March 4, 2015

Why I Let My Kids Do Their Own Art Projects

The day dawned bright and early for our homeschool art day at the local art museum. I packed lunches, loaded my kids, and made the long drive downtown for a morning of art projects and a museum tour.

The topic of the day was Oceanic art. We painted geometric shapes on bark paper with black paint. Then we took our tour of the museum (which is always interesting with two toddlers in tow). We explored the wing of the museum that contained art from the South Pacific islands. After our tour we went back to the studio where my kids were given baskets to weave into a hog, imitating the hog-shaped basket we had seen in the exhibit.

I handed each child a basket, a pile of raffia, some feathers, and a few sea shells. Then I sat back and let them create. I helped tie raffia onto baskets or assisted when their raffia was stuck between the slats. Other than that, I let them make their own creations.

I'm proud of the art my kids create. Even if the painting or drawing looks nothing like the original subject, I'm just happy they were able to explore art through painting or drawing. I believe it's the experience rather than the finished product.

I may be one of the few parents who believes this to be true however. 

As I glanced down our table, I watched my kids weave their unique baskets. But at the very end of the table was another mom in a bright green sweat shirt. Her son sat quietly next to her with his basket. He looked to be at least 10 years old. He seemed unsure about the basket weaving, so he sat with his pile of raffia and waited. After a few minutes his mom took over, grabbing his basket and a handful of raffia. Then she proceeded to start weaving the raffia through the slats.

She made it halfway around her son's little basket before she realized that she had not tied the end of the raffia onto the corner of the basket. She was weaving but had little progress to show for it. Then she looked over at Curly who was seated next to her. Curly is apparently a weaving rock star because her basket was starting to have rows of colored raffia woven all through the slats. The woman held up the basket and asked Curly to help her. Curly took the basket, tied the raffia on the corners, and then demonstrated how to weave. The lady was still confused. She asked Curly to demonstrate two more times before she continued working on her son's basket.

The entire time this poor boy sat next to his mom while she completely took over his project, weaving colored raffia around and over the edges. He never touched the basket again. His mom made that basket her own project and did it for him.

Now, maybe the boy didn't want to weave a basket. If so, that's fine. However, his mom didn't even give him a chance to try. She didn't take the time to teach him or to let him make the project his own.

As a parent, it's important to know when to step aside and let your child explore and create. When it comes to art, I give my kids lots of freedom to express their individuality.

When it comes to art the process is much more important than the finished product. Why?

  • Art fosters creativity.
Art is one of the best ways for a child to let his or her creativity shine. In art, there are no limits to what they can imagine and create. 

  • Art allows the child to express individuality.
In few other things can I see the individual personalities of my children as much as I can through their art work. I love the personal flair each finished piece has. Through their art work I can see glimpses into my children's feelings and

  • Art allows a child to problem solve.
During art time, I let my kids learn from their experiences. I don't tell them what happens when you mix two colors or when you paint with watercolor on top of crayon drawings.

  • Art allows the child to experience new techniques and media. 
I let my kids experiment with whatever supplies we have on hand and I encourage them to explore and try new things as they create.

  • Art allows a child to feel successful.  
In art, there are no limits or incorrect ways to create. Every child can feel successful no matter the end result of their art time. 

While I do prefer my kids artwork to be an object that I can recognize or at least a finished product that I would be proud to display on the fridge, I've learned to step back and praise their unique artistic efforts. As much as possible, I try to let my kids experience art themselves with as little direction from me as possible. There is no "wrong" way to do art.

So, that's why I let my kids do their own art projects.

When you are choosing art projects for your kids, try out new techniques. Stray away from the pre-planned crafts at times. Focus on the experience. Let them learn through trial and error. But most importantly, let them do their own art and always provide plenty of encouragement.

February 27, 2015

Life on the Edge - My Homeschool Convention Experience

I had the privilege of attending a gigantic homeschool convention and helping a vendor. My husband got to tag along with me and he had plans to stay in the room with some good books while I worked at the convention. The kids were sent off for a wonderful week with the grandparents which made our trip possible.

We had a room booked at a hotel near the airport. Since neither of us had been to that city before we weren't familiar with the area.

We arrived at our hotel with all of our bags, checked in, and took everything to our room. We decided to run a few errands to pick up water bottles and snacks before I had to go to the convention hall to set up.

After leaving our things in the room, we took the elevator back to the lobby. As I stepped off the elevator I noticed a scruffy looking man with a huge handlebar mustache in the area near the vending machines. He turned around as we stepped off the elevator and I saw a bullet proof vest across his chest, a badge on a silver chain around his neck, and a walkie talkie in his hand. He quickly spoke into his walkie talkie as I stood there staring at him. I'm sure my mouth was hanging open and I could feel myself start to panic.

