cozy togetherness" and there is nothing like a good picture book and a hot cup of cocoa to bring you and your little one together during the cold of winter! Here are 10 books that offer you a little bit of Hygge with your preschooler:
Your List of 10 Hygge Books to Cuddle Up With Together
1. Owl Moon
2. Owl at Home
3. Very Hairy Bear
4. Mouse and Mole: A Winter Wonderland
5. Fox's Garden
6. White Snow, Bright Snow
7. Winter is the Warmest Season
10. Wolf in the Snow
More for Mommy
As ever, this blog is not just for the little ones in your life - it's for you too! I'm gonna go ahead and assume that you wouldn't reject a hot cuppa tea and a good book by the fire so here are a few ideas for getting your hygge on this winter too!
Nothing is more cozy than a village mystery and the first selection by Louise Penny offers three Inspector Gamache tales taking place in small town Quebec. Next up "Le Grand Meaulnes" is a beautiful French classic about a boy who comes across a "lost estate" in the deep of winter and his search for the feelings of childhood warmth and magic that this space created for him. Finally, explore more about the whole idea of Hygge with the last selection which offers practical ideas for integrating coziness into your home and life. Click on the images below to explore each title:
My daughter and I recently went to see and hear Stravinsky's Firebird performed by the National Arts Centre Orchestra here in Ottawa with accompanying theatrical performance by Enchantment Theater Company. She is now 6 years old so - not a preschooler anymore - but there were many younger ones there - even one expecting mother sat behind us to soak in the sounds of classical music! (It's never too early!) Now. It's important to note that this performance was part of a series designed with children in mind and that is enormously helpful when introducing your child to classical music performances - but not necessary.
If you are thinking of taking your little one to the symphony - here are a few ways to be sure you both can enjoy the experience.
1. Know the Story
Taking time to order a few books from your local library a week or so before to get acquainted with the story is a lot of fun. Many classical compositions take their origin in a legend or tale and if not - there are usually some picture books about the composer that are out there waiting to be read! No time for all that? Check out cute little sites like Seed Learning to get everyone up to speed!
2. Listen to the Music
Duh. I guess this one is a no-brainer, hey? It's always fun to see the look of recognition come over your child's face when they have been listening to the piece before they arrive at the concert. Take out some markers and let your little one colour while listening to the music.
3. Go time! Tips for during the performance:
Arrive early! When we got there we found many little pre-performance activities had been planned for the kids. We went to the washroom, got cozy in our chairs and got all our sillies out including the delight of being so light that our chairs folded us up like little tacos. (Ok. My chair was fine .. I'm sure it was just a defect). While we waited we talked about the times that are best to clap, how to sit properly in the chair and what we would order to drink and munch on at the intermission.
4. Take Advantage of the After-Effect
The concert's over and it was wonderful and you both enjoyed yourselves! So. What now? Well.. the fun has just begun! Now you can explore other performances and videos online like this original interpretation of Firebird by Disney in Fantasia 2000!
5. More for Mommy
As an adult, who has now attended the Firebird, you may wish to learn more about Stravinsky's artistry. I sure did! Take a peek at this wonderful video called "Discovering Stravinsky's Firebird: The Story and the Music"
Would you and your little one like to explore Picasso's portraiture in a hands-on way that brings you closer and lets you reinterpret the idea of what a face "should" look like in art? Try these activities:
In the Mirror!
Grab a mirror with your little one and sit together to paint your own self-portraits! The goal is to make it as mixed up a face as possible. Next, leave the mirror aside and draw portraits of one another. Do NOT show each other until you have a finished product to make each other laugh!
Picasso Head: A Digital Game!
Visit Picasso head where you can drag and drop ears, eyes, lips eyebrows and hair in any manner you please! Next, have fun enlarging or rotating each feature to make your own unique Picasso head.
More for Mommy
I'm starting a new feature on this blog called "More for Mommy" where each time I provide a resource or idea for your preschooler to pursue their passion for the arts and nature, I will also provide something more for you as a parent or caregiver (you don't have to actually be a mommy to get something out of this). Here is the first more for mommy! Take a peek at this lovely and insightful article/gallery on Picasso's portraits called "Pablo's people: the truth about Picasso's portraits."
1. Picture Advent Calendars
Initially developed in Germany, these 24 little cardboard doors opened by chubby little fingers revealed magical pictures each day to help build a child's excitement for Christmas morning. The last image is always of the nativity to remind us of the reason for celebration at this time of year.
Because my mother spent some of her childhood in Germany, several of our family traditions are connected to those she remembers from this magical time of her life. As a result, chocolate calendars were highly verboten in our home growing up although my sister recently got a tea one - each day a new tea - and that was begrudgingly permitted. (Hee hee!)
