Monday, July 30, 2018

Little House & The Farm, Part 1: Sheep's Wool Sensory Bin

The Sprout Scouts Playcamp is taking a trip back in time to when the American Pioneers lived and farmed! We planned to spend a couple of weeks in a farm theme here, one we have definitely explored before and love. We could revisit this theme again and again and never run out of ways to explore the fun and learning that a farm has to offer. But when S sat down beside me while I was re-reading Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (hey, some of us read trashy romance novels and some of us read young adult historical fiction...) over Shabbos a couple of weeks ago and asked me to read aloud, I gladly obliged. And I also got a BIG idea to give our farm theme a little house flair! How fun would it be to travel back in time to the days of the Pioneers and learn about life on the farm back then.

Our theme started off with a Friday field trip to a local farm museum that welcomes guests for guided tours or just to explore independently throughout the year. We got to pet and feed sheep, meet the cows and pigs and donkeys and even try out some old fashioned tools to cut and chop wood! We could not have asked for a more perfect way to begin our activities this week. I spent many evenings last week and much of Sunday plotting, planning and preparing for a lot of ways to play and learn this week, and I think I might be more excited than even the boys! Join us on our trek back in time as we...

  • explore farm animals through songs, sensory play, art and dramatic play
  • open our own General Store
  • try our hands at doll making in a variety of ways
  • engage in some creative Little House Building
  • hand dye our own fabric
  • test out some old fashioned, tasty treats in the kitchen
  • get moving with some old time tunes
  • play and learn about work on the farm during the Pioneers' days
...and more!

Feel free to try some or all of the activities at home. We likely won't get to everything I have planned (and I can't stop myself!) right now and that's OK. These activities are ones we will surely enjoy and probably revisit over the course of the year.

Since both boys especially loved seeing, petting and even feeding the sheep on the farm last week, I thought we'd start off the week with an opportunity to explore one of these creatures greatest gifts, wool!

My boys have seen me knitting and needle felting and even helped me pick out yarn at the store, but neither one has ever seen how that yarn came to arrive on the store shelf. As a needle-felter, I have a stash of sheep's wool roving on hand and thought this would be the perfect addition to our sensory table! I headed over to the Dollar Tree to pick up a couple of dog brushes and hair brushes for the boys to use to try carding wool. I can actually remember visiting a museum as a little girl that had a similar setup in an exhibit and loving the experience! I set out a basket of un-dyed wool roving, a few different sets of brushes, a ball of white yarn to see "the finished product" and Google image searched for some photos to show to steps involved from sheep to wool to yarn. With a couple of our favorite plush sheep to keep company while we worked, the boys (even Tatty) were ready to try their hands at carding wool! S was a little confused at first that our wool wasn't "string" yet after he was busy brushing for a while. He even went back to the metal ring of photo cards to see what steps he might be missing! Then I explained, with the help of our photos, that we were only practicing the process of smoothing the wool by carding and that we'd need special tools like a spinning wheel or drop spindle to actually make yarn. He may have been a little disappointed that we didn't have the tools to finish the job, but perhaps we will find a video or local demonstration for him to see.

Both S and Y had fun this morning making some woolly sheep decorations to hang in our window. I prepped this simple activity by cutting the shape of a sheep's body out of clear contact paper and adding black construction paper legs and head with some clear tape on the back. I removed the backing from the contact paper, sticky side up, and the boys were able to stick on cotton balls for wool. Y piled them high and deep and S enjoyed stretching a few across the sticky contact paper.

It's another rainy start to the week here, but this play theme is one that is just as much fun to explore indoors as outside. We'll be back soon with some more old fashioned fun on the farm. Until then...

Happy Playing!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Sprout Scouts Playcamp: Creepy Crawlers!

They're movin' on up...
It's been a while since we've unpacked a Sprout Scouts Play Theme here and today I am so excited to launch an introduction into some of our Creepy Crawlers activities all about Bugs, Butterflies and Insects! If you've been following along with our Grow Your Own Green Thumb theme, you may be wondering what the heck happened to our Garden to Table Theme and Terrific Trees theme--they are coming, closer to the harvest season and end of summer. One thing I am truly embracing this summer is our need and desire to play and learn at our own pace and whim.

Last summer one of our very favorite activities was growing our own butterflies, and when our caterpillars arrived in the mail last week, we all decided to dive right into learning more about creepy crawlers as we wait for them to eat and grow. Now, I have to be completely honest--bugs really bug me. I am learning to embrace them, especially those helpful garden pollinators. I know I am bigger and stronger but I am not braver. I also don't want to unnecessarily impose my feelings on other, shorter members of the family. I know that learning and playing about something that frightens you is a great way to lessen fear and increase understanding, so we are learning through play with some great indoor and outdoor activities that will surely get your wings fluttering!

