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!
This entry is the first in a series I will be doing called Easel Starters. In each case, I will provide a visual of the easel starter and simple instructions for you to use to introduce it to your preschooler.
What are Easel Starters?
An easel starter is a simple invitation to create art that you set up while the child is away (either out of the house, napping or doing quiet time in another room). It is important that your child not see you setting up the easel starter since its magic lies in the discovery that the child makes both in terms of finding the materials sitting out and also in terms of learning about how those materials can create a piece of art.
Why Easel Starters?
How to Introduce Today's Easel Starter: Orange and Yellow Study with Feathers.
No matter how much we promise ourselves to have a "quiet Christmas", the holidays are always filled with insanity. There are parties to attend, extended family to see and annual visits to neighbours homes to wish a happy new year.
Oh! And don't forget the play dates, sledding, fort building and other outdoor traditions that you just don't want your child to miss. In fact, the holidays are so much about spending time with everybody that you may find yourself missing that quality one on one time you used to have all alone with your little one. You remember? That time of just hanging out arm in arm?
Don't feel blue! One on one time isn't hard to get back on track.
All this might have you feeling a bit blue. In fact, it's highly likely since today is blue Monday. Turns out that's a real thing. The third Monday of January is known as blue Monday. Why? Well, it's that first Monday after the holiday when you have finally let go of the holiday spirit and all the warm tinglyness that it brings. The tree is down but the pine needles are still finding their way into cracks and crevices all over the house.
You may also be taking stock of that new year's resolution. You know the one where you planned to spend all sorts of quality time with your little one. Chances are some things have already fallen by the wayside. That could make you feel a bit blue too.
And then there's the credit card statement that came in the mail - maybe now is not the best time to sign up for those skating lessons together either is it? Hmmm....
So - how are you going to get one on one time back on track now that the holidays are over without blowing the budget?
3 Inexpensive Ways to Get One on One Time with Your Little One
1. Take a Hike!
Nothing could be simpler. Go outside and breathe the cold air. I used to whine that it was "tooooo cooooold" but recently I've embraced the idea that "there is no bad weather just bad clothes." Have specific goals set for your walk. Look for squirrel nests, animal tracks, and even signs of melting. Gather items that you see and bring them home to display. Once home, crack out your nature journal and record your findings by drawing what you have seen. Of course, a sip a hot cocoa by the fire always helps to get things cuddly and cozy too.
2. Borrow a New Book Series from the Library
We have started one called "My Father's Dragon." This one is especially enjoyable for us because it is one my father read to me as a child (although - apparently he has no recollection of it.. sigh...). My little one has been asking me many questions lately about what things were like when I was a little girl and - short of bringing out a rotary phone for her to stare at in wonderment - I thought this would be kind of fun!
3. Make Ice Decorations
We eat a lot of yogurt in this house. The kids eat it like it's going out of style with a little fruit and cereal and I love to use it for baking coffee cakes to freeze for when friends come to call. The only one who won't touch the stuff is my hubby - which is weird cuz he grew up on a dairy farm - but anyway - all this yogurt consumption means that I have a ton of yogurt containers hanging around just waiting to serve this beautiful afternoon endeavour! Nothing could be simpler. Drop some cranberries, orange slices and greenery (you know the stuff you keep finding all over the floor) into the bottom of the container and fill with a little bit of water. Insert a piece of twine to make a little handle with which to hang your ice decoration on a tree later. Set outside to freeze. Once frozen, run yogurt container under a little warm water until the decoration slides free. Hang from a branch outdoors. Ideally, somewhere you can see them when you look out a window.
For more fun activities to create more intentional one on one time with your preschooler check out the Winter Semester!
Trimming the tree with a preschooler can be a whirlwind. By the time our tree is up and decorated, I'm usually pouring myself a stiff eggnog and wondering what the heck just happened. Everything looks Christmassy enough but I feel like a grump, hubby is covered in pine sap and the kids are either exhausted or cranky. But that was Christmas past!
Over the years, I've discovered that by slowing the tree trimming process down completely everyone seems to enjoy the experience that much more. I recommend setting aside a full two days and to use the "5 Senses Tree Trimming Method" to get every family member fully engaged in the joy of bringing a tree into the house. What is the "5 Senses Tree Trimming Method" you ask? Ah! Great question!