It is always fun to guess what the picture might be! One year my husband and I got a very strange advent calendar with several images of crows with bones in their beaks whose meanings we are still trying to decipher....
2. Christmas Markets
Although our hometown has hosted a Christmas market for the past few years, this year we had a most glorious one in our town square that was truly reminiscent of Europe but with a Habitant twist. We live in Quebec and so there were many folksy crafts (beautifully braided mangers) along with the requisite mulled wine and pretzel stall. I was thrilled to purchase a beautiful organic tourtiere (the traditional meat pie served in French Canadian culture) for my grandmother who recently moved into a retirement home and who no longer bakes her lovely pies.
3. Ghost Stories on Christmas Eve
For my sister, The Nutcracker sparks the ultimate Christmas magic but for me the reading or watching of "A Christmas Carol" means Christmas has arrived! I love the idea that families used to gather before the fire and tell ghost stories on Christmas Eve. Clearly, there was a desire to work through the idea of the afterlife as part of a thoughtful Christmas tradition.
By the way, have you seen the new movie about how the story was born out of Dickens' serious case of writer's block?
And there we have it! European Christmas truly is the best! Prove me wrong! Are there North American traditions that can rival these?
Read alouds are now officially a huge hit in our house and we are ready to spend more time by the fire this winter as a family reading together after supper. We've discovered that being super flexible about when and where we read makes it more likely that we can commit to the process. Sometimes, my daughter and I will read on the couch while little brother gets his bath and other times we all get in our jams and under the covers to find out what happens in the next chapter.
Last season, The Princess in Black was a huge winner and because it was the first in a series, I may have a lead for Santa on what to bring down our chimney for next year's reading. Ok! Let's get this reading started and what better way to kick off the Christmas season than a book about toys?
December: Toys Go Out
One little girl packs three of her most beloved toys in a backpack and takes them on many wonderful adventures! Have you ever wondered what your toys are thinking? Wonder no more! Each toy takes a unique perspective on the world around it and on the little girl that they love. (Having just started out - we are discovering this one may be a bit of a stretch for my toddler so we have this one as back up at the library for those nights when he needs more pictures to sustain his attention. Bramble and Maggie: Snow Day.)
Lately, I've been reading a wonderful little book on beauty called "The Invisible Embrace Beauty: Rediscovering the True Sources of Compassion, Serenity and Hope" and it is having an enormous impact on my daily living. So much so that I am compelled to share a little of it here with you.
So you know that phrase "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder"? Turns out, I've been reading it wrong all this time. Have you? I always presumed it was about subjectivity and how the aesthetic judgments of individuals differ from person to person but what if that's not the meaning at all? What if the "eye of the beholder" means that you need to alter your visual perceptions of the world to encounter beauty on a regular basis? This is one of the primary questions O'Donohue is asking in this book.
I have been on the look out for beauty every single day since beginning the book and it turns out it's sitting there around every single corner of my life but I have to remind myself to do it. It doesn't come to me automatically to seek out the beautiful in the world. However, I've noticed of late that this is not the case for my kids. They seem not only to bump into beauty on an astonishingly frequent basis but I'm beginning to think - beauty has a way of finding them! So here are a few images of my children finding beauty and a few quotations from the book to inspire you!
There is something in our clay nature that needs to
If our style of looking becomes beautiful,
When you regain a sense of your life as a journey of discovery,
I realize that most of these photos are of us in nature and of course it's true that beauty is so easily found there when you are on the lookout for it. However, moments of beauty are not limited to nature trails! The way your parent places a spoon beside a bowl full of soup, the well worn spine of a favourite book, the tip of your husband's tongue when he's concentrating. I am learning and finding. Every day. Where is beauty hiding in your life?
Chances are if you ask your child to draw a tree, this is the kind of thing you're gonna get. Am I right? Ok ok... I know you're child is Picasso - so is mine but - if I'm honest with you and myself - when she draws a tree - she draws something along these lines.
Now, in truth, this isn't the full picture of a tree is it? If we think about it for more than a moment, this is only half the picture! A whole network of beautiful roots underground gets completely ignored when we try to depict a tree. I don't think I realized how this so strikingly until I visited Cambodia many years ago - before children. Suddenly, I was able to see the full power and impact of tree roots at the Ta Prohm temples. Here is an image I took of a small doorway overtaken by roots. Enchanting huh?
Want to share the enchantment with your little observer? Try this simple nature journal entry:
1. Settle in near your favourite tree.
If you have one you visit regularly that has become "your" tree - lay out a blanket near it. Otherwise, just choose a tree that feels right! Next, walk several meters away and survey the tree from a distance. What do you see? Leaves, branches, needles, a trunk? Next, examine the tree up close - perhaps some roots are even visible above the ground! Explain to your little observer that trees have a whole network of roots below the ground that we can't see. That's how the tree drinks and eats!