Suggested Materials: You certainly do NOT need all of this, and we actually found a great young naturalists backpack kit available for checkout at our local library that contained a variety of ways to observe, catch (and release), read and learn about bugs and insects! Use what you have on hand, check dollar stores and secondhand shops for the rest or borrow from friends!

  • magnifying glasses
  • magnifying bug boxes
  • binoculars (bugs can be far away, too!)
  • jars, bug containers or critter containers for catching (and releasing) bugs
  • butterfly nets
  • playdough (or make your own)
  • pipe cleaners, google eyes, small loose craft parts
  • paper, markers/crayons, scissors and other art & craft materials
  • tempura paint
  • butcher paper
  • white coffee filters
  • spray bottles
  • fly swatters
  • Borax & school glue for bug slime
  • plastic bugs (we found ours at Dollar Tree)
  • artificial flowers
  • shredded craft paper in black and yellow (or the colors of your choice)
  • yellow, black and white pompoms
  • recycled containers
  • small tongs
  • optional butterfly growing kit--we like the Insect Lore kit available from Amazon
  • books about bugs and insects from your local library or personal collection
  • a camera to capture creepy crawlers in action!
  • your nature journals to capture memories and important discoveries
Check out that Japanese beetle! He can stay
here as long as he likes, just stay away
from our vegetable garden!

Creepy Crawlers Scavenger Hunt: Grab your nets, containers, magnifying glasses and critter cages. It's time to get out there and observe our creepy crawling (or flying) friends in action! Don't forget to look up and down, to lift up and peer under rocks, to check out your flower garden and even areas that are particularly soggy and dark. Bugs and insects are EVERYWHERE. Look at the grass for a while and observe how it moves--creepy crawlers are busy at work down there and even though you may not see them, you can observe signs of their presence. Can you find an ant hill? Dig up a worm? Can you hear a cicada or a cricket? Can you spot a firefly at night? Perhaps you will take a list of bugs to search for with you or record a list in your nature journal of those you can find. Please remember that if you do capture a little critter to also let it go back into nature when you are done observing. Also remember to take proper precautions around bugs that may sting or bite, including proper clothing and coverage and not handling bugs that can be harmful to humans!

Plant a Pollinators Garden: Choose a variety of flowers that attract helpful pollinators to your garden. Zinnias, marigolds, morning glories, milkweed, dill and more will all attract butterflies, bees and even hummingbirds to your yard. You can start from seed or purchase starter plants (this time of year, many are discounted). Then step back and observe the wonder of their wonderful work...

Spot That Pollinator: One of our favorite offshoots of the Creepy Crawlers Scavenger Hunt has been observing pollinators at work in our garden and in gardens around town. We use my camera phone quite a bit to record our findings. Talk about how some bugs and insects are helpful to plants and gardens even though others are considered to be pests. Can you spot a helpful ladybug? A busy bee? Some fluttering butterflies and moths? Where do you notice them and why do you suppose that is?
Can you spot the bumblebee?

Can you spot the monarch butterfly?

Fly Swatter Painting: Outdoor messy art is one of my favorite things about summer weather! Get out, get messy, get hosed off and come in good and tired for bedtime. I don't necessarily encourage promoting the use of fly swatters in their traditional purpose with young children, but they are great for swatting and splashing colorful washable tempura paint on butcher paper set either flat on the sidewalk or taped to an outdoor wall. If you do have a hose hook-up and a wall, sidewalk or fence you don't mind painting directly on before hosing it down, you can even go paperless.

Since the caterpillars arrived, so has the rain! While waiting for those six very hungry little caterpillars to eat and eat and grow and grow, we have been busy (mostly inside) playing and learning about butterflies, bugs and insects. The boys made a welcome sign and named the caterpillars, and then it was time for some of these fun games and activities:

Pollinators Sensory Bin: We used shredded craft paper, pompoms, our plastic bug collection, some artificial flowers and recycled containers and tongs for this whimsical sensory table. Y gets a kick out of tossing the paper shreds (everywhere) and still likes to try out the tongs even though he's not quite there yet with his fine motor skills. S loves to pretend the pompoms are food for the bugs and use the tongs to collect them in containers for the bugs to eat.