The 5 Senses Tree Trimming Method
The whole process begins on Friday night. We head out to select our tree either as soon as dad is home from work or right after supper. Every year, I will need to be talked out of selecting the 8 foot tree that looks so beautiful on the lot but that leaves our angel smooshed against the ceiling and gasping for breath. Normally we end up bringing home a 6 foot one that is the most fragrant pine we can find! And here is where the sense of smell comes in. This first night is all about just being with the new tree. Finding it a perfect spot, making sure it's straight in the stand and breathing in the smell of fresh green in our home. The tree takes it's time to drop it's branches and settle in and we just enjoy it for what it is: a tree in the house! This doesn't happen every day!
By this time the kids are ready to begin the decorating process and mom and dad are already exhausted. So. Here is where we crack out the hot chocolate to warm our bellies after having been outside in the cold air. Nothing like cocoa and some cozy candles on a weekend before Christmas! And now everybody starts to feel a little bit drowsy from the warm milk and it doesn't take too much convincing to get everyone into bath and bed.
"It's a Wonderful Life!" - it truly is... the kids are in bed, the lights are down low and it's Christmas. Hubby and I will pour a glass of wine, throw on a Christmas film and begin untangling the Christmas lights. In the past when the kids were racing around and champing at the bit to decorate - we would find ourselves winding strings of lights around our own necks to hang ourselves from the rafters but with this new tradition - and another glass of wine - it's somehow kind of not such a pain. Slow and steady the tree gets lit and we usually end up switching off the film to "watch" the tree instead before hitting the hay.
It's usually still dark when the kids get up the next morning - I mean it is winter and these are our kids after all - so hubby will creep downstairs before everyone comes down and light the tree to a choir of oohs, aahs and wows!
Ok! It's Saturday! Time to decorate the tree! Here's a fun game to play and one that originated in the Overall household: Iiiiiiiiiit's Guess the Ornament ! Growing up, we had the same favourite ornaments year after year so it was always fun to take turns closing our eyes and guessing which ornament a family member just placed in our hands. Remember that preschoolers may not always be able to rely on memory to identify ornaments yet so selecting ornaments with neat textures for them to guess makes the experience most fun! And here is my favourite old ornament! Can you guess which decade I grew up in? Yikes!
Once all is decorated and cozy, we will often host a small "wassail" gathering with family or neighbours. It's time to play Christmas carols, sing and generally make merry! Now the sound of giggling, running around and general childhood excitement is cause for joy and not for frustration since the entire process is complete.
The tree is trimmed!
So often I find myself rushing through my own life as though it were a race. It must come from all those years of schooling and of desk work. I just struggle to shake it. Even when I'm planning a hike with the kids outdoors I rush along like a mad woman with some unidentified goal. I've actually heard myself yelling, "Let's set a pace here folks!" or "Listen, we've been looking at this tree for too long, let's move on!" And it's not just my pace that sabotages these moments with my family, it's also my complete inability to stop making everything a 'teachable moment.' "Ah, a milkweed!" I'll holler, "Those attract the monarch. Do you know what a monarch is? Why it's a blah blah blah blah blah..." Am I alone? Do you do this? Well, if you do, I think I've figured out a cure. The single best way to quit rushing around spoiling a perfectly lovely jaunt in nature is to bring a toddler.
Recently, Vincent has wanted to get "down, dooown, dooooooown!" from his stroller when we are hiking in the woods. 'Glagh. This is gonna hold up the whole show...' was my first honest to god thought when I set his little observer's feet on the path but then I realized, that's the whole damn point isn't it? To hold up the show. To put this mom show on hold and just hang out in the woods for a bit checking stuff out. To get down on his level and see what he is seeing. To feel the texture of tree bark, to get covered in burrs and to be amazed by tall mushrooms growing along the path. Deep breath. This is the time we are given. Why not toddle around in it?