Fall is the time to get cozy with little ones with a cup of something warm, a blanket and a good read aloud. Right now, I target my read alouds to my daughter's age (she's 6) but usually my toddler will listen in for a bit off and on and many of these books could work for preschool-aged children too. You're the best judge of what will keep your child listening at story time but occasionally introducing and trying a few pages of a chapter book can never hurt. My daughter tends to love books with maps in them so last year Milly Molly Mandy was a hit and so was My Father's Dragon among others. This fall, we're trying something a little bit different! Here is our reading list month by month!
September: Basil of Baker Street
I know! It's not just a movie! I was as surprised as you are. Just re-published this summer - this book is the first in a series of books that make up the "crumbs and clues" collection. The collection includes 5 of the books that were originally published in the 1950s about a detective mouse who is inspired by the real Sherlock Holmes! (If this is too advanced for your little one - try out the same author's "Anatole" series that we read last year about a mouse living in Paris. eek! too cute.)
It's funny how all the talk of gardening with little ones tapers out almost completely at this time of year. It isn't until children are carving their pumpkins in late October that any of us really appreciate the value of time spent in the garden with our little ones as summer transitions into fall. Not to get too overly existential here but there is a circle of life that happens in the garden and while we are excited to teach our little ones about planting seeds and watching life form - we forget that there are also valuable lessons to be learned as life matures and the garden goes to sleep for another year. Here are 3 Life Lessons we can share with our kids during Harvest Time:
1. The Fruits of their Labour
"So. Remember all that work you did to plant, water and weed the soil for this little seed? Voila! Here are the fruits (or veggies) of your labour... literally!" What better life lesson could we share with our children than to teach them that when they tend something with love and care it comes back to them one hundred fold and in such magical ways?
2. Cycle of Life
Life is part of a cycle. We must have a balance between the energy and vibrance of spring and the rest and cozy periods of fall moving into winter slumber. Plants and animals understand this instinctively and so do our children! Watch as neighbours chop wood and don sweaters. Maybe leave one vegetable to rot in the garden to enrich the soil and as an example of how all living things make up part of this wonderful circle we call life. Visit it regularly and observe the process as it goes back into the earth with all its seeds. Check in the spring to see if it comes up again as a brand new plant!
3. Preserving and Cooking
Make a big batch of soup with your little one either with the harvest from your own garden or from a local veggie patch! Allow him to select the spices to season the soup, and to be part of all the steps from picking, chopping, simmering and maybe even pureeing! Cooking and preserving are both excellent life lessons for little ones especially little boys!
All this talk of cooking has me hankering after a smooth butternut squash soup! You? What other life lessons does gardening teach our little ones? Please share what you have learned in the garden this season with your own kids!
We have been listening to composer Erik Satie in our house recently and discovering that he was actually a pretty cool and quirky guy! In fact, he was probably a little bit like my preschooler and maybe your's too! Here are three ways your preschooler and Erik Satie are probably alike:
1. Satie's room was a big mess!
Satie didn't have people come into his space a lot mostly because it was a huge mess! When people finally did go inside, they found enormous piles of stuff everywhere. Mostly an outrageous number of umbrellas (I guess he liked puddles like your preschooler too) and two grand pianos stacked on top of each other! And you thought your preschooler's room was hard to clean...
What oh what will you and your little reader read this summer at the cottage, on your picnic blanket or at the beach? If only someone could compile a list of the perfect summer picture books!
Voila! A simple list of the picture books we read every single summer!
Why Classical Music in the Summer?
Yesterday morning we went to the park and got so hot, run down and covered with sand and sweat that we were all short tempered by the time we panted into the front door at 11:30. Collapsing on the couch with ice cold waters, I immediately turned on the fan AND the classical music station. Within a short time, we were all much cooler physically and emotionally.
Classical music has long served to calm and bring moments of peace into the lives of adults - as well as to the children in their care - who may be experiencing emotions of frustration, anger, or sadness occasionally throughout the busy day.
Here are 3 Beautiful Classical Pieces written especially for the Summer months that will help you and your little musician to cool off. So open the window wide, lay out on the grass and watch the clouds pass while listening to these lovely little pieces together!
1. Summer Skies (Leroy Anderson)
2. Summer Music (Samuel Barber)
3. Summer Evening (Frederick Delius)
Deep breath. Wasn't that grand? Now you should be rested and ready to run through that sprinkler with the best of them!
