Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Watercolor and Wood Burned Building Block Excess

The kids and I worked on this beautiful building block project for weeks. A commission from PlanToys, who gave us the building blocks, it asked that we do something to embellish and personalize them.

I couldn't think of anything more decorative, and more personalized, than custom-stained building blocks with the children's art wood burned on!

You can find the tutorial for the watercolor staining here, and the tutorial for the wood burning here, but the finished products were so beautiful that I'm afraid that I really indulged myself in taking photos, and ended up with far more than could possibly be put into posts that I'm being paid to write.

Good thing that I have this personal blog, then! I can indulge myself all I want here!
I don't make any bones about incorporating the children into my work; here, I've asked Syd to set up the photo shoot of the finished blocks for me.

Her ideas were wonderful!
Will drew both dragons, the fire, and the cat, and Syd drew the flower, clouds, and sun, and did much of the more experimental watercolor staining.
This is the royal couple, presenting the castle to the various sightseers. That's you!

Actually, here are some more sightseers. They traveled far to get here!
We've got a few more projects to do for PlanToys, including one just for our homeschool and one that's especially for Syd. I'll probably be working on these projects all autumn and well into winter, so stay tuned!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Work Plans for the Week of August 31, 2015: Field Trips!

The kids and I had a fabulous Project Week last week--they read and drew and played outside and rediscovered their racetrack sets, and we went to parks and playgroups and out for ice cream and to the Children's Museum:
We attended the preview of the museum's newest exhibit, Sacred Journeys, which explores the sacred sites of the world's religions. It was a wonderful exhibit! The Children's Museum especially loves to host exhibits that unpack the STEM and liberal arts enrichment behind children's pop culture interests--their next exhibit is on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles--but *I* love these types of exhibits, the ones that allow children to explore a complicated subject in a child-friendly way, the best.

My Master's in Library Science includes an emphasis in Special Collections, and I worked for years in a special collections library on campus, so I dragged the children all around this exhibit to show them how to tell the difference between vellum, handmade paper, and factory-made paper.
DIY stained glass--the kids were fascinated by this, and we have everything that we need to make our own version here at home. Something else for my to-do list!

Little did the children know, but the museum's Anne Frank exhibit was actually part of our World War 2 unit study lesson plans--mwa-ha-ha!

Typical homeschoolers, the kids really only like interactive exhibits when they're otherwise empty, as ScienceWorks was on this afternoon. They played contentedly for ages here.

Although we're back to our regular school day this week, it'll be pretty well broken up by two full-day field trips, leaving us with only three days for work plans, and a short week next week, as well!

Memory work for this week includes more Mango Languages Hawaiian, 1940 events of World War 2, and facts about Christopher Columbus. Books of the Day include non-fiction picture books about caves (we watched an EPIC documentary on cave diving last week!), a random picture book history of Vikings, and a couple more books about butterflies--we finally saw a monarch yesterday, fluttering around Syd's Mexican sunflower in Will's butterfly garden. A homeschool win!

And here's the rest of our week!

MONDAY: In Math Mammoth this week, Will is continuing her study of line graphs, which she likes and finds easy, and Syd is applying her study of place value to a review of adding and subtracting with large numbers--she can do it, but she's going to hate it. Math may be very tantrum-filled this week.

In preparation for our field trip to Louisville tomorrow to tour replicas of the Nina and Pinta with one of our homeschool groups, I found a workbook for the children that provides a good overview of Christopher Columbus--it's lengthy, though, so for our fourth schoolwork slot I'm only asking the children to play a couple of games of Battleship. It's always good to stay familiar with coordinate grids!

We've got our weekly volunteer gig with the food pantry this afternoon, and then an afternoon trip to the library.

TUESDAY: Field trip to Louisville! We'll tour the Nina and Pinta replicas in the morning, have a picnic lunch, and then spend a few hours at the Kentucky Science Center before we have to head back home for Robotics Club.

WEDNESDAY: We're on to 1940 in our World War 2 unit study; the kids will put these timeline figures on the timeline that they're building in their World War 2 notebooks, and then later this week Matt will give us a more detailed lecture on the events of 1940. The kids will have their monthly Magic Tree House Club meeting (this month's book is Leprechaun in Late Winter), and then we'll hustle into the car to take Syd to her first ballet class of the semester--she's advanced enough now to have classes TWO times a week! I imagine that this is the year that less-dedicated students will begin to drop the program, and so I'm interested to see if Syd's interest will continue as the commitment increases.

