Friday, September 30, 2011

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen Might Not Be So Bad

Recently, I've re-embraced baking. We're crazy about sweets in this house, and would love to indulge in them every day. So I bought a "healthy" cookbook which features baked goods with fewer calories, less sugar and less fat than their [decidedly more delicious] counterparts. It seems like a pretty decent way to compromise.

Since I've been baking something almost every week, there seem to be enough opportunities for trial and error and for learning. Now that my kids are a little older, baking with them has become somewhat more tolerable. The key, I've discovered, is to not strive for perfection. As long as I remember that most any homemade baked treat tastes good, I become much more at ease with the imperfect measurements, the puffs of powdered ingredients that spill onto the table instead of into the bowl and the not-ready-for-prime-time presentation. I've also chillaxed a bit about tasting the process.

The other day I saw Fifi sneak a pinch of flour she intended to eat. I stopped her and told her that was gross. But then I realized that I only knew it was gross because somewhere along the line I probably tasted it myself. We use all our senses to learn about the world around us, I reminded myself. So then I let her eat the flour. And she said it was gross. And now she knows. She--as well as Vance--also now knows that the dry ingredients are really dry and taste yucky. But that brown sugar beat with butter (or butter-like product, as the case may be) is delicious and sweet.

The two of them know some other things as well, now that I relaxed my standards and upped the value of the experience. They now know that the trigger on the hand mixer is a bit temperamental and that if you push it too hard, the mixer will suddenly whir very fast and very loudly. Additionally, they know that if you put a mixer into the dry ingredients, you will create a wicked dust storm. They know that the symbol "one dash two" means half and that you can fill the half cup two times if you want a full cup. They know that flour is powdery and that sugar, while the same color, is more like sand in texture. They also know that cocoa is worthless without sugar, despite looking awfully tempting.

Baking with the kids is starting to actually be fun. I stand firm that their hands must be clean and that anything that enters their mouths is no longer suitable for cooking. Otherwise, I'm getting better at relaxing and letting them run the show a little more. The kids have fun and we all get a sweet treat in the end. Seems like a pretty good deal.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Couple of Rah-Rahs

My kids were recently spectators at a low-key tournament. To help them play the part, we made pom-poms. They were fast and easy--but did leave a few more scraps about the house than I'd prefer.

I removed the staples from a couple of toy catalogs and then the kids slid the whole pages, lengthwise, through the paper shredder. I laid the shreds out as careful as fresh linguini. When there were enough, I grabbed them in the center and wrapped a rubber band tightly around the newly formed handle. For dramatic effect (and for fun), the kids scrunched up the pom-pom wisps.

Go Team!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Left to Their Own Devices

When we made the scarecrows the other day, I focused on picking fabrics that looked autumnal and adhering the straw just the right way so you couldn't see the tape and how do we make him look happy? and will he fit in the window?....Meanwhile, do you know what my kids did? They took extra fabric scraps and went off to play with them.

And for over a week now, those silly scraps have provided endless entertainment. Picnic blankets, baby wraps, head coverings, stage curtains, napkins, wrapping paper, the list goes on and on. It's cliche that the more you spend on a toy, the less the kids play with it. But it's true. The simplest toys are usually the best.

Similarly, they found ropes hanging off the clothesline in the backyard. The ropes took a soaking on a recent camping trip and so I hung them in the sun. The kids didn't question why they were there. They just immediately got to work fishing and capturing animals, creating booby traps and swinging. Yes, there happened to be a small danger of strangulation, but that probably just added to the excitement.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

If I Only Had a Brain, or At Least an Eye for Design

Now that it's September, our Fourth of July stars are starting to look a bit passe. I told my kids it was time we made some new front door decorations. Fifi immediately suggested we make a scarecrow and, days later, a scarecrow we made.

I'm not terribly proud of our scarecrow. It's a little too country, not enough rock 'n' roll for me. But that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for my children.