I glanced over at my husband who pulled me over toward the front desk. He quietly asked what was happening and was told repeatedly not to worry and that everything was fine. I was about to lose my temper so I told the lady that obviously things were not fine and that *I* was not fine. She just kept trying to reassure me without telling us anything. So, I told my husband that I couldn't stay there anymore because I knew I would not be sleeping one bit that night. He just took my arm and said we would run our errands and then come back and work out something with the front desk.

I took a deep breath and realized his wisdom in leaving the hotel right then. I started to follow him out of the front doors when I was nearly run over by a team of men sporting bullet proof vests rushing through the doors. I stopped mid-step in shock. The first man who rushed past me looked exactly like Samuel L. Jackson in his younger days.

All the men were dressed in plain clothes and all were slightly scruffy looking. Every one of them had a giant silver badge dangling from a chain around his neck. They all wore vests and carried large handguns. Samuel L. Jackson carried the other walkie talkie. So, that's who the first man was signaling as he crouched near the vending machines.

I stood in the lobby and watched them flank one of the hallways of the first floor. One man guarded the back door, another positioned himself behind the front desk, two crouched on either side of the hallway. I was still standing in the center of the lobby watching big-eyed as they took their position. I felt like I was in the front row of the newest action movie and I was starting to crave popcorn.

The man nearest me yelled to me that I needed to come over by him and away from the door. My first thought was, "Umm, no thank you! I'll stay here and watch." While I was scared out of my mind, it was too cool just standing there and watching my personal action movie staring Samuel L. Jackson and Handlebar Mustache. Plus, that man looked really scary and he was holding a huge gun. I didn't want to be his friend and stand anywhere near him. I thought I had a good distance and the perfect vantage point.

My hubby had other ideas. He told the man that our car was just out front and that he and I were going to leave right then. The man nodded and my hubby dragged me out the front door. I admit that I pouted a little that we had to leave. I wanted to watch the take down! I had no idea why those men were in my hotel but I definitely wanted to find out.

I did convince my hubby to drive around the hotel to check for more of the men. We saw no police cars anywhere nearby - not even unmarked vehicles. There was not a single person visible outside of the hotel. However, I did notice a second floor window that was wide open.

At that, we drove away.

We came back a few hours later to witness a quiet hotel and a calm staff. You would never guess anything had happened earlier.

We quickly walked up to our room, grabbed all of our bags, and hauled them back to the front desk where we informed the lady that we were checking out right then. She refunded us and we marched to our car and headed to another hotel on the other side of the highway.

All day I was convinced that we had just watched a team of undercover DEA officers storm the hotel looking for a drug dealer. I'll probably never know though. I do know that I don't need action movies anymore. I lived one!

Homeschool moms - we live life on the edge! What we won't go through for a convention experience!

And craziness aside, the homeschool convention was awesome.......and Fort Worth, TX was too!

February 25, 2015

How I Make All About Reading Work for Me

I have found a reading program that we enjoy. It works for more than 1 of my children. We are making tremendous progress and it doesn't require extensive planning ahead for me. Overall, it's a huge win. We are enjoying our time with All About Reading levels 1 and 2 with two of my kids.
However, while I like All About Reading there are a few things that I don't absolutely love. 

What don't I love?
  • It can be a lot of pieces to juggle. There are word cards, phonogram cards, letter tiles, games with small paper pieces, fluency pages, and readers.

Here's how I keep it organized:
To help me stay organized I've put all of the cards for each level in their own recipe box - this helps because I have two kids in the program but working at different levels. For this reason, I didn't want one box for all of the cards.

I spent some time during the summer cutting out all the game pieces. I placed the pieces for each game in their own ziploc bag. Then I slid each game with all the various pieces into its own page protector in a large notebook.

I put the fluency pages in page protectors in the same notebook so I can easily flip through and find the games or fluency pages for each lesson.

I keep the letter tiles on a small cookie sheet on our homeschool table. It keeps all the tiles together in a small area so I'm not having to use wall space with a giant magnetic board for them.

  • The fluency pages are overwhelming. These have many words on each page and can induce tears in my kids. There are also multiple pages per lesson.

Here's how I tackle these pages:
Each day we read only one small section of these pages. My kids know they don't have to read the entire page in that day. We make slow progress but that's ok. Sometimes I write the words individually on the white board and have them read the words that way. I try to keep our fluency reading time short and sweet.