Summer means simple. Hula hoops, skipping ropes, wading pools, bubbles, and the good old stand by: sidewalk chalk. At this point if your kids have gotten into a big box of sidewalk chalk they are already well into it and the pile of chalk is full of broken pieces, smoothed down sides and dust! Messages have been written on the driveway for the birds to puzzle out as they fly overhead. Maybe sidewalk chalk is even getting a bit boring by now? Well... maybe it's just time for a new surface!
1. Sidewalk Chalk on Planter Pots
2. Sidewalk Chalk on Different Colours of Construction Paper
3. Sidewalk Chalk on Sandpaper
Apparently, even your little brother can be a new sidewalk chalk surface! (Poor fella)...
What fun stuff have you tried with sidewalk chalk (inside or out)?
A friend and fellow Artsy Starter recently posted this video aptly titled "slug life" of a slug eating a blade of grass. I was spell-bound and was moments away from popping corn and settling in to watch it again when I realized ... my kids have got to see this !! That's right! I wanted nothing more than to plop my kids in front of the screen to watch this amazing natural phenomenon that they simply could not see in this way in our own backyard. I mean seriously check this out!
The Problem with Going Screen Free
You see, this whole trend toward screen free homes - while well intended - speaks to a fairly serious problem in the Western world. So dependent on technology are we and our children that we are developing damaging addictions. Going screen free is certainly one option for managing this issue but while going cold turkey works for some - for other kids it can actually have the opposite effect from what you intend. Namely, you can create a mystery and illicitness around the idea of the screen so that kids end up idolizing it in a way that they might not have had the family taken a more moderate approach. I have even seen some people cover up their screens with sheets which - far from eliminating their allure - ends up making them look like enormous birthday gifts waiting to be unwrapped. Who doesn't love a big present in the corner of the room?
What if we taught our kids something different about screens? What if we used screens as a means of teaching impulse control and boundaries by ensuring moderate and targeted access to them as valuable tools for learning in our lives? Now there's an idea...
After all, there is some very real value that the internet provides that you simply cannot get anywhere else! Take a peek at this ladybug unfolding its little wings to fly for example:
3 Awesome Ways to Use Screens with Your Kids!
So. What are we to do? How can we incorporate quality screen time into our children's lives? Well. First we have to plan for it. We need to preview quality videos and schedule time to watch them with the kids. We need to realize that there's more to watch on rainy days than Moana for the fiftieth time and on sunny days we need to bring our mobile devices with us on our nature walks so that we can complement our learning with comparative virtual explorations! Here are 3 wonderful ways to use screens this summer!
1. Time Lapse & Slow Motion Videos
3. Live Cams
How do you use screens wisely in your home? If you are looking for ideas, Artsy Startsy's R.O.A.M. program is chock full of quality digital content like this that can help you and your little one use screens wisely to explore books, nature, visual art, and music!
The G"olden" Book Days: Browsing the Library Shelves
When I was a kid (or as my kids would say ... in the "olden days") we went to the library regularly to browse and select books to bring home. I remember the space as a safe and warm place. There was a small puppet theater in a carpeted space that was surrounded by shelves and shelves of picture books and as I aged, I expanded my explorations to the surrounding shelves where I discovered Pippi Longstocking, The Black Cauldron, and the Fairy Books of Many Colours. I discovered all my favourites simply by browsing the shelves. I flipped through the pages, often did judge a book by its cover and threw it in the book bag to go home and devour!!
Browsing Kids Books Today: Amazon's "Look inside!", Book Blog Reviews and Picture Book Trailers
Browsing books looks a bit different today. Now - don't get me wrong - we still go to the library and enjoy being in that kind of space. We love the randomness of grabbing a book off the shelves and taking it home but this is by no means the only way my children and I browse books together. In my previous life - I was a librarian so I am a bit of a book browsing maniac. I love peeking around inside the sample pages of picture books on amazon. I adore children's book blogs, book lists, book reviews, book previews, and my guiltiest pleasure... book trailers. In fact, I'm always super disappointed when a new picture book doesn't have a book trailer and it's taken me a while to figure out why I feel this way but then I discovered... uh oh... I'm that annoying person who always says:
"If you Liked the Movie..."
Yep. I'm that annoying person. "Oh! If you liked the movie - you gotta read the book!" And it is this exact tendency in me that makes me love book trailers. It is the certainty of knowing that if I like the "preview" I will ADORE the book and if I'm entirely frank - this is usually true.
So! Do you sit your kids down to watch book trailers with you? Does it make your kids more or less likely to want to read the book? I guess the question is, picture book trailers, nay? or yay!