Bug SLIME: Ah, what's summer without slime? And you really haven't gotten totally creepy and crawly until you're also slimy. We made up a batch of green slime and the boys had such a great time! In the past, we have used slime in our sensory table, but seeing as it was occupied housing our bees and butterflies and other pollinators, we opted for a couple of plastic trays (and no brothers fighting!) and some plastic bugs to share. Making bug prints in the slime is so much fun! S also loves to use a playdough knife with EVERY type of dough, so I added a couple of those in as well.

Butterfly Collage Decoration: We have a collection of these butterfly die-cuts from Dollar Tree a few years ago, but you can also trace and cut your own butterfly shape from construction paper. I especially love to use this as an opportunity to teach about symmetry with beginning cutters. Trace or draw the outline of half a butterfly onto folded paper and cut the shape out away from the fold. When it is opened, it will reveal the shape of a butterfly! We used glue and a variety of small loose parts from our craft stash.

Coffee Filter Butterfly Decoration: We have a collection of these pinned to the wall going up our stairs and they are so beautiful! Use washable markers to color at least a few colors onto the white coffee filter. Next, use a spray bottle with water to wet your coffee filter. The colors will bleed and blend into very colorful butterfly wings. Once the paper filter is dry, you can wrap a pipe cleaner around the center to form antennae and you've got yourself a butterfly! Or two. Or two dozen...

Playdough Invitation to Create a Bug: Pipe cleaner legs and antennae, googly eyes, beads, rhinestones and other small loose parts are all part of the fun that goes into building your own bug. It can look like a real bug or be entirely your own creation. We used a large blob of [very colorful] store-bought playdough (I know so many of you are cringing at the sight of mixed colors right now!), but you can also make your own playdough if you prefer [or stick to only one color at a time!].

Want to do more?

  • Check out our other play activities about bugs & insects, bees and butterflies..
  • Ask the Experts! Many garden centers, farms, science museums or botanical garden centers have living bee hives, live butterfly gardens or exhibits or at least some knowledgeable folks to answer questions about creepy crawlers. Check out some of these places in your local community to learn more--and don't forget the library!
  • Print and laminate your own Beautiful Bugs Playdough Mats from Picklebums to go along with your playdough invitation.
  • We are loving this huge free printable pack, "I is for Insects" available from Scribd. We added several of the action rhymes and activities to our Ever-changing Book:
Here is the Beehive Action Rhyme and Felt-board Set (we use both with and without a felt board)

Bug & Insect Action Cards--such a fun way to get moving indoors or outside!

  • Lazy Day Coloring Book Art is a great way to spice up a rainy afternoon and use some art materials you likely have on hand. I love using "adult coloring books" with young children (and adults). We found some really beautiful floral designs at Dollar Tree. Even though I'm sure many would balk at me using coloring books at all (what about PROCESS ART???), I think they have their place. Certainly the fine motor aspect of coloring within a designated space is useful as children develop, but I also love to include some materials besides the classic crayons or colored pencils. We got out our watercolor pencils and some bee and butterfly stickers to design some pollinator gardens to hang inside! Y liked to use a foam brush with water and go over his pencil marks (almost to their exclusion!) and S liked to dip the pencils right in the water and observe the vibrant color. The boys each stuck on some butterfly and bumblebee stickers (Y needed help) and we hung them to dry and look at instead of gazing longingly out the rain covered windows...

As I am finishing up this post, our seemingly sunny afternoon has given way to more rain and thunder! So happy for our garden, so sad for our plans to do fly swatter painting outside--but alas, the great indoors is full of other ways to have fun playing about creepy crawlers and we even have six very hungry caterpillars to watch as we wait out the weather. We'll be back soon! Until then...

Bug OFF! I mean, Happy Playing!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sunny Day, Painting the Clouds Away!

The Sprout Scouts love all kinds of weather, but sunny days with fluffy white clouds are one of the best parts of summer! And definitely the perfect weather for taking it outside for an afternoon of sky gazing and cloud painting.  We love these printable cloud viewers from E is for Explore! We started off by printing out a family set, cutting out the center and laminating them. I duct taped a wooden craft stick to the back as a handle. We brought along some pallets of paints with blue and white tempura paint for the boys to mix and use. Some brushes and water for rinsing brushes were at the ready, too. Lastly, we brought some flat framed mirrors. You can also use unframed craft mirrors, just opt for something a bit thicker and utilize support and supervision with little ones as mirrors are fragile.