Luckily, he was super easy to make. We used old fabric scraps and an old shirt of my husband's for a hat, head, shirt and pants. Buttons, felt and yarn made a face and brown paper bags joyfully passed through a shredder by the little ones gave us faux straw. The entire thing is held together with fabric glue and packing tape.

And in a couple of months, he'll step aside and make way for something Matisse-inspired, I'm sure.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Two Games That Aren't Annoying

We're a big game-playing family. But there are so many kids' games that, perhaps while fun and educational for kids, are excruciating for parents. Chutes and Ladders makes me want to chute myself, for example. But really, I think I've only played it once. If my kids ask to play it, I can usually succeed in talking them out of it. Or I bribe them.

But we do own two games that are not at all annoying. In fact, I often volunteer to play them. And I might even be caught playing them myself after the children are in bed.

The first is Busytown, a game every family I know personally owns. (Because if they didn't already own it, I gifted it to them.) A few things that make this game great are its reliance on teamwork and its simplicity. But what really sells the game are the Goldbugs. Goldbugs rock. If you spin a Goldbug (or, while your kids are distracted, you subtly move the spinner arrow to the Goldbug section of the spinner and then excitedly call out "Goldbug!" making everyone so elated they don't even have a chance to think about whether or not you just cheated), everyone scours the six-foot long board with mini faux magnifying glasses in search of the object in question. If you're familiar with Richard Scarry's illustrations, you could imagine how fun it is to pore through his pictures in search of banana peels. This game calls for a little bit of braininess, but mostly it's just fun. For everyone.


Now while I was kidding that I might play Busytown without my kids, I'm serious when it comes to AnimaLogic. This is one of those games that could have an age range from 2 to 102. ('Cause, let's face it, once you hit 103, you're just not as sharp as you once were.) It mostly works for so many ages because you can choose from a range of difficulty levels. The premise is simple: move animals by matching their shape or color. But it can tie your brain in knots! I am amazed to watch Fifi strategize through a long series of moves before deciding her first step. It calls for a lot of braininess, but that's why it's enjoyable for adults. (Well, smart adults anyway.) And bonus, the kids like it, too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Donuts for Sale!

For as long as we had the book The Donut Chef on loan from the library, my kids were enthralled with it. Bob Staake's illustrations are fun, colorful and wildly geometric. The rhyme scheme is clever and unexpected (he manages to rhyme "calamari" while describing donuts!). And, well, the book is about donuts. How could kids not love it?

In the book, two donut chefs set up competing marketplaces on one city street. In an effort to outdo one another, they create the wackiest baked goods you could imagine (see calamari reference above).


This book was the inspiration I needed to finally make use of the two giant cardboard boxes I poached from a curb a while back. The kids made signs for their respective donut shops and used Play-Doh to create sweet culinary delights. Eventually, they added cash registers and sales offers. (Fifi finally reduced her price from $18, eventually giving her donuts away for free, or even paying customers to take her product!)

We had lessons in economics, architecture, marketing and cooking, as well as all sorts of reading comprehension skills. Meanwhile, the kids simply thought they were playing.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Long-Term Letter Book (Take 2)


(Blogger really doesn't like the photos in this post and keeps messing with them. I'm trying to work it out. My apologies for the poor layout.)

We took our time with this project. Over the course of a few weeks, we did some work on it some days, let it sit on the shelf some other days. Sometimes we talked about what else we could do to complete it. Sometimes we ignored it completely. And then, one day, it was done. And it was quite beautiful.

The kids each made letter books, twenty-six pages long, fastened with binder rings. About halfway through the project I asked myself why on earth I wasn't having them make ONE book altogether. But the truth of the matter is this was a project to get Vance really familiar with the alphabet. And I didn't want to leave Fifi out.