My child is a dreamer: One of those wonderful people who's imagination consistently transports them to another place and time. Her stories are rich and detailed and she is often seen gazing out windows and doodling on paper. As a "go, go, go" kind of person, I will admit that her distracted behaviour often drives me a little nuts. However, one day a few years back, I read a beautiful article that made me realize that even though her lack of focus and attention can be troublesome when we are trying to get ready to go somewhere or accomplish a particular task, her dreaming is a kind of gift. She is a "noticer" - someone who sees the little details and appreciates them. A stop and smell the flowers kinda kid. And who the heck am I to take that away from her? Nonetheless, there are times when she needs to be able to gather her thoughts and simply focus. Music is a wonderful way to develop focus in your little musician! Here are three musical games we play together at home to develop concentration in a fun way!
1. Dance and Freeze
Throw on music that really gets you moving. Jukebox oldies work brilliantly for this game in our house. Encourage your little musicians to dance as expressively as they can! Meanwhile, keep your finger poised over the "mute" button and discretely turn off the music periodically throughout the song. When the music stops - everyone has to freeze! Laugh. Repeat.
2. Find the Phone
Choose a song on your phone (if you don't have a cell phone - a music box works just as well). Have your little one close their eyes while you hide the phone in the next room. Now your little musician must focus her ears to find the phone! (Such a great activity for auditory learners).
3. When you Hear the Instrument, Play Along!
Choose a noise maker and some music to play that includes multiple kinds of instruments. Instruct your little one to play along when she hears a particular kind of instrument (e.g. drums). Now stop when the instrument is finished playing. This one is great to do with jazz music where different instruments get lots of solo time. An alternative to this game is to play along when you hear a particular word. Songs with lots of repetition are awesome for this (e.g. "All you Need is Love" by The Beatles. Play your instrument every time you hear the word "love" ).
The ability to focus and pay attention is so important for little ones to develop and, let's face it, it can be tough to get your child to listen at the best of times. Games like these are excellent ways to make the idea of listening fun. Artsy Startsy's ROAM curriculum is chock full of these kinds of games. We'd love for you to join us on our musical adventures! Take a peek at our sample week.
My daughter Althea has been doing easel starters for years now. It no longer comes as a surprise to her to walk into a room and discover a set of art supplies sitting out on a table inviting her to create! If your little one is new to easel starters - it may take a couple of introductions before he gets the idea but - once he does - you will be amazed at your child's creativity! The concept is straightforward: set out materials in a way that encourages your child's open ended artistic expression. This is the third in our series on easel starters and today's rainbow easel starter is super easy to arrange.
Set out a piece of paper on which you have pre-drawn a series of eight arching lines to create a rainbow shape. Select seven colours from the same medium (pencil crayons, crayons, oil pastels, markers, watercolour paints) and place them immediately next to the paper.
Many little artists will elect to colour in the lines immediately. Whether they use multiple colours or one, whether they decide to draw around the rainbow shape, or whether they put the colours in the "wrong" order does not matter at all. In fact, the less you say about the masterpiece to be created the better! Remember, there is no right way to create art.
Finally, Ask This Question!
Once your little artist has filled in some or all of the rainbow ask, "What do you think might be at the end of the rainbow?" You will likely not have much trouble prompting your little one to begin drawing what is in his mind!
My daughter often talks and sings as she works and it is always fun to hear what she is imagining as she creates. It's like a stream of consciousness exercise that flows in multiple directions and back again. There is nothing more satisfying for me than listening in on these little monologues. Every time I get a glimpse into her thoughts and feelings. It is truly wonderful!
Et voila! Yet another masterpiece for your fridge! Stay tuned for more Artsy Startsy easel starters in the series but in the meantime, do you have ideas for open-ended art activities that have worked with your little one or that you are excited to try?
For years my daughter has kept a nature journal. When she returns from one of our little nature walks she often sit down with a treasure we found on the way to sketch it and examine it more closely indoors. It really is a lovely practice. I know that it gives her a deeper respect for our observations and discoveries in nature.
For a time, I kept a journal too and would sketch alongside her. However, I always thought of it as something I was doing "for" her and didn't take it terribly seriously. Then something changed. One day, I discovered that I yearned to sketch the melting snowman in our backyard. I wanted to capture the moment when winter decided to become spring at our house. My daughter was nowhere around. Nonetheless, I picked up a fine point pen and some water colour and went to it alone. And now I can't stop! I am taking great joy from keeping a nature journal and I wanted to share it with you since it has taught me a lot about learning to enrich my own life alongside that of my children. In the past I've had a tendency to reserve beautiful things like this for my kids and to leave my own appreciation of the arts and nature for "another time." I'm beginning to realize that time is now.