Painting on mirrors gives the artist a unique view to work with. Using mirrors for painting indoors provides a unique and washable surface. Outdoors, it can provide an inspiring reflection of nature, especially the sky! Imagine how this might look in a wooded area full of trees, or set on the ground in a wildflower garden... For children (who are naturally lower to the ground), things above their height can be not only out of sight, but also out of mind! This technique brings the distant world above them within their reach as they explore painting and mixing colors on this smooth and shiny surface.

When you are done, simply wash, dry and reuse! Artists who wish to have a more permanent work of art might benefit from a piece of paper to replicate their work on or even make a print on.

And there you have one here will be guilty of commanding you to get your head out of the clouds! We're not even chasing the clouds away! We're just enjoying the sunny and slower pace of summer and, as always, happily playing!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

DIY: Make Your Own Ever-changing Book

Are you a classroom teacher or play & learn at home parent looking for a fresh new way to approach the classical approach to "circle time?" Do you have children ranging in ages under your care? Do you work or live with children who are very active or are you looking for ways to bring more structured activities with you on the go? Meet the Ever-changing Book--the perfect DIY for you and your little ones! 

Now, before I begin, let me give credit where credit is due! This is not entirely my own idea, but rather was adapted from a tool used by a local librarian we met at a toddler story time yesterday. Some friends will recommend a story time they think your children will enjoy, but true friends know to recommend a story time they think you will enjoy. A friend of mine steered us toward this particular librarian who used to teach in a Montessori school as she felt I would appreciate her approach and style. I was so impressed with her demeanor, pace and style that I worked up the courage to chat with her afterward (yes, I get starstruck when I meet a cool teacher, librarian or author). One of the most unique materials she introduced to the children was her own Ever-changing Book, a 12 x 12 photo/scrapbook album with letter sound songs and pictures in each page. She adapts her book to introduce a set of letters and letter sounds to her audience. Well, the gears were already turning in my head and truthfully, even if S hadn't asked to make our own Ever-changing Book and have "story time at home," I would already have driven five miles above the speed limit, 55% off coupon in hand to the craft supply store that evening to start our own version!

Our Ever-changing Book reflects our current play theme of butterflies, bugs and insects. Letters are something we are always exploring and learning about, and this can be theme related, too, even if it is an activity you do year round. I have also included a fun fact sheet about butterflies...

When S and I did home preschool, we often did some version of a circle time or rug time activity. I was less likely to really work on being seated and stationary in these times and many times, our morning songs and routines were done in transition or on the go. I knew as a teacher and as a parent that S and all young children have a life ahead of them in which they will need to "sit still" and "pay attention." I also knew as a teacher and as a parent that just like we focus in these early years on emergent literacy by exposing children to a larger skill set that leads to reading, so, too, do we expose children to a larger skill set that leads to sitting still. And these skills are developed through moving!
Songs, poems and action rhymes encourage rhythm and movement whether you are indoors or outside! Some songs are seasonal and others theme related. There are many songs we sing daily, year-round, particularly ones related to daily prayers. Visual aids (like pictures) and small, flat props can be included with those as well.

Lastly, I also knew that both in my smaller classroom settings and in our own home setting, having all of our "circle time" activities and props available in one convenient location is not always possible or convenient. This meant either moving about the room (not such a bad thing) or schlepping materials in baskets and bins as we needed them. Often this would interrupt the routine and flow of our time together. And when I looked at some of the components of the traditional circle time and the setting in which we were doing it, it simply didn't make a lot of sense. Talking about the weather indoors and no where near a window, made no sense! We should be observing that outside. And trying to incorporate music and movement in a smaller seated space didn't work as well as it did in a larger, more open space. More and more I also observed the need for children to have things they could touch and manipulate during seated group times, but there was still a separation between their materials and mine.
Both boys love this action rhyme that incorporates counting and early math skills. The laminated butterfly stick puppets are a wonderful prop to include--I just google searched some images and clip art I liked of butterflies to cut out and include.

The Ever-changing Book seemed to address all of these concerns and more! It is kind of a "busy-binder" meets circle time, crossbred with a classroom bulletin board! I had to resist the urge to go completely overboard and pull an all-nighter as ideas on what to include swarmed my brain. I decided that for all involved, a well rested Mommy and an introduction of just a few pages at first were best for everyone. Here's a look at what we used, what we've included so far, and what we may add in as time goes on...this is, after all, an Ever-changing Book!