Believe it or not, across the 52 letters, we used over 30 different media. This was a very tactile project, sometimes stretching the little ones' fine motor skills to the limits. It also got them analyzing letters in terms of curves and straight lines. You could make an M out of dried spaghetti, but not a D, for example.

It was a perfect project for rainy days. I love the inspiration the kids found in the most random of household objects. And I love the keepsake books they can hold onto forever.

Here's a list of some of the materials we used:
rice
buttons
sequins
popcorn kernels
Q-tips
macaroni
dried beans
spaghetti
markers
glitter glue
bubble wrap
tin foil
paint
beads
popsicle sticks
yarn
stickers
tissue paper
felt
feathers
pipe cleaners
drinking straws




Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mummy Dearest

I can't remember if I've already gone on and on here about how much I love mummies. I think they are utterly fascinating. The ancient Egyptian ones, the natural frozen ones, mummified animals, I am simply enthralled by it all.

I caught Vance studying the how-to illustrations in one of the mummy books I suggestively included in the kids' book collection. We had recently explored some mummy stuff at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (a name I insist saying in full because I love the sound of it) and played some random mummy games. It seemed high time we turned ourselves into mummies.

Using the book as our guide and Fifi as our first subject, we washed the limp body, pulled the brain out of the nose with a hook (Fifi let us borrow the hook from her weaving kit. Perfect!), removed a few vital organs, sewed the body back up, steeped it in natron for 40 days and finally wrapped it. We used scraps of muslin tied together, which were dead-on in terms of looking mummyish.

While the kids were quite comfortable with the mummy-as-dead-person aspect of the process, it turns out they didn't really understand that mummies simply got buried and stayed in their tombs for thousands of years. Instead, as makes sense for them, they thought mummies were made to lie in museums. For that reason, Fifi really wanted an observation hole cut into her sarcophagus. She made a good mummy. And Vance and I were very good museum patrons.

When Fifi was ready to free her limbs, she insisted on mummifying her mommy. I was happy to lay still for a few minutes in a cardboard box. I even delighted in staying perfectly still longer than my kids wanted me to. I didn't flinch as they poked and prodded me in an effort to awaken me. And then, when they were fully bored and just about to abandon me, I scared the bejeezus out of them by unexpectedly springing up at them. Ahh, the joys of mummyhood.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Is it September Already?!

Just as the crossing guards, uniformed students and chipper teachers are making their way back to their non-summer lives, so, too, am I returning to the blogosphere. It was nice to have some time away. It was a busy time. But there was a lot of joy in it. And with the exception of the quick shots on my phone, I didn't take a single photo!

So now I need to dust off my trusty point-and-shoot, document some of the projects we've done over the past month and get back into the groove of blogging. Thanks for your patience! I'll be back for real next week...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hiatus

I appreciate all of you who have been visiting the site. And I really love the feedback I've received. But I think it's time I take a little breather. For a little while, I'd like to stop taking pictures of doing fun projects with my kids and simply do fun projects with my kids. I'll be back one day to share some more mini adventures. But, August feels like a good time to step away for a little while.

I hope you'll come back once I'm at it again. In the meantime, enjoy your summer!

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Colors of Us


This was a fun one!

We read the book The Colors Of Us by Karen Katz, which explores the difference in skin colors among the people in one little girl's life. Her mother, an artist, tells her that she can create every skin tone by combining red, yellow, black and white paints. So, that's what we did.

I liked how it was both culturally sensitive and artistically relevant. Even little Vance caught on that black makes colors darker while white makes them lighter. And trial and error taught the kids that mixing both black and white to red and yellow makes a much less attractive color than adding only one or the other.

As the kids painted different face shapes, we talked about various people we know whose skin tones more or less matched the color of the paint. After the paint was dry, I suggested the kids use markers to add facial features since I figured the fine tips better suited their dexterity levels. In the end, we had a happy village of diverse people--and great paintings to showcase!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Belly Laughs

It's hot. We get bored. What can I say?
Oh, I can say that washable markers are not quite as easily removed as you might think. You probably shouldn't do this right before a doctor's appointment...as I learned the hard way.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Stowing the Seeds of Love

One surprise from our garden this year was how much my husband and I love arugula. It grew fast and easy and was a welcome complement to salads, sandwiches, and just about anything else we could think of. While pulling weeds, I often plucked an arugula leaf or two and munched on them right then and there.