Do you forget to pursue your passions in favour of your child's? Here are three signs you need to focus on bringing beauty and art to your own life too:
1. You ask, "Wouldn't You Like To?"
A friend of mine loved the idea of having a cello in the house. She asked her daughter, "Wouldn't you like to play the cello?" ... She got - at best - a kind of mixed reception. In fact, the more she asked, the more she discovered that, in fact, her little musician preferred the idea of playing the piano. My friend's disappointment was visceral and the moment she realized this was the moment she got on the horn and rented an adult-sized cello - for herself! That enormous instrument sat in her home for 6 months. She learned many beautiful pieces and, in the end, decided not to pursue strings. However, she felt gratified that she had explored that avenue and hadn't simply dropped the idea because of her child's disinterest. Indeed, her daughter grew to love the cello herself simply by watching her mother pursue her own musical passion.
2. You pretend to care.
"Let's get a magnifying glass and examine that centipede closer!" Now there's a phrase I never imagined myself saying but I actually heard myself saying these very words in the garden with my children last summer. My children were excited to check out bugs for two reasons. The first was that almost all kids love bugs and the second was that they knew that I was genuinely enjoying the process myself. You see, there's the thing about little observers. They know when you're not really into it. If I was actually revolted by garden crawlies but simply put on a brave face, my kids would know it at a glance and likely the game would end there. It's so important to be aware of your limits and not to pretend to care when you really aren't feeling it. It's perfectly fine to say, "Mommy doesn't want to check that out right now but here is your magnifying glass! Have fun!" Freeing yourself up to pursue what you enjoy not only gives you space to be an individual - it gives permission to your children to do the same. Having a passion that is unique is a novelty for children who are just at the outset of developing their artistic personalities and independent explorations.
3. You spend more time researching than playing.
You've developed a pin board on Vincent Van Gogh crafts to do with your children but when it comes down to it - you've not yet actually done any of them together. Here's a moment to take pause and ask yourself, "What exactly am I waiting for?" Don't get me wrong. There is nothing the matter with taking time to plan activities for your little artists. By all means, research artistic projects to undertake together but when you find them tugging at your sleeve and wanting to do something with you - just go for it! Maybe you don't have all the materials required and maybe the circumstances aren't quite perfect but who cares? Take a moment to show your child some images of Van Gogh's work online and get your starry night on! But don't stop there! There's a reason you're pinning and researching all these good ideas - not the least of which is that you are probably very interested in the work of Van Gogh yourself. And why shouldn't you be? I say take this as an opportunity to pursue your interest. Try some of the techniques Van Gogh used himself. Take out some books on Van Gogh's art. Tour a virtual gallery of his work. Fulfilling your own love of the arts is just that easy and wonderful!
I'm not sure how long I will continue to keep a nature journal. It may just be a passing phase in my life but at least I know that I didn't give it up in favour of developing my own child's interests instead of my own. In fact, my daughter has expressed great interest in watching me sketch and write in my journal but right now she would rather collect items in her nature basket. The fact is that she knows that I love nature and want to take time to celebrate and record it joyfully. I can't think of a better way to spark her own curiosity for the natural world than this.
Have you ever borrowed a picture book from the library only to discover that the book is far too wordy or, alternatively, has too few words to sustain the attention of your Little Reader? Well, this is exactly what happened to us recently. You see, I order books from the library online and my hubby is kind enough to pick them up for us on the way home from work. Super convenient but not always conducive to picture book selections that are certain to delight my preschooler. Initially, I used to just send books that didn't feel as though they were the appropriate "level" for my little one straight back to the library but recently I've discovered a trick that keeps my preschooler coming back to these books again and again.
Let me share with you some ideas on how to read wordy, word-starved and wordless picture books with your little one so that they are sure to become hits during your bedtime reading routine!
1. You Read to Me
There are 10 minutes before lights out and you open up the wordiest picture book alive. It will take you at least 15 minutes to read it fully and that doesn't count the explaining you will have to do about the meaning of many of the words on the page. What to do? Easey peasey: ask your child to read to you! This may sound like lunacy but I assure you they will read the story in less than half the time it would have taken you to read each word fully. Moreover, they will produce a most imaginative and beautiful version of the tale! I love nothing more than listening to my child's idea of what the artist is trying to convey in pictures. The combination of beautiful art and my Little Reader's imagination are a joy to listen to - especially right before a good night's sleep.
Here is a great picture book we recently took out of the library that is very wordy but that beautifully depicts train travel across the United States during the early days of railways.
2. Quality Conversations
So you've found a beautiful book at the library but the problem is the words don't flow or there are so few words that the story is over in 30 seconds flat. Um. Now what? Well, you know what they say about lemons. This is actually a wonderful opportunity for a discussion with your little one about the book. Ask some questions about the images on the page that spark the imagination.