You Will Need:

  • a photo album, scrapbook or binder with sheet protectors--you'll want something you can alter (so no sticky pages--though you could even create a book of felt and use velcro)
  • paper, cardstock--I found a great discount on clearance scrapbook sets and had a coupon for the album itself and walked out with two $20 paper packs and a scrapbook all for under $25!
  • laminating machine (optional)--I prefer to laminate my materials for durability 
What You Might Want to Include:
  • printed/handwritten songs, fingerplays and action rhymes including ones you sing daily or ones that are specific to your theme or the season
  • themed or seasonal artwork
  • current/theme-related artwork done by the children
  • current photos of your children or family doing theme or season related activities--these can be used to tell a social story or simply to start conversations about what you're up to at home or in the classroom
  • small, flat props like laminated shapes, letters, numbers, sand letters and numbers, stick puppets/pointers etc. that can be used in songs and rhymes or otherwise manipulated by the children in simple puzzles or matching games 
  • printed stories and poems to incorporate in story telling
  • visual aids and charts that can accompany daily songs, prayers or poems
  • a countdown page or photo/picture page related to an upcoming holiday, event or family trip
  • insert pages and a dry erase marker that older children can use to practice writing letters, numbers, their names, words, shapes, line-tracing, etc.
  • gross motor games/action cards
I've really shied away from the traditional "calendar time" approach used so often in early childhood classrooms. While learning about time, the date, month and season are all important, learning about them repeatedly out of context does not necessarily prove to be helpful in the long term. Many students even by the age of five still struggle with the concept of days of the week, yesterday and today in context but can recite them by rote in a song. Heck, even as an adult I often don't know what day it is! But I do love including relevant seasonal photos, art, and a season related song or poem. We talk about other aspects of the calendar and weather in context as we are going about our daily routines and activities.

It can be really tempting to go overboard and include EVERYTHING right away, especially if you are me! It is OK and even good to have some blank pages here and to go with the mantra that less is more. The greatest benefits of this model are that it is transportable and that it is ever-changing! You want to be able to grab it and go without breaking your back. And just like a traditional book that is too long won't maintain a child's attention, neither will an ever-changing book that is too long. 

And how often should you change your ever-changing book? I like the idea of certain things remaining the same as others change so that there is always an aspect of familiarity. You might pull things out and swap others in as your theme changes. We're exploring butterflies, bugs and insects here this week, so our letter page and fingerplay are butterfly related. We'll change those out when our theme changes. Some of our other songs are related to the season we are in--those we would swap out as Fall arrives. 

Our aleph-beis chart and pointer are something I'd include year round, though we may change out our chart or prop at some point should the inspiration strike. We are also working on creating our own sand letters to include a few at a time in a page. These are great for tactile recognition and pre-writing.
Repetition is the essence of learning and while novelty has its place and appeal, repeating familiar songs and routines helps children to feel secure in their environment and to process new material. And particularly when working with mixed age groups, repeating familiar activities has developmental appeal to everyone! S can take on the role of "leader" in activities he is proficient in at his age and build confidence along with competence. Y is gaining a great deal of verbal language right now, so repeating songs and rhymes is essential. If you are working with mixed ages, you can also include age/developmentally specific pages for each of your little ones.

So, now that you've got your Ever-changing Book, how should you use it? Well, that's up to you! But here are a few ideas:

  • Create a Familiar Routine Around It: I like to use a wood chime to call children to quiet attention in my classrooms and sometimes even at home. This can signify the beginning of a "circle time" or "group time" or "cozy time" (whatever you choose to call it) whether you are at home/in the classroom or out and about. The familiarity of chime and of the book will let the children know that this is the activity whether or not the time and location of the activity are the same. 
  • Use it in a Familiar Space: Perhaps you sit at the table together or maybe you have a special rug or room, chair or couch. You can make a habit and routine of using your Ever-changing Book in a particular location or even at a particular time of day. You can also break it up into multiple time slots, especially if you're short on time or your little ones seem disinterested at a particular point.
  • Take It Along With You: This is one of the great bonuses of this model. You can take it to the yard, to the park, on your family vacation or field trip. One of the greatest challenges teachers and beginning homeschool parents have when getting started is getting everyone together in one place at one time. This is why I love the Ever-changing Book. It can go where the action is, it can be opened when children are engaged and closed when they are not.
  • Troubleshooting: Don't be discouraged if this new material is met with less enthusiasm than you'd expected. New things can be disconcerting for little ones. If your little one(s) wanders off after a minute or two, consider trying again later or tomorrow. If over the course of a few tries, their attention is not engaged, you might want to include less or change up what's inside. Does your little one respond to music? Include more songs? Does she like to hold something? Include more props? Is he very mobile and active? Take it with you to a space that is big enough for movement and focus on movement games and songs interspersed with more stationary ones.
  • Older children: Older children may benefit from their own Ever-changing Book that is used more independently (think more busy-binder style). These are great for quiet times, waiting times and (for non-motion sick children) travel times.
Check back in for more ideas to include in your Ever-changing Book as we will be making updates as we go along. Until then...