We were sad to see the arugula run its course, but with its demise came the opportunity to learn something new: how to collect arugula seeds. After the leaves had flowered, we saved a bunch and dried it in the sun. Then, we were able to harvest the seeds for our next crop!

The kids helped shuck the tiny seed pods to collect the seeds. We'll store them in a dark, dry place and hopefully plant them again in the fall. It felt like a great way to help the kids understand where their food really comes from. And it whets my appetite for omelets, fritattas, pasta salads and more....

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Learning on Vacation

Our family is spending a week at the beach. To be sure, there is plenty of wave jumping, sand digging and boardwalk walking. But, being a mother who likes to suck the fun out of everything by making it educational (ha!), I also made a point to get off the beaten path and explore the shore in a different way.

We rode a skimmer boat through salt marshes and explored bird habitats and wetland ecosystems. There was all sorts of direct education that the kids may or may not have learned from. But what I appreciated even more were some of the accidental lessons. When the boat driver had to pull the boat over not once, but twice, to pick up abandoned swimming noodles, the kids got to see the impacts of carelessness and littering on nature. And when the tour guide pulled sea grass, shrimp and snails out of the water to investigate, the kids helped dump them all back in, remembering to leave nature the way they found it.

I like injecting a little learning into our relaxation time. It is extra nice when it's a whole family affair and when the kids see it as part of their vacation adventure.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for a Science Project!

I've always known that you could make ice cream in a Ziploc bag, but I had never actually tried it. Until now. It is sooooo easy!

Fill a small, zip-top freezer bag with 1 cup of half-and-half, 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla and 1/4 cup of sugar. Insert the small bag (after squeezing out the air and sealing it) into a gallon size freezer bag full of ice and coarse salt. Shake for ten minutes and voilĂ ! You've got ice cream!

In addition to being delicious (truthfully, it was delicious. The consistency was not great, but the flavor was as good as any vanilla ice cream I've had.) and fun, this project is science in motion! My kids have already been exposed to the effects of salt on ice. This took it to the next level by showing them energy molecules at work. No, they don't quite understand that ice was absorbing heat energy, thereby melting, and then the water molecules used that energy to freeze again, but the salt made it difficult, so it had to work harder thereby making the ice colder which caused the cream to freeze. But they have some sense that something happens when salt and ice interact and that whatever it is can cause cream to freeze! Not bad for people around three feet tall.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Self Motivators

I've had this project in my mind for months now and only finally got around to doing it. In the end, it was definitely worth the wait!

I should disclose that I find floating and/or oversized heads to be universally funny. I have been known to glue oversized photographed heads of family members in places they don't belong, to hilarious effect.

So, you could imagine the fun I had watching my kids scotch tape their own heads to popsicle sticks. I made some outlines of clothing shapes and helped them cut outfits from patterned paper. Then Fifi designed her own paper clothes, taking full ownership of her paper doppleganger.

But enjoying this project even more than Fifi or me was Vance. Oh, how he loved having his own little head to play with. He made one outfit for "Lil' Vance" but then carried the lone-head-on-popsicle stick around with him for a whole day. Lil' Vance has become a huge motivator for Big Vance, which helps me out as well. While I might not be able to get my son to clean up or get dressed, if Lil' Vance asks him, he gets right to work! Lil' Vance might even give Big Vance a kiss or play Legos with him in honor of a job well done. Yes, it's kind of weird. But it's also silly and sweet and makes the real Vance both smile and do his chores. I think we'll make 50 more.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Local Treasure

For my local fans, I want to share this awesome place we just discovered. Briar Bush Nature Center is like half an hour away, straight up 611, in Abington. It's the perfect place for a family-friendly hike. First, it's totally free. Second, there is more to do than just hike!