My mother just bought this beautiful Beatrix Potter set for my kids and is it ever bringing back some wonderful childhood memories! My favourite story of the bunch is the one my mother read to me over and over: Mrs. Tiggywinkle. As a child, I imagined myself climbing the stile up the path into the mountain and finding a secret door inhabited by a little hedgehog washerwoman. Reading these again to my little girl is such a nice way to spend time together!
Other than the benefits of introducing my child to the arts and to time in nature, one of the main reasons I created Artsy Startsy was to enrich my own life with reminders of the joys of childhood. Things like taking time to look up at the sky when I step outside (something kids always do but adults forget) make me feel wonderful! I also enjoy bringing an adult lens to stories, places, songs and sights that were familiar to my days growing up. Taking a look back at these tales lets me feel all the old childish feelings of coziness, safety and delight in the idea of things like Beatrix's talking animals. At the same time, I bring new and very adult insights into the tales. I appreciate the detail in Beatrix's illustrations in a new way, I review her moral leanings with a bit more of a critical bent, and I get glimpses into some of the absurdities and social mores of aristocratic rural life in Britain 100 and some odd years ago. And I'm not the only one getting "childish" about the Beatrix Potter stories! Movie-goers are super excited to learn that James Corden and (maybe) Rose Byrne will be starring in a new movie adaptation of Peter Rabbit due out in 2018! Can't wait until then? Check out these resources for both you and your Little Reader!
1. This little selection of Colouring Pages to celebrate 150 Years of Beatrix Potter!
2. A few good reads to satisfy your adult curiosity about Potter's life and landscape.
3. Watch the Miss Potter movie and a snippet from my ultimate fav forever- Mrs. Tiggywinkle!
I love me some musicals at Halloween. Right now my husband, who, incidentally, writes a horror movie blog, is rolling his eyes somewhere in this house. And I know, I know, it's not really a spooky kinda thing to like at this time of year but I do! So. There. Now that you must accept that fact, I have to apologize since technically, my first pick, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, is not a musical. Ok! BUT the entire soundtrack of this film (like it's sister Christmas film) is just chock full of beautiful "flutey" jazz music. This is must-see viewing (and listening) in my house at this time of year.
Next up! Meet me in St. Louis! Tap. Tap. "Um... Rebecca.. this is an old Christmas movie..." Nuh Uh! It isn't neither! It's a movie of all seasons! In fact, the entire trolley ride of a film carries you through a series of seasonal vignettes - Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring ending with the launch of the "World's Fair!" Here is a sneak peek at the Halloween scene where Tootie is encouraged to "kill" the Brokoffs by throwing flour on them.
Last but not least - the classic Ichabod Crane, Sleepy Hollow tale by Disney narrated / sung by Bing Crosby. Why oh why did Disney stop airing this beautiful film on public television annually? I adore Ichabod! There is nothing funnier than the scene where Ichabod and his horse realize that the headless horseman and Ichabod have accidentally traded horses as they race through the woods at night!
Well that's it for me folks! I'm off to watch this... (also not a musical but a Halloween classic all the same!) Have you seen it? Arsenic and Old Lace. Happy Halloween everybody!
The days are getting longer and darkness is upon us sooner. Sadly, this can mean less time outside but, if you are up for taking your art to the streets at night, it can also mean making new outdoor discoveries! So much of the excitement and anticipation around Halloween is the idea of just being outside at night. It is as though our familiar neighbourhood becomes an entirely new landscape when the sun goes down and the street lights come on. The candy deal is just an added bonus really.
Many of our Little Artist's studies have to do with celebrating the way in which artists capture the impact of light on various objects, figures, and landscapes. The impressionists in particular, help us to see light in new ways. One evening, we decided to take our sketch pads and oil pastels outside to sketch our street! We discovered that light gets really interesting to study when it comes from sources other than the sun - sources like the moon, a street lamp or even car headlights that pass by.