THURSDAY: I've actually got a few more badge activities set up for the kids to do, but I just finished getting all their badge books and checklists printed out for them, so I thought I'd give them a chance to organize everything to their liking, record what they've already completed in their new checklists, and see if anything else strikes their interest. Next week, however, we'll still likely find ourselves working with how-to-draw books and stamping metal dog tags for our Girl Scout activity.

I printed out a very extensive tadpole identification guide for our home library, and I'll be giving the children the job of using it to identify the species of tadpole that we're currently hosting. Most of them have finished their metamorphosis into frogs and been duly deposited at our creek by now, and I sure wish that the rest of these tadpoles would just hurry up so I can have that counter space back! I need to put jars of decomposing fruit for the children to sketch there!

Although Will would prefer being dropped at the library to doing a project with me during Syd's ballet classes, Syd loves nothing more than to do something together while Will's at her horseback riding lesson. We might work on a plaque for her room, or on a birthday present for her father.

FRIDAY: Field trip to the Indianapolis Zoo! The kids LOVE zoos, and it's been a while since we've been to this one, so it's going to be a great day.

As for my week, I need to make some reservations for our Hawaii vacation this week (Mauna Kea is open again, so our tour is back on!), buy LEGO plates for a DIY project, hang the curtains that Syd's been longing for around her bunk bed, get the fall garden going, and get our Girl Scout troop set up for the new year, among other tasks. I think that we'll all have plenty to do to fill our days!

Friday, August 28, 2015

To the Creek!

I like to take a day trip with the kids at least once a week. It breaks the school week up, gives us a chance to explore and exercise and discover new interests, and, of course, it's fun!

Last week, after a late start and a food truck lunch with Matt, we went to a state park just outside of town, because that park has what may be the kids' favorite thing ever: a creek. There are loads of hiking trails at this state park, but all we ever do there is hike down to the creek, play until the children are filthy, wet, and exhausted, and then hike back.

It's ample fun for a field trip day:

The kids brought their butterfly nets and a large Mason jar, and this day's fun activity was pestering minnows.

And pestering a few snails, too...

This was an especially restful field trip after an especially stressful week that I'd had, and I benefited greatly from turning my phone off, forcing myself to breathe deeply and untense my shoulders, and then pulling a book out of my pack and lying like a lizard on a flat rock all day, reading and taking photos and watching my kids play.

This week's day trip to the Children's Museum won't be quite like that, as I'll instead come home with a headache after a noisy day in the museum and an hour's worth of traffic on the way home, but the kids will love it just as much, of course, just as they'll love next week's TWO day trips to Louisville (to see Nina and Pinta replicas!) and the Indianapolis Zoo.

But after that, the week after next, we're 100% spending another day in the woods. Lizard Momma needs her clean air and flat rock!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bee and Butterflies

We finally found a bee! Without even searching, Will happened upon it at the playground behind the police station after our field trip last week. I was busy chatting with friends, but when I heard her shout for me I immediately darted away without explanation, then spent several minutes with Will running after the bee, dropping to my knees to photograph it whenever it found a lovely flower, then running after it again as Will helped me spot its new location.

The friends were all homeschoolers, as well, of course, so nobody thought that this was weird.

The kids think that this is a bombus impatiens, or Common Eastern Bumblebee.

Its identification was impaired, unfortunately, since I did not realize that the best way to photograph a bee for identification is to photograph it from the top. You get a clear view of the coloring of its head, abdomen, and thorax that way. Ah, well... an identification that pins it as part of the most common of our bumblebee species is probably not incorrect.

This photo and all the accompanying information are now at Bumble Bee Watch, waiting for an identification to be confirmed by an expert. So exciting!

Will tried her best at prepping and pinning a butterfly, but unfortunately it did not go well.

This is possibly a Northwestern Fritillary.

We watched a video tutorial together, one that I think explained the process pretty well, but the reality is that, like many things, it's very, very difficult to do without practice. Will also forgot to use paper strips to hold down the wings, instead using more pins, but of course without the paper strips the wings curled up and the pins tore them.