We started in the nature center which included many live animals to examine, pieces of nature to touch and activities to do. From there, we set out on an easy hike. There were several worthwhile stopping points along the way. First, a pond just teeming with toads. Vance even reached out and touched one! Then, the "playscapes" section where the kids played in a sand pit, walked through a man-made tunnel and enjoyed other thoughtful hands-on activities.

In addition to the toads, we saw scores of adorable chipmunks and even a fat and fluffy rabbit. All that before the bird observatory. That was a whole cabin with more kid-friendly activities and flocks of birds to admire from rocking-chair vantage points.

It was fun, easy and entirely free. If you haven't been there yet, I highly recommend it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer in the City

Growing up in the suburbs, my idea of how city residents spent their summers had been based exclusively on Lovin' Spoonful lyrics and whatever I saw on TV. Open fire hydrants were standard, viable means of cooling off for city folk. Right?

Now that I am a city dweller myself, I realize that people can use community pools, park sprinklers and their very own garden hoses to beat the heat. As an adult, I realize it is neither legal nor wise to open a fire hydrant. But, there is another urban oasis that beckoned to my kids---and I finally let them indulge!

I had been told by the tour guide on a double-decker bus that swimming in the majestic fountains of the city was perfectly legal. The guy's job was to spew off little known facts about the history of the city, so I followed his legal advice with confidence. Yes, there was a spattering of "No Swimming" signs encircling the fountain. But I figured they meant no swimming, like breast-stroke and stuff. Surely a couple of pip-squeaks splashing around in the glistening water under the close supervision of their law-abiding mother was fine, right? I had certainly seen it done by countless other children. That means it has to be legal, no?

At any rate, the kids frolicked and had fun. At one point another kid entered the fountain as well. Within thirty minutes, they were all done and so we packed up and left.

Upon returning home, I figured I would try to find out whether or not I had aided and abetted my children in any crime. I consulted the internet, called the city and pored over the city code, but found nothing indicating fountain swimming was illegal. There were plenty of instances clearly illustrating it was discouraged, but nothing saying it was against the law.

For the sake of their permanent records, I'll probably keep my kids in the pools and sprinklers from now on. But between you and me, I'm glad they got to have that fun.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Techies

Well, here's something out of the ordinary for me. My kids and I got all teched out.

We read the book Make Way for Ducklings, only, since I was going all technological, the kids listened to the book on CD. 'Cuz we're old school like that.

After listening to the story several times over the course of a week or so, we took a trip through GoogleLitTrips.com. This site coordinates literature with Google Earth, allowing you to follow the steps your characters take through satellite images. I won't deny that it was kind of neat. Google Earth is kind of neat. But I'm not sure how much it added to our literary adventure.

My kids are way too young to really appreciate gazing upon satellite photos of far away places. But even when they do comprehend the coolness of that, I don't fully value the experience, as far as reading goes. If we were reading about ancient ruins in Mexico or the Eiffel Tower, absolutely. A bunch of ducks that fly and waddle around Boston? I don't know that pictures of the real place make the experience any better. Is seeing a photo of the actual river the ducks swam in better than the river in our minds? Or the river drawn in the book? I'm not convinced. Good writing gives you good pictures.

I perused  the site again to see if there were other "Lit Trips" I might like to try in the future. I came upon one book I enjoyed reading with my sixth graders, Fever 1763. Now if Google Earth could take readers back to Colonial Philadelphia, that would be something else. But, it can't. I'm not sure the trip through the modern city would really enhance the readers' experience.

The one thing the "Lit Trips" does that is worthwhile, is it asks probing questions along the way, hitting key areas in Bloom's Taxonomy. If activating your kids' higher level thinking does not come naturally to you, you might appreciate targeted comprehension questions at key stopping points.