The stars featured in the expressionist painting "Starry Night" by Van Gogh are the most famous example of a nightscape that we know but other beautiful masterpieces abound! Here are a few of our favourites:
Some Favourite Nightscapes
This year I'm doing something a little different with our pumpkin. First of all, I'm going to select a HUGE one and then I'm going to turn it into a house for my kids little animal and doll figures to live in. Likely it won't stay fresh enough to make it all the way to Halloween but I'll get a back up pumpkin for our regular jack-o-lantern. I anticipate it will be totally worth the extra cost for the amount of time my little ones are likely to play with this. Want to join us and build one with your Little Observer? Here's how:
1. Find a big, fat, wide pumpkin! One that rests firmly on the ground and isn't too roly poly. If you have a place that lets you go pumpkin picking so much the better. This gives you time to choose the perfect one and lets your Little Observer see the environment in which pumpkins grow.
2. Like you would a jack-o-lantern, cut a hole in the top around the stem and just enjoy the mucky gucky part of cleaning out the pumpkin gutts with your kids. This is ROAMing at it's best!
3. Cut a wide opening on one side of the pumpkin so that it becomes almost like the open side of a doll house.
4. On two other sides add windows in whatever shape you like. You can even insert little twig window panes if you wish. Add a moss carpet or other natural items to make a cozy little home for someone tiny!
5. Pull out some little animal characters or small doll figures and play play play! Calico Critters would be adorable tenants of this kind of house but any figures will do so long as they are fun! You might even consider having a little acorn family move in...
My friend and fellow blogger over at Vintage Girls pointed me to this beautiful little article in one of the NYTimes Blogs that indicates that reading story books together at bedtime is not just for kids an more! In fact, studies are showing that much of the value of books at bed is not only about fostering literacy but also about cementing the bond between family members. Some parents interviewed for the article felt that story time was actually more for them than for the child! One parent in the article was reported as saying:
‘I need that 30 minutes of reading,
Recent ideas about reading have led us to think of it as a private experience but, actually, this concept is very new. In past centuries, reading was often a family or group activity that created connections between communities. During the Victorian era, it was not uncommon for only one family member to be able to read and for that individual to sit with the entire family after dinner to share the latest in a series of installments in the newspaper. (Dickens stories were very often read this way each week!) Monasteries, cafes, and town halls are all places where groups of people have historically gathered together to discuss new ideas and to read both ancient and contemporary tales.
This social aspect of reading is one that we would have almost completely forgotten if it were not for our children who take the opportunity to remind us of it every night at bed time. I know for a fact that reading Captain Underpants brought my friend Christa an enormous amount of joy and genuine shared laughter with her daughter. Once, while reading Frederick with my children I was brought to tears by the poetry ... so much so that I struggled to complete the tale. My Little Reader was curious to know why mama was crying. What an interesting revelation it was to her that the words themselves had moved me to tears. There is no better way to communicate to our children the power of books than to have an emotionally moving reading experience with them.
So, the next time you are reading a book with your little one and you pause to let him supply the animal noise or the rhyming word know that you are doing so much more than simply encouraging his reading skills. You are sharing ideas, connecting over illustrations and bringing your relationship to the next level.
Here's a question for you: "Would Mozart have been Mozart without his big sister?" Most of us know that Mozart was a child prodigy composing early works at the age of five but would he have been so prodigious if it had not been for the example of his big sister? Mozart's father was himself a minor composer who was a violinist and who trained his daughter Marianne in the harpsichord and piano.
Due to this training, Marianne was a very accomplished musician and one can imagine Mozart looking up to her and paying close attention to her at the keyboard. We know that younger siblings often benefit from the simple advantage of observation in the early years - particularly in the realm of music.
“No musicians develop their art in a vacuum,” according to Stevan Jackson, a musical sociologist and anthropologist at Radford University in Radford, Virginia. “Musicians learn by watching other musicians, by being an apprentice, formally or informally.” Being in a musical family with a musical sibling, in particular, can heighten one’s musical interest, expertise and musical drive, Jackson says. (Smithsonian Magazine)
I often wonder if my Little Musicians influence each others' learning? I certainly see how the arrival of her little brother has taught my daughter to develop her patience and gentleness. She has definitely made him her student in many important realms including pulling faces, sidewalk colouring, book reading, and noise making!
A friend of mine once lamented that she had been looking very forward to teaching her second child about colours, numbers, and letters only to discover that her eldest had beat her to the punch! In fact, her youngest rattled off her letters like an old pro before it even dawned on my friend to begin to share the alphabet with her.