I really, really, really do not want to pin a butterfly, but I think I'm going to have to learn how to do this for myself, so that I can better teach her. Sigh...

I only permit Will to catch and euthanize (we're quite satisfied with the freezer method) butterflies that are common in our neighborhood, so she didn't catch this next one; instead I again chased after it like a loon, and it led me a merry chase! At one point it actually flew OVER THE HOUSE, so that I had to run around the entire house like a maniac, screaming to everyone else "Where is it? Where is it?!?"

Matt was all, "It's back at the same flower that it started at! Can you just stop chasing it and let it settle?"

Well, fine.

This, the kids think, is a male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail:

They're apparently, at least according to the information that the kids found, more common than the Northern Fritillary, but we see loads of Fritillaries, and this is the first Eastern Tiger Swallowtail that I have ever seen in our yard.

For all the work that we put into our gardens this year, the number of things growing in them is pitifully small--several strawberry plants that I didn't get a single strawberry from, a pumpkin plant that's currently growing one pumpkin, a couple of basil, three tomato plants, and three peppers. This butterfly garden of Will's sports only two milkweed, a prairie something-or-other, and this beautiful plant that the swallowtail loves--a friend gave the seedling to Syd for her birthday, and told her that it was a Mexican sunflower.

It makes me very happy, though, that even this one flowering plant is enough to bring in butterflies for us to enjoy. Next year, I WILL have more flowers, and I WILL have more bees and butterflies!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Work Plans for the Week of August 24: Project Week!

Our last school week went well--math flowed easily for both children, thankfully, with Syd acing Math Mammoth's unit on place value and Will genuinely enjoying her own unit on graphing coordinates. Decoder wheels were made and played with-- 

--World War 2 leaders were researched and memorized, spelling words were reviewed, grammar pages were completed, many comic strips were created--

--butterflies were fed, and we even found that elusive honeybee for our Citizen Scientist project! As always, Monday's tidy workspace looked like this by Friday:

Nevertheless, by the end of the week both kids were notably less enthusiastic about our work than they've been in the past three weeks, so I decided to shake things up by declaring this week a Project Week.

I've given each kid a log for each day this week, with entries that challenge them to find their own math activity, to read something interesting and to watch something interesting, to create or build or engineer something, to do something outside, to independently choose a helpful chore, and to write down something that they've learned. I'll be on hand, of course, to assist with projects and offer options when asked, but I'm curious to see how each kid will design her own school day within these parameters. 

Combined with our usual extracurriculars, a playdate or two, and a day at the Children's Museum, I think it'll be a great week!

And whether the week turns into a fabulously-enriching curriculum of each child's choice, or a simple week's vacation, I think it'll be just the break that we need to look at next Monday's schoolwork with refreshed minds that are ready to focus.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Last of the Line: My Little Pony--and the Police!

This last of the American Girl doll wrap skirts that I've listed on my etsy shop is actually the first style that I made for Syd, based on her current absolute favorite cartoon: My Little Pony.

I've got a ton more American Girl doll patterns that I want to try out--pants, shirts, doctor's scrubs, a party dress--but I've also got some commissioned pieces and etsy orders that I need to be working on, so more American Girl doll crafting may need to go on the back burner for a bit.

In other news, I have to tell you about the AMAZING field trip that my Girl Scout troop went on yesterday! I was so engrossed in the trip that I didn't take a single photo, so you'll have to bear with my wall of words instead:

When we first got to the police station, the receptionist looked a little surprised to see this large gang of children and assorted adults in attendance, and we had to wait for a really long time before an officer came to get us--I imagine that the conversation in the back went something like "Oh, crap! who forgot to put a FIELD TRIP on the calendar?!? Okay, everyone, short straw has to lead the tour."

I was also a little leery when a parent who was dropping her kids off with me asked the officer, "How long do you think this will take?" and he answered, "Oh, about 15 or 20 minutes." At that point, I figured, "At least there's a playground behind the police station!" A twenty-minute tour followed by an hour on the playground--that could work, I guess.