All in all, it was kind of a cool thing to do once. I won't rule out doing it again one day. But for now, I think we'll stick to the old-fashioned way of picturing the places we read about: using our imaginations.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Easy Pleasin'

We have rocketship popsicle molds. Need I say more?


In case I do, I usually fill the molds with just two ingredients: vanilla yogurt and fruit. This time it was strawberry, but we've tried lots of flavors. Mango is my personal favorite. Super yummy, super healthy, super cold. Blast off!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Glitter!

I let my kids use glitter. Straight up, spillable, sparkly, messy, shiny, dazzling glitter.

I know most parents these days think Glitter Glue is a godsend, and often, I would tend to agree. But, feeling festive and adventurous, I let my kids glob the white glue on cut-out stars and pour mountains of silver glitter on top. Their reaction? According to Fifi, "This is the greatest project I have ever done!"

I kept the dustbuster handy and always had the kids work on top of a piece of paper which I used to easily pour excess glitter back into the bottle. It was messy, to be sure. But usually the really fun things are.

And now we have a star-spangled front door just in time for the holiday!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Water, Water Everywhere

The kids cannot get enough of water play. And, given how cheap and easy it is, neither can I. I have no problem keeping them outside with just a kiddie pool or an extra large bucket full of water. But some days, I go the extra mile.

I set up two water stations on a sunny day that were both winners. First, I filled small containers with water and added a drop of food coloring to each. The kids then painted the wall using real paint brushes. Truthfully, the color didn't even show up. But it didn't matter. They would have been happy painting with plain water. But mixing the colored waters was an added bonus.

Secondly, I drew three rectangles on the wall in diminishing sizes. The largest was worth one point, the mediumest (to use Fifi's word) was worth two and the smallest one on top was worth three. The kids dunked one of those squishy water balls in a bucket of water and took aim. They were allowed five throws in a turn and I kept track of each result on the wall. It was pretty easy because the ball left a wet spot on the wall. After the fifth throw, I had the kids use their fingers to add up their points, and we wrote the final score on the wall. Water play + math = win for everyone!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Magic Garden

So, if you plant things in a garden and add water and lots of sunshine, and pull a few weeds from time to time, vegetables actually grow! I know that's what's supposed to happen. But when it really happens, it still shocks me.

So far, we have enjoyed mountains of arugula and spinach, a first harvest of broccoli and now second blossoms. And last week we picked our first cucumber which was somehow more sweet and flavorful and cucumbery than any cucumber I have ever had. This gardening thing is amazing!

The kids have continued to fill their cheeks and bellies with fresh fruits. First strawberries, then cherries and now raspberries are in bloom. If left unattended, Vance could eat his body weight in raspberries no problem.

And even Fifi, picky eater extraordinaire, can't resist the temptation of nature's bounty. Here she is sucking on a basil leaf she had just plucked. It turned out she didn't like it (though I'm not sure I would particularly enjoy sucking on my favorite herb without accompaniment, either), but I am pleased she gave it a try.

Some other vegetables slowly getting ripe are jalapenos, tomatoes and cucumbers. We'll also have a few zucchinis soon, some onions and red potatoes and more watermelon than we'll know what to do with. There are a few corn stalks in there as well, but we're not sure we've got what it takes to make them succeed. We shall see.

We're also starting to collect seeds, keeping our fingers crossed we'll have a plot to sow them in next year....

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bingo Markers: They're Not Just for Old Ladies Anymore

This was totally random. But, one day while at CVS, I found this pile of old and dusty, really gross looking plastic bags containing Bingo markers--the liquid stuff that you can dab perfect circles onto Bingo boards with. They had big fat "50% off" tags on them, and so, naturally, they became mine. Even sweeter, these items were so old and random that they didn't even show up in the register's database. So, the friendly check-out guy gave me four bags of them for $2.00.