Happy Playing!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Art & Artists in the Garden: Claude Monet

 I try not to play favorites, but when it comes to studying artists with children, Claude Monet is definitely in my top ten! I love that Monet returned through his paintings to the same scene repeatedly --I think this can instill a reverence for the beauty of repetition and practice in children. I don't necessarily favor his sense of perfectionism (though I can relate to it on a personal level). And although Monet was known for his paintings, I love to study his works with children using mixed mediums.

I simply cannot get enough of Monet's paintings of the Japanese bridge. And since it is one sight he returned to repeatedly over the course of many seasons and many years, I decided we make this an art study we returned to over the course of many days. Breaking up a project or art activity into several days' work does a few things.

  • it allows for drying time and the use of a variety of techniques and art mediums
  • it conveys a sense of importance in children's art: you do not need to "produce" something that you "finish" right away, rather, you can return to your work as the inspiration strikes and add on as you see fit
  • it conveys a sense of value in the time spent to create art in general--this is not a rushed process, but rather a process led by desire and inspiration
For our study we used:
  • stretched canvas
  • tempura paint
  • Q-tips
  • Cotton balls
  • Clothes pins
  • blue cardstock
  • scissors
  • floral patterned fabric scraps
  • sequins
  • rhinestones 
  • flower, butterfly and bug stickers
  • white glue
  • paint brushes
  • Mod Podge* (I did this part for the boys)
You can use any or all of these materials and add in your own ideas as well.

On day 1, I set out blank canvases, a print of Monet's work and my own interpretation. Along with that, each boy's station was set with a pallet of tempura paints in red, yellow, blue, green, white and black and some Q-tips for painting with. Although this work was not done with the technique of Pointillism, I love the use of Q-tips for painting with little hands of all ages and levels. 

Speaking of little hands, these boys got really hands on (and elbow deep) with their painting! And that was great! We keep wipes and rags nearby and particularly S, who is rather averse to getting painty, was quite enthralled with the sensation that morning so we went with it. I encouraged them to fill the canvas with color, but let them explore the means by which they did so independently.

Mixing colors, getting dirty, trying different strokes and techniques were all encouraged! There are many right ways to fill a canvas and even white space was allowed. I am often hesitant to set out my own "example" of a piece of art as I don't want to sway the process of process art. I do on occasion provide one and one reason that I do make these exceptions is that I also don't like to talk a lot during process art experiences. I find that when we truly work from a "blank canvas" state, I lean toward explaining more and I'd rather explain less. Certainly, process art in its own right requires no explanations or samples. In its truest form, it is wholly a child-led experience from the selection of materials to how they are used to what is created. In these "hybrid" versions of art experience in which I aim to invite the children to create something in a particular theme or style, I like to use objects to channel that lens. This may be an actual work of art or a still life object/collection of objects and/or my own example.

On the second installment (which we actually did that afternoon), we glued on our pre-cut cardstock Japanese bridge. I did this in advance so the glue would be dry and the boys could get right to painting. I have also seen versions of this painting replicated with children using masking tape for the bridge and the children paint over the tape. When the tape is removed, a resist remains in which the space shaped like the bridge is left white. This would be another lovely way to explore this work (you would incorporate that in the first day rather than at this point).

This time, still working loosely within the technique of pointillism, I decided to create some clothespin brushes with pompoms in two sizes, one smaller and one larger. Simply pinching a pompom or cotton ball between the clothespins will make your paintbrush. They are great for dabbing, dotting, or schmearing and streaking! I especially love the small size of these brushes for developing hands. Shorter utensils are infinitely easier for little hands to control (think golf sized pencils, etc.).

Y, as usual, went at it with gusto. He dabbed and dotted his bridge and even the canvas around it. I loved the effect of layering new paint on the dried paint! Particularly with tempura paints as opposed to their more permanent and bold acrylic or oil counterparts, using many layers goes a long way toward brightening the results. S, ever the minimalist, added one dab to a corner of his bridge!

After their work had dried, I added a layer of Mod Podge to seal the paint and the cardstock collage. The canvas was now ready for our final installment, stickers, fabric, sequins and rhinestones.

On my own version, I only added some flower stickers, but by the time the boys were ready for this step, I thought, why not add in a few other options and some glue--especially for my younger artist who can't yet peel his own stickers off, but can paint glue just about everywhere and stick stuff on it!