Recently we took out this beautiful photography book from the library and flipping through it I realized it was just not going to be stimulating enough for my girl. Suddenly we grasped onto an image of a rain-drenched blue jay and had a most compelling chat about him. "How do blue jays take showers? Where does he go to get dry? If he could speak, what would he say to us right now?" So much fun and such great quality time conversing together.
3. Get Lost
And then don't you find that there are times when you both just need to get lost in a book utterly and completely at the end of the day? Silent contemplation of a wonderfully illustrated and entirely wordless book is an opportunity for bonding and quiet reflection with your preschooler. Like an Escher painting (you know those ones with all the intersecting staircases and maze like tunnels), several wordless books are illustrated to help children to just check out a bit. It's entirely OK to become wrapped up in a book that needs no words to tell a magical and enticing narrative.
Here is the trailer for one of our very favourite wordless picture books!
So there we have it. I recommend not getting too wrapped up in finding the "right level" of book to read with your preschooler. Improvise and delight in art and imagery. After all, artists have stories to tell too! Despite the fact that we might not formally read each and every book we take out from the library word for word, books no longer go back to the library unappreciated from our home.
In fact, we are always on the look out for new picture books! I would love to hear about some of your favourite wordy, word-starved and wordless picture books! Feel free to share any recommendations below.
There is so much joy to be had in simply having beautiful music accompany us throughout our day. For this reason, we often have classical music streaming in the background at our house. However, Artsy Startsy also uses classical music in two very targeted and distinct ways. The first is to soothe the mind and the second is to enliven the spirit.
Fidgety Preschooler? Try Classical Music to Enliven the Spirit
Recently I posted on how to use classical music to encourage quiet time (soothe the mind) but did you know that classical can also be used to "enliven the spirit" when kids seem bored, aimless, or fidgety? I've discovered that when my kids are acting completely insane - arms flailing, jumping off the back of the couch, and arguing about nothings - they either need to just check out completely OR they need to get out some excess energy stored up deep in their guts! Figuring out which solution is best is usually more a case of getting a vibe for the situation and context than having any sense of certainty.
Often, I start by putting on soft classical (like Chopin) because it is my preference and usually the energy in the room needs to just come down a few notches but when that fails to bring order to the chaos - I go the exact opposite direction. Wagner is great for getting kids moving and marching in a way that expends pent up energies! Indeed, there are so many wonderful, energetic pieces to get kids moving.
Being Inspired by a Classical Piece's Title
I normally just like to encourage my Little Musicians to move the way the music makes them feel but if the title of the piece is particularly evocative - as in the case of the Britten's The Grasshopper - then I will often encourage them to move in ways that fit with the way the animal, fairy tale, or person the piece is named after might move.
The Water Goblin!
So! This week we decided to try moving to an early piece by Dvorjak called the Water Goblin! How do you think a Water Goblin would move? We imagined him swimming, diving and splashing through the water. By adding scarves we got a feeling for the ripples and flowing of the water. Next, one of us pretended to be the water using the scarves while the other was the goblin jumping in and out of the waves. Such a great way to get the sillies out!
As promised and just in time for the weekend, here is the second idea in our series on Easel Starters: Glittering Snowflakes! (All you require is pictured above). This time, you may wish to spend a little more time setting the scene depending on how ornate you want your snow flakes to be. If you want the result to resemble an honest to goodness snowflake, feel free to fold the coffee filter in half over and over until it is a smallish triangle for your little one to cut out with safety scissors. Normally, I like to be sure that my child simply stumbles upon the Easel Starter but in this case - it can't kill anyone if you take a brief moment to show your Little Artist how to cut neat shapes along the edges of the folded coffee filter - avoiding the corners.
Once you have a few shapes that resemble snowflakes- scoot! Leave the room quickly and maybe take the scissors with you. Now your child can enjoy the process of painting his snow flake with glitter glue and brush! I've found this to be a beautiful, mindful masterpiece for your little one to create. The delicacy required to paint the coffee filter without ripping it encourages a certain gentleness and focus that is just right for this age. The fine motor skills required to apply a gentle brush stroke and the thought processes required to determine how much glue to add to a thinner surface are all opportunities for growth, judgment and patience. If you need to help on occasion to ensure that the process remains a positive one- don't hesitate to do so!
Et voila! Hang the masterpiece in the window and get ready for more snow... sigh...
Whatever you think you know about teaching a nature lesson to your little one is nothing, absolutely nothing in comparison to the lesson your little observer has ready for you. I don't know if it's some sort of a spidey sense kids have for natural phenomena or what but just when I think I've found the most wonderful thing to show my children outside, they upstage me with some profound insight into the world around them. My children's observations in this regard usually sound like absurdity or infancy but it always - always! - turns out to be a brilliant moment of mindfulness about nature on their part.