I wasn't really sure what I'd use them for, but I knew one day I'd be glad to have them. That day came last week. We were bored and uninspired. I took out the bingo dot makers and some white paper and left my kids alone to create. I wasn't sure what I would find. But I was impressed in the end.


Although Vance mostly made a series of random dots, he went back and turned a couple of them into spiders.

And while Fifi's dots also started out random, she connected the red dots by a running line that I think makes the piece quite inviting.

I'm definitely pushing myself more to step back and let the kids do their own thing. And I've discovered that is the secret to pleasant surprises.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Itsy Bitsy Spider (Enlarged to Show Texture)

Fifi and I read Charlotte's Web recently, which was a little more enjoyable for one of us than the other. I think we'll revisit it in a few years when Fifi is ready to really get sucked in by a character and will bawl her eyes out like I do whenever I approach the end.

Right after we finished the book and were ready to put it completely to rest, I stumbled upon a picture book at the library called Up, Up and Away. Not to be confused with other books of the same title, this book is entirely about baby spiders. You know how Charlotte's babies mostly all flew away breaking Wilbur's heart a second time? Well, this book goes into precisely-rendered depth about the life cycle of a spider. And yet, it's kind of cute.

I was happy that Fifi made some lovely connections to Charlotte's Web when we read the spidery picture book. But I was even happier when we decided to make a spider web out of white yarn. It was fun and satisfying and sort of a big tangley mess; but, it increased our appreciation for the talents of spiders and Charlotte in particular.

No spider web would be complete without a spider and some six-legged victims. We fashioned Wikki-Stix into the predator and prey and even had a cursory discussion about insects versus arachnids. (In other words, I shared the extent of my knowledge: one has six legs, the other eight.)

Sadly, I thought it prudent to remove the web before Vance napped in the bed it surrounded. So our webtastic pleasure was short-lived, but I trust long-remembered.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sorting Sequins

Very often, I get an idea for something to do with the kids and I just do it, not paying a whole lot of attention to which ability level it really suits. In those instances, I tend to give Vance a lot of assistance so he can complete the same project his sister is doing with ease. But that's not really fair.

This time, I varied the project so each child could complete it in his or her own way, learning what he or she was ready to learn or practice.

We started with empty egg cartons--those pre-school activity gems--and a jar of flower-shaped sequins. Fifi got to work sorting her sequins into the individual egg spots, differentiated by size. Vance had fun just filling and emptying the egg spots and opening and closing the carton.

Next, I wanted them to tally their sequins. For Vance, a young pro at counting, I made spaces for him to glue groups of sequins in quantities from one to ten. I encouraged Fifi to make a chart showing how many of each size sequin she had. She blew my mind when instead of writing "11" and glueing down a mess of eleven sequins, she formed the number eleven out of sequins. She hoped to do the same with the other numbers, but the smaller quantities were not always conducive to number art. Nonetheless, she found a way to convey how many of each shape she had.

Each kid had their own project, their own way.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Keeping the Mystery Alive

Last month my husband treated the kids and me to a hike in the woods. It was for Mother's Day, and what made it extra sweet was that he kept his plans a mystery. It was fun to try to guess what was coming by the few clues my husband was forced to share--we had to know what to wear, after all.


For Father's Day, I went the mystery route myself. I kept mum until we arrived on the waterfront and my husband was finally able to guess where we were headed. We took a ferry over the Delaware to visit the Camden Children's Garden. For you Philly folk, if you haven't been there yet, I recommend it. It's a small, quiet place, but quite lovely and fun. Add a ride on the ferry and a picnic lunch and you've got a pretty cool day. Don't tell anyone where they're headed, and it feels even more special.


And, if they don't know where they're headed, they can't complain!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sixteen Paths Diverged in the Woods

And I, I took the path of least resistance.