My sister was truly a Francophile growing up, and I remember her carrying around a toy doll that looked like Linnea from Christina Bjork's book Linnea in Monet's Garden. Years later, she would spend a semester abroad in France and became fluent in French! This book, now translated by Joan Sandin with its incredible illustrations by Lena Anderson, is one of my favorite ones in our collection. It tells the story of a young girl visiting Paris and seeing many of the infamous sights of Monet's paintings and life in her travels. It is quite wordy for the preschool years, but S enjoyed some time on my lap picking and choosing parts to hear read aloud and for days afterward, he carried that book everywhere we went. I'm not sure if it was the illustrations that drew him in or knowing how much his aunt liked it as little girl. We even took it along with us in the car on our way to the local botanical gardens here where we visited a real Japanese garden and even saw a similar bridge.

 I hope that both boys were as pleased with the results of their work as I am! All three of our paintings now hang on display. S's is pictured on the left and Y's on the right. Y had some help from his Mommy maneuvering some of the stickers, fabric and loose parts, and S placed and positioned the bicycle sticker after he decided it didn't belong on his own painting but did belong on his brother's.

Although this is a wrap-up of our Art & Artist's theme in this series, we will surely be revisiting artists inspired by gardens and nature throughout our summer at Sprout Scouts Playcamp. This week, we are busy with butterflies, bees and other bugs and insects. Art is an integral part of all that we do here, and we have even been integrating some travel art activities and messy art activities outdoors. We'll be back soon to tell you all about it and more!  Until then...

Happy Playing!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Photo Friday: B"H, The Kids Are OK--And Other Lessons I Accidentally Learned as a FTG (First Time Gardener)

Today's post is a little bit different than my usual play activities with kids. Today, I'm welcoming you for a tour of my garden and how it drove me [a surprisingly short distance] absolutely crazy this summer...

The character Cliff Clavin from Cheers' once said "There's a fine line between gardening and madness." This spring after two summers of biting off more than I could chew in an attempt to bestow a love of gardening and green thumbs onto my children, I announced to my husband that I would only plant one or two things this year. Our first season here, I went bonkers with seeds and by the end of it, we had a decent harvest of cherry tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, peppers, beans and peas. But it was hot and miserable and after a while, I lost my gusto for gardening altogether. The remaining tomatoes went to seed surprising us with a forest of those little red buggers the next year. And the lettuce that bolted also made a reappearance early the next spring, when again, I went a little bit bonkers planting seeds only to give up as soon as I got too hot to schlep buckets of water outside. We have no hose hook-up and southern summers are hot and often dry.

I am a big believer in outdoor play and fresh Vitamin D, but I'm also realistic that no matter how much time and effort I put into setting up our play garden and growing my Nature-based Playgroup, there usually comes a point in the summer season at which I become a recluse and return to the comfort of my air conditioned home. So when I said I was only going to plant maybe one or two things this year, I meant it. Even as I left the hardware shop with five packets of vegetable seeds, I still meant it. And when I brought our double stroller with Y fast asleep and an empty seat plus two cup holders and the bottom basket reserved for starter plants and herbs at our Botanical Gardens annual Spring Plant Sale, I still meant it.

Those "one or two" seedlings started off really well...starter plants were a wise investment, because those gave me some instant gratification, and who doesn't like to gain an early harvest? But a week of torrential downpours and intense storms found our kitchen turning into a Displaced Plant Refugee Camp. I started waking up in the middle of the night worrying about my plants and that's when I realized a few things:

  • Thank G-d, the kids are OK! If all I'm worrying about in the middle of the night is my garden, life is pretty good. I've finally surpassed the awkward years of FTM (First Time Mom) and transitioned into a FTG (First Time Gardener).

  • I think I might have miscalculated when I said one or two things, but math was never my strongest subject...

  • I think I like gardening!
but, I also think that maybe, just maybe, I've begun to step over that fine line between gardening and madness. And here's a few ways you can tell if, perhaps, you have, too:

  • Thinning beets was as emotional a milestone as my son's upshernish. The only difference is that I ate the micro-greens....

  • Radishes are super easy to grow and provide a harvest in just a matter of weeks. Unless you are me, and then, somehow, you are on your fourth attempt to grow anything but radish greens this summer...

  • I ugly cried over a sunflower and a watermelon plant. Yeah, you read that right. I cried for like 45 minutes on July 4th because a certain member of our family who was very excited about some new gardening tools over-zealously trampled over our tallest sunflower and his beloved watermelon plant. Ever the optimist, he released the following statement: "But Mommy, watermelon plants are supposed to be floppy; they're vines!" 
Yes, little man, they are vines and vines are floppy. But even vines are supposed to remain attached to their roots...