I like to prep my Scouts well for our activities, so I'd asked each child to bring a notebook and pencil, and to write two questions for the police officers in that notebook. Our tour guide, Sgt. Forston, led us to the briefing room, sat us down, gave us a little lecture on what a briefing looks like, then said something like, "Okay, before I show you the rest of the station, does anybody have any questions?"

Little hands rose into the air! Sgt. Forston, in what is surely the greatest display of patience ever seen by humankind, answered question after question after question. Are you in charge? (No.) Who IS in charge? (The chief of police.) What kind of crimes are most common? (Theft.) What kind of things do people steal? (Money, bikes, electronics, really anything.) If someone stole a computer but it has a password on it, what would they do? (Throw it away.) Have you ever been shot at? (No.) Do you ever feel like you're in danger? (Yes.) Do people call you on the phone here? (Yes.) What do they call you about? (They want to report a crime, they're not happy with something a police officer has done, they have a question about a law.) Do they call other people on the phone here? (Yes.) Is 911 here? (No.) Where is 911? (At the central bus station.) Do people ever fight you? (Yes.) What happens if you think that someone committed a crime but you don't know for sure? (We keep looking for evidence.) Do they get to go free while you look? (It depends on what kind of evidence we have already.) Is there a police dog here? (Yes.) What's his name? (Ike.) What kind of dog is he? (German Shepherd.) Can we see him? (Maybe. I'll call his handler and ask.)

For each of these answers, also imagine a thoughtful explanation. Every time Sgt. Forston came to terminology that he thought that the children wouldn't understand, such as "bond" or "chain of command" or whatever, he would reword it so that the children understood. It was perfectly suited to an audience of children.

By the time this flurry of questions had calmed enough that we could keep moving, we were already well past the twenty-minute estimate of the entire trip, but Sgt. Forston seemed totally in the groove, and never hinted that we were taking up too much of his time or that it was time to finish up. In fact, he kept thinking of even more awesome things for us to see and do! We saw an interrogation room, where children and adults were both kind of thrilled to see the chain that attaches to a suspect's handcuffs. We saw the room with the breathalyzer and a line painted on the floor for people to walk; everything in these two rooms is videotaped. We saw the evidence lockers, which are actually just lockers! They are literally evidence lockers!

A guy came by as we were standing in front of the evidence technician's door, and Sgt. Forston was basically like, "Look! The evidence technician! Show the kids your light!" So after the technician put away all the evidence that he was bringing back from the lab (Sgt. Forston gave us an excellent lecture about this and a lecture and demonstration about how to properly handle evidence), he showed us how his black light showed up hairs and such from clothing and other surfaces.

Imagine, of course, that all through this children are just peppering Sgt. Forston with questions. Does each locker have its own key? (No, they all use the same key that the evidence technician has.) What goes in the little locked refrigerator? (Blood. Long pause. Just blood. Good editing for a child audience, Sgt. Forston!). What's in that jug? (Distilled water.) What's the distilled water for? (If you flush a syringe with it, you may get dried blood that you can then get DNA from.)

We covered DNA swabs and how to bag evidence, and then Sgt. Forston set the children up with plastic CD cases that he'd touched, fingerprint powder, and brushes, and he let the children actually dust for fingerprints! It was the coolest. Thing. EVER! He talked the kids through gently tapping the brush into the powder, and then just sort of gently swirling the brush along the surface. You still have to really look to be able to see the fingerprint, but if you hold it up to the light, there it is! It was so great, and the kids were really into it. I mean, of course! We also saw how to use a piece of tape to lift the fingerprint off the surface, although apparently it's preferred now to take a digital picture of the print, rather than lifting it.

We saw the undercover police officers' office and where the detectives work, the conference room where those in charge talk strategy, and then Sgt. Forston got ahold of the K-9 officer and found that although he was in the middle of a training session across town, he could leave then and be with us in 10-15 minutes. Sgt. Forston looked at me and asked how we should pass the time. "Tell the children all about first aid!" I said.

And so he did. Bless that man.

On the way outside to meet the police dog, I got the children's attention and said, "Now, Children, when the police dog shows up, I want you to..."

"Remain calm," many children finished for me. They know me so well!