Personally, I love seeing how receptive Vince is to Althea's guidance even in those moments where he is being instructed to play the recorder in tempo with her banging out notes on the piano like a maniac. There is a sweet joy in watching music bring together your little ones. Now. Where the heck did I put those ear plugs?
Ah well... while I go and seek those out - take a listen to this little ditty supposedly composed by Mozart when he was 9 years old. You will note that it is a composition for 4 hands at the harpsichord. Hmmm. I wonder just how much of a hand Marianne Mozart had in its creation and performance...
Glagh! Did you forget to register in time for the 2 for 1 offer? No worries.
If you are just finding out about the offer don't despair.
You now have until Sunday October 2nd at midnight to register for the Fall semester and gain access to the Spring semester at no additional cost!
There's something to get happy about!
It's harvest time!!! The bounty at our local farms is bringing us so much joy! We are so lucky to have a little "Potager" (as they call them here in Quebec, Canada) that is about a ten minute drive from our home and that we have been visiting weekly. The harvest came in slowly but surely starting with strawberries and asparagus, next cucumbers and deep purple onions, on to plump tomatoes and ruby red potatoes, and now we are beginning to see the squash and, of course, the corn abounds!
If you are an Artsy Starter you have probably already been busy exploring veggies in art with us this fall semester! In particular my Little Artist loves the work of Arcimboldo during this season. Grab a seat with your little one and take a peek at this Smithsonian video of Arcimboldo's work:
Got a taste for vegetables? Well, here's a little bonus vegetable activity that is both easy and delicious. Veggie stamping!
Building a thriving terrarium that lasts requires a bit of soil skill (layering rocks, sand, and earth to ensure proper drainage and aeration of the dirt). In this house, "ain't nobody got time for that" so, instead, we decided to make a temporary terrarium that we will return to its natural environment after my Little Observers have finished their exploration of this miniature world in a jar! Would you like to make a "Temporary Terrarium" with us? Get out your magnifying glasses and come along with us!
1. Find a shady spot in your yard or the woods after a few days of rain. No doubt you will find many little plants that were not there before! We found some lichen, a mushroom and moss hiding under our pine tree.
2. Place a small layer of moist soil into the base of a mason jar.
3. Carefully pull up the items you want to place in your Temporary Terrarium. Do your best to keep some of the soil surrounding the items. Gently press the items into the mason jar to rest on top of the soil.
4. Explore the contents of the terrarium with a magnifying glass. Take time to make close up drawings of what you observe in your nature journal!
5. Occasionally spray the contents with a mister and return all items gently to their original location within a couple of weeks.
And that's all folks! STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) study at its easiest - just by getting out into nature!
Many of my friends who are lovers of Waldorf education own a seasonal series by Gerda Muller that is most enchanting. It depicts a family enjoying the seasons in a series of wordless and timelessly illustrated little board books. They are truly special little books.
But I wanted to share with you another, slightly less well known, series of board books that celebrate the seasons: Eugenie Fernandez' Kitten series. Her incredible mixed media style is just exquisite. Natural elements are incorporated into each scene and we love searching for the kitten as we read .... Now, hold up, hold up... "Board books? Isn't my preschooler too old for board books?" If this thought came to mind you're in good company. It's crossed my mind too and I have even separated most of our board books out of the main collection intended for the exclusive use of my toddler. However, I'm rethinking this because every once in a while my preschooler will plunk herself down in front of a pile of board books and have a good old read. Why?
Here's my hypothesis:
Having been read hundreds of times, there's a familiarity about board books which suits the needs of Little Readers. Having memorized most of the text of these books, my preschooler is actually reading the words correctly without having even learned to recognize all of the letters of the alphabet yet. "Yes, yes. But that's not real reading," you might say. And I'm here to tell you: Oh yes. Yes it is. It's reading alright. Your little one doesn't have to know how to sound out letters and string together phrases to be reading. Just by repeating memorized words, by letting the images suggest stories to her, by taking delight in the old battered pages, by cuddling up on your lap, by doing all the voices, your little one is starting to become literate and is developing a life-long love of reading.