  • You may have crossed the line when you want to bring your container garden with you on vacation. Mobility is one of the great luxuries of growing an edible garden in containers, right? So is it so weird that I wanted maybe just to bring one or two of my favorite plants along on a road trip to New York City? Would it have been so odd to ask my garden sitter for just a photo or two or 459 of how my babies, I mean, plants were doing? Maybe we should just invest in a simple webcam system to, you know, keep an eye on things. I pulled one aphid off the squash plants before we left. One aphid. He could be calling 62 of his very best friends over for a dinner party as we speak....

  • Less than an hour before Shabbos is the perfect time to tend to garden emergencies. So we got home from our road trip and after 10 hours in the car, with less than an hour until Shabbos, I saw our next tallest sunflower had flopped to the side while we were away. Yes, this was an emergency situation. No, the garden shop was not open this late. Yes, I was willing to forgo a shower and even meals for the next two days (thank you, amazing husband who already did most of the cooking in advance and Instant Pot for the fresh chicken soup). Now, what to use to stake up my sunflowers? Knitting needles and twine, of course! "Knot" bad, huh?

  • Everyone worries about fertility sometimes. Some of us even obsess a little, and that's normal. Stepping outside at 7AM even before your morning coffee with a watercolor brush in hand to pollinate your yellow squash, mini pumpkin and mixed gourd flowers is also normal. Hand pollinating all male flowers is not normal. And also not effective. The good news is that the ladies have arrived! And so, too, have the actual [wiser] pollinators...

  • You're going to Google things you never imagined you would Google. Weird things like "why are my pumpkin flowers all boys?" and "will my strawberry plant have more berries this summer?" and "why don't I have any radishes?" and "is it bad to release ladybugs not hatched in an insectory?" and "is there any way to put a broken watermelon plant back together?" (Incidentally, no, there is no way to put a broken watermelon plant back together...)

  • "Maybe you're going about it the wrong way" my husband posited as I confessed my level of worry and concern over the garden one night. So and so already had cucumbers and tomatoes and zucchini and our cucumber died, our tomatoes were green and our squash flowers were having a hard time finding a shidduch. The apartment down the hill had sunflowers all the way up to their second story windows already in bloom and my two foot tall stalk was being held up by bamboo knitting needles and twine... And if radishes are so easy to grow, why have we had three cops of radish tops this year?? Maybe the soil was too wet. Maybe it's root rot. Maybe the greenhouse is too hot. Maybe I should have thinned them sooner. Maybe I would just plant seeds one more time and do NOTHING AT ALL. Famous. Last. Words. What Jewish mother does nothing at all? I can't very well water the chives right next to them and not give them anything! 
But my husband may have been right this time. Oy. He's going to read this and know that I said that. I hope it doesn't go to his head. Enjoying gardening should be, well, enjoyable. And it is! I love my morning inventory walk. I love seeing my kids out there--the human ones, too. I love the irony of pulling a suddenly dead succulent out of our Please Touch the Plants Garden only to discover that the succulent right next to it had a little baby! Kind of makes you want to start belting out "The Circle of Life," but after three days of painting pollen over my all-male flowers, I should probably lay low out back in case the neighbors are watching...

And gardens are a circle of life. Or a square. Or a massive blob in all directions... I planted these seeds to show my children a place where things can grow and flourish and inspire awe. Where G-d's miracles are visually present. Where it's OK to do everything right and still fail. Where it's also OK to do nothing at all and still succeed. Like so many aspects of life, gardening gives us the illusion that we are in control. That plants need us to grow and thrive and in reality, they don't. Ever seen a weed? And it's nice to feel in control. It's nice to feel needed. It comes with a burden but it also gives back, each and every time I carry in the latest harvest. And sure, I wonder why my peppers are so small or if I should have left that tomato on the vine a few more days or if I missed the boat with those radishes this year. 

But I also am amazed that a zinnia I cut and put in water over three weeks ago is still fresh and bright whereas store bought flowers wither after just a few days. And I'm biting into arugula that bites back with flavor. And it's kind of a nice break to wake up at 4AM worrying about my beets and carrots instead of S and Y... In a few hours, we will all be awake taking that morning inventory stroll in the garden, marveling at the wonder of it all, watching in amazement and anticipation. This is the stuff that salads and memories are made of and that is why, no matter what, I'll always plant "one or two things" each year!