One convenient thing about being a blogger is that you get to create your own reality in a way. You can extremely edit your life in order to appear to the masses in the way you wish to be perceived. I try not to abuse that privilege. My blog has a theme and I aim to cast portraits of successes and failures within that theme. But always, I admit, I strive to appear more or less put together. I don't broadcast my breakdowns and most embarrassing moments or those times of utter laziness or lack of consideration that occur at least once daily in my unpublished life.

The fact of the matter is I'm living a life and then curating my posts to highlight the prouder moments of that life; or at least those moments when I'm still trying. Today, however, I don't have the energy to put my best foot forward. Today, instead, I comes to terms with my double identity. In real life, I'm kind of insane.

Me, at a more pleasant time.
I don't have photo software right now,
so had to steal from the archives.
Over the past three weeks, I have added to my overflowing plate a graduate-level online course which I thought would be easy (wrong). I have been dealing with an incredibly sick child whose needs include multiple trips to doctors and horribly uncomfortable procedures. As a result, I am doing laundry every single day and changing sheets in the middle of the night.  The picture software on my computer crashed. As a matter of fact, my whole entire computer is held together by a thread and I finally have faced the fact that I need to replace it. I have not cleaned my house in over a week and am simply averting my eyes when I enter certain rooms. Oh, and did I mention Vance is potty training right now?

So, you know what? Today there are no posts of cool art projects or creative ways to pass the days with my kids. Today there are probably more videos than I care to admit and certainly more junk food than is ordinarily permissible to me. Today I will likely be shooing my children off to play so I can complete some time-sensitive task that I irresponsibly procrastinated on. Today I'm keeping it real.

(And, for the record, I actually typed this post in advance. So really, today is probably much worse than what this post suggests!)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Because City Sidewalks Are Not Dangerous Enough

I've already shared about making chalk outlines on the sidewalk, but we have one other favorite chalk-on-the-sidewalk activity that helps pass the time as we wait for dinner to cook or swim suits to dry. It's making obstacle courses.


We make spots for kids to safely walk on, and fill the spaces in between with all sorts of chalky danger. When I'm in charge, I stick to the standards: rushing river (blue scalloped lines), fire (orange and yellow spiky flames), lava (I don't know why I go with purple on this) and the occasional predatory sea creature or invented monster. The kids help out by adding their own zany obstacles: a false step that actually explodes if you step on it (it's marked with an X), a pack of angry bees, and the somewhat random, but just as potentially dangerous, scissors.


The path winds its way along the sidewalk and ends with a secret treasure which is usually drawn under our neighbor's bench.


It's fun to watch the kids bob their way through the tumultuous urban jungle. But, it's even more entertaining to hear their narration as they go.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Whose Artwork Is It, Anyway?

I was telling my friend about a recent score on fabric paint using a 50% off coupon at A.C. Moore. In response, she asked if I ever buy craft supplies under the guise of children's activities when really they're for me. I shook with guilty laughter. I hadn't thought of it like that. But in reality, it was me who wanted the fabric paint. I had a vision in my head of a painted T-shirt and basically roped my kids into being the minions of my art direction.

I forged ahead with the project, but you know what? It wasn't worth it. The kids were never really vested in the painting. And then, after three rounds of painting, they didn't even want to wear the finished products!


A lesson I've sort of learned (but will surely ignore from time to time in the future when I have an idea that simply must be realized) is that it's good to set parameters, but you've got to let the kids make their own art.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Picnic!

It is amazing the difference in how we live between the winter and the spring. In the winter, I try to get my kids outside as much as possible, but it's always kind of a drag. In the spring, however, we all just want to be outside every minute of the day. And it's wonderful!


We've been hitting the playground every day and playing in our yard or neighborhood when not at a park. But it's not even enough. The cool breeze is still blowing! The happy birds are still chirping! Pretty flowers are still blooming! And so we take our meals outside as well, dinners on the patio and picnic lunches. Sunshine is just so good for our spirits!