Officer Keaton pulled up to the parking lot where we were, and he gave us a little lecture on police dogs and how and why they're used, and got to experience his own flurry of questions, himself. How old is Ike? (I don't remember the answer to this one--I'll have to ask my troop!) What happens to Ike when you go on vacation? (He goes to a special kennel in Indianapolis where they're used to police dogs.) Does he ever go inside the police station? (Not usually, because he's trained to defend Officer Ike, and could bite an officer who was just roughhousing with him.) Why isn't he neutered? (Because he's never out of his officer's supervision.) Do your kids get to play with him? (No, but sometimes they're allowed to pet his back.) We found out that Officer Keaton gives his dog, Ike, commands in German, we passed around his special remote control that shows him what the temperature is inside his car and has a panic button that he can press when he needs Ike to come rescue him. It opens the door on the right, which Ike only uses when he needs to chase down somebody.

We got to examine the special police car that Ike rides in, and then we sat in the grass while Officer Keaton showed us how Ike finds drugs. He'd hidden a little magnetic box inside the wheel well of a car, and as we watched, Ike sniffed all around, then sniffed back and forth in the same area over and over again, then got low and sniffed, and then finally scratched at the exact spot where the drugs were. As a reward, he got a tennis ball on a rope, and he was so happy!

At exactly two hours and 17 minutes after we first arrived at the police station, Sgt. Forston asked, "Anymore questions?" and for the first time, nobody raised their hands. I told him, "I don't think that ANYBODY has ever run them out of questions before!" And then we thanked the officers VERY wholeheartedly and all the children ran off to the playground.

Seriously, this was service WAY above and beyond the call of duty. Can you imagine the patience of someone who had originally intended to spend 20 minutes with a group of children, and then went on to indulge them for a full two hours, never hurrying them, never saying "Just one more question," going out of his way to find them interesting things to look at and do? It was one of the most impressive adult-child interactions that I have ever seen.

I know a certain couple of police officers who are going to get handmade thank-you letters and a big delivery of bagels and doughnuts sometime soon!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Caramel Apple Monsters

You may ask how "Make caramel apples" appeared on our summer to-do list in the first place, but the truth is that I. Do. Not. Know. 

I swear that the children understand the concept of seasons; they apparently just choose not to be ruled by that reality.

Anyway, perhaps your own kids will want to do this in the fall, after a day at the apple orchard. My two did this on a summer Saturday, after a morning spent playing outside and working on the chicken coop and an afternoon spent at a friend's birthday party, with a DIY slip-n-slide that they ignored--perhaps they're just really, really ready for autumn?

To make caramel apple monsters, you will need:
  • apples
  • lemon juice
  • caramel sauce recipe--Syd used the one on a bag of caramels. She got it a little too brown, but it still stuck fine and tasted fine.
  • paper towels
  • skewers, popsicle sticks, lollipop sticks, etc. We used lollipop sticks leftover from a lollipop-making kit that a sweet friend gave Syd for her birthday--yum!
  • decorations--we've got mini marshmallows, chocolate chips, raisins, and googly eyes. Those googly eyes are a must! Sprinkles and white chocolate or peanut butter chips would also be cute, as well as any other candy that you happened to have around the house.
  • non-stick surface--we're out of waxed paper, which we should have used. Aluminum foil worked only okay.
1. Core and quarter apples. This way, you can eat your caramel apple without getting caramel all over your face!

2. Dip the cut surfaces of the apples in lemon juice. This will keep them from browning, and you can't taste the lemon.

3. Lay out all your decorating supplies. You won't have time when the caramel is ready!

4. Skewer your apple slices. 

5. Make the caramel sauce. Syd could make this sauce independently, although I should have helped her keep an eye on it--when it's done, it's done!

6. Decorate your apple slices. Bring the pot over to the table, and give everyone a big spoon. Take an apple slice, pat it dry with a paper towel (this helps the caramel stick), then spread the top half with caramel:
While the caramel is still warm and sticky, decorate it super cute--

--and then set it on a non-stick surface to cool while you decorate more apple slices.

These are best served immediately, but I'd say that they remain okay in the refrigerator for 24 hours or so. After that, the apples still weren't brown, but I thought that they were a little soft.

I actually like candy apples better than I like caramel apples--I wonder if you can do that by the slice, as well?


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