  • The stories in the readers can be long. There are sometimes quite a few sentences on each page and that is overwhelming to my new readers. In addition, the stories do progress in difficulty quite quickly between each reader.

Here's how I help my kids with the readers:
We sometimes only read two or three 2-page spreads in the reader each day. I try to break down the stories and only read a section each day. We also read the stories multiple times to build fluency. I often have my kids go back and choose one of the earlier stories to read to me. As they increase in fluency they are able to read the entire story in one sitting.

  • The program does expect the reading fluency to happen quickly. For Tiger, the program moved too quickly. The pace is a little more on target for Bee's ability level. However, it still requires quite a bit of fluency with long passages and multiple fluency pages per lesson.

Here's what we've done to adjust the pace:
For Tiger, it took him almost two years to finish Level 1. (Remember, these are levels and don't correspond to grades.) Bee will probably move through the first level more quickly. However, I've had to adjust my expectations and let the kids move at their pace.

For Tiger, we repeated many of the lessons in Level 1 to help him build fluency. I have him read about 10-15 word cards per day and do one small section of the fluency pages each day. This helped us slow the program down so he could master the concepts.

No curriculum will ever be perfectly perfect but this one comes very close for us. With a few adjustments, we've found our "sweet spot" and I have two emerging readers. 

February 23, 2015

Our Favorite Muffin Recipes

My girls have been asking me to teach them how to bake. One of the first things they tried to bake was muffins. Now they have several kinds that they enjoy baking for breakfast. Here are 12 of our favorite recipes!

February 20, 2015

{Motherhood} I Have Been Reduced To This....

Motherhood. Can anything truly prepare you for it?

Today I participated in a track meet. However, I did not enter the race of my own free will. It was the children....isn't it always the children?

I was standing at the stove finishing our very healthy dinner of pancakes, sausage, and hash browns when I heard the high-pitched screeching that I knew was coming from my 3-year-old. That child is chubby, adorable, and so very loud.

She came tearing down the stairs to find me which inevitably started the stampede. All the other kids came trailing behind her, stomping down the stairs, all the while screaming that they were not to blame.

I finally grabbed the little munchkin who had tears streaming down her face and was shrieking words I could not even understand. I held up my hands and screamed a quick, "Wait!" above all the other noises. Everyone stopped and looked at me. I just stood there searching each face, waiting for someone to interpret the shrieking sounds of their younger sister.

Eventually Curly and Bee spoke up at the same time. "She kept saying something about her finger."

So, I picked up little Ladybug and started checking each finger. Initially I was worried that one might be missing. But no, there were still ten. Then I noticed the bleeding from a deep slice on her thumb.

I sent the other kids back upstairs to finish picking up and I took Ladybug into my room to clean her thumb and find a band aid. I started walking down the hall and Ladybug followed for two steps before she darted away screaming, "No! No! No! I don't want a band aid! No medicine! No water on it!" By the time I turned around she had rounded a corner and was gone.

I started to run down the hall to find her, following the sound of the screaming. I hurdled over the Lego house, the block tower, and the Duplo train. I stubbed my toe on the edge of the couch. I swerved around the temporary castle constructed of the leftover boxes from Christmas. I slipped on a box lid that slid sideways on the tile. I jumped over the each of the six extra boxes that had not yet been taped to the castle structure as I hurried through the entry way. Ladybug was just ahead of me, leaving little tiny smears of blood on everything she touched. She ran into the office to try to hide from me. I was too fast for her. I jumped on the ottoman and reached behind the chair to grab her before she could squeeze past me.

Then I carried her kicking and screaming back through the maze of empty boxes, Legos, blocks, and trains to my bathroom. I held her between my knees, grabbed some cotton balls, and put pressure on her thumb. Through the screaming I put some medicine on her cut and slapped a band aid over it.

I let her go and Ladybug sat on the floor and caught her breath. Then she calmly exited the room and went back upstairs to play in the dollhouse. Apparently she was fine now.

I was not fine. I looked down at my throbbing toe to see the polish that I proudly applied a few days earlier was badly chipped. My chevron pj pants were covered in snot and tears. My over-sized sweatshirt was partially unzipped and had smears of pancake batter. My hair was clipped on top of my head in 3 different clippies (because one is never enough to tame these curls) and I had a few stray curls sticking straight up. I had spent the past several minutes hurdling over boxes and jumping over Legos to chase down a bleeding toddler who was screaming with terror at the thought of medicine. And yes, I totally burned the dinner.

I have been reduced to this.

Motherhood is a marathon.

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