This morning was one of those moments. My daughter provided me with an excellent lesson for cloud gazing during a winter melt. The unusually mild weather brought us outdoors this morning with a spring in our step and many deep, ponderous breaths. With pride, I looked up at the sky and saw nothing but puffy white clouds floating through a blue sky. "Look Al," I whispered, "Look at the clouds!" Nothing. I brought my gaze downward only to see that she was standing stock still and looking directly down at the ground in front of her. "No, c'mon! Up at the clouds! Look up! You'll never see them by looking downward!" Now I was irritated. She was missing all the beauty of the sky! "Althea, you're missing them. The clouds! Look!"
"But no mommy! I am looking at the clouds. See?" Reluctantly, I lowered my eyes only to see the most lovely reflection of the sky in a sliver of slush puddle right at our feet. Aha! It seems there is always room for humbleness with my children. Always space for learning new things. Always time to be more mindful of nature than my adult brain is accustomed to being.
So! Get out there and do the exact opposite of what you think you "should" be doing to teach your child about nature. Let him take the lead and see where it takes you. You will be amazed at what you have to learn. "Go East old man... go East..."
Pssst... I have a secret... this is actually just a regular fort but - to my kids who were stuck indoors last week with colds - this was a "badadabaaaa" Fairy Tale Fort!!! Have you got kids stuck indoors too? No problemo! Here's how you're going to set up your fairy tale fort:
Step 1: Make a fort and let the kids play in it. Yep. That simple.
Step 2: Read a fairy tale together in the fort. Have your little ones gather related books and toys and bring them into the fort. In this case, we were reading The Three Bears and we brought in a book on polar bears as well and three of our stuffed bears.
Step 3: Let imaginary play run rampant. If they want to act out the fairy tale in the fort grand but if the fort suddenly becomes a cave for hibernating bears... go with it...
Step 4: Keep the fort up over night. Why? Because you know as soon as you put the whole thing away they're gonna want it set up again tomorrow. However (and here's the sneaky bit), hide a new fairy tale inside the fort for the kids to find the next day.
Step 5: Do it all again tomorrow!
Here are a few book suggestions for your very own Fairy Tale Fort! Happy ROAMing!
When my little one transitioned away from her nice big nap in the afternoon, I was sincerely devastated. I needed that time to get myself together. I simply couldn't be "on" the whole day long. I'll be honest - I lamented the loss of this nap for a long time but then I discovered "quiet time."
Why Quiet Time?
There is a reason many Europeans have a siesta at mid-day and it's not only to do with the heat. European culture understands that it is impossible to truly enjoy our time together in the afternoon and evenings without a moment of rest and reflection right after lunch. After a busy morning, we need a break from each other and even from ourselves.
Preschoolers are especially in need of this time since their little minds are learning at a break neck speed. Not only are they reaching new linguistic and cognitive milestones, preschoolers are learning about social norms and balancing the emotions associated with the development of new relationships and their growing sense of independence. It's exhausting!
And - while this may not be news to you - you need quiet time too! And I don't just mean checking out on pinterest for half an hour. I mean an honest to goodness moment of peace and relaxation before you start to rev up for the afternoon and evening.
From Quiet Time to Quality Quiet Time!
So here's an idea! Instead of throwing on the collective screens around your home to get a moment of peace - why not spend some quality time together - quietly listening to music? "Together" can mean cuddled on the couch but it can also mean just being in proximity to one another journaling, working on a puzzle, or simply being.
Music offers an excellent opportunity to calm both of you down as morning transitions to afternoon. In fact, a recent article indicates that in the digital age, young kids need classical music more than ever. The author claims that, "Much like reading aloud to a child, calm classical compositions engage a child in a form of entertainment that’s low-stimulus and substantive."
But - from experience - I need to tell you that not just any classical music will do! Throw on the William Tell Overture and I can assure you that the mood will be anything but calm and quiet in your home. (Stay tuned for more on using classical music to enliven the spirit in an upcoming post). However, you don't have to throw on a lullaby either. Sometimes a piece that simply transports you to another world is quite enough to bring about a moment of peace.
So! To transport you to another world, here is Ravel's Mother Goose Suite (Ma mere l'Oye). It includes five children's pieces inspired by the following five fairy tales.
You might even consider having a couple of the corresponding fairy tale picture books at hand while you listen! Another nice quiet activity is to watch the video and take note of the different instruments being played but my favourite is simply sitting down and letting yourself drift into the world of Mother Goose or "Ma mere l'Oye." Happy ROAMing!