Saturday, January 24, 2009

In the Washing Machine

I am taking the raw wool from our sheep and washing it in the washing machine this time. I've washed it by hand and experienced the "romance" of that process; since it is Winter and hard to get the wool to dry outside as well as in Summer, I am doing it the indoors way. I found this very helpful article online (a pdf called "How to Wash Raw Wool in Your Washing Machine") but since I have a modern washer which 1) doesn't have a spindle in the middle and 2) refuses to fill up with hot water and just sit there (seriously, even if you pour hot water into it, it drains immediately out), I have to adapt the process.

Here is what I did:

I filled a 5 gallon bucket with HOT water from the kitchen faucet and squirted 1 oz Dr. Bronner's lavender soap in it.

I pushed the raw wool down into the water and let it stand for 2 hours.

I poured the contents of the bucket slowly into the washing machine.

I set the machine to the Rinse, Drain, and Spin cycle with Warm/Warm and spin speed set on High.

After it was done I left the wool in there and set the machine to Rinse, Drain, and Spin again with Cool/Cold and spin speed set on High.

The wool came out fluffy and nearly dry already from the high spin speed and I carried it upstairs in a laundry basket and spread it out in the bathtub to dry.

Now, bear in mind that this is coarse wool and not good for spinning. Merino wool, as she says in the article (or any wool with over a 64 micron count) felts extremely easy so you want to use extreme care with such a delicate wool. But for the wool casually sheared off a sheep for classroom use during a lesson on natural textiles... it worked just fine. And now my whole laundry room smells like lavender.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Talking Eggs

I forgot to say that on Tuesday, as part of our awareness of African-American culture, I ended the day with a tale from the American South: The Talking Eggs. Jerry Pinkney is a wonderful artist and my children loved the story.

Notes from the Classroom

I had no idea it had been over 2 weeks since I've written! I keep thinking that I'll make some notes in the evening and then after dinner I'm so tired, I just fall into bed. To catch you up, here is what I wrote for the school newsletter:

"Upon our return from the Winter Break we have gotten right down to business. We’ve used math, language, and art skills to make personal calendars. (If March begins on Sunday and has 31 days, on what day of the week does it end? List as many words as you can to describe “Summer”. Using only the colors yellow and blue, paint “Spring”.)

We began – and finished – Abel's Island as a read-aloud and made a 3-D diorama in the clay table of his island. How does he finally escape? Ask a LE friend! We are now deep in the adventures of Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 100th Anniversary Edition (Books of Wonder), which has been another wonderful adventure for mapping skills. Surprisingly, Physics plays a part in both stories. Abel’s challenge was to overcome the force of rushing water in the river surrounding his island. Dorothy, on the other hand, was lifted straight off the ground in her house and discovered that it didn’t fall. Why not? LE friends did experiments with gravity and concluded that another oppositional force must have been at work to keep her in the air. Now we move on to explorations with parachutes.

The entire downstairs is learning to knit as one of our New Year’s Resolutions. The children painstakingly made handmade knitting needles using just wooden dowels, a pencil sharpener, sandpaper, beeswax salad bowl finish, and polymer clay. Each team was given a 100 gram ball of yarn and challenged to divide it into two equal balls. Before the yarn could be cut they were required to weigh both balls on the balance to make certain they were the same. Now the knitting lessons are beginning!

Speaking of things being divided fairly, we have had a lot of ongoing math work with fractions. Look at the pizza illustrations on this page – if you have one friend, you get the entire pizza… for several friends, we divide the pizza up into equal parts. This is such a real-life way to explore the concept, and a way you can reinforce math work at home.

Language lessons continue; we’ve even had some friends explore the Greek and Latin roots of our language. One child laid out the human skeleton and discovered that the word phalanges (small bones in the hand and foot) is related to the word phlanx, a line of overlapping shields. The word patella (the kneecap) is related to the Latin word for shallow dish. Do you think that might be the root of our word plate as well?

I challenged the entire class with the riddle:

Monoclonius + Triceratops = 4 horns
Monoclonius + Pentaceratops = 6 horns
Triceratops + Pentaceratops = 8 horns

How many horns does each dinosaur have?

More fascinating than the answer is the WAY in which students utilized the resources of our classroom to gain the answer. From thinking about geometry shapes (triangle has 3 sides) to pulling out the encyclopedias to visiting our collection of dinosaur stencils to see the shape of each animal, students were hard at work tackling the question.

I’d like to say how fascinating and wonderful it is to see learning coming to life in such a tangible way in the classroom. We were privileged to be together as a class to hear President Obama sworn in. We gathered with lunch trays balanced on laps, squeezed together around the radio since the Internet was totally bogged down as people all over the world watched the event online. It was so reminiscent of earlier times when gathering around the radio was common, and the way families in America often listened to their president speak. Elementary friends had a wonderful lesson that morning about the legacy of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and it was amazing and humbling to all of us to be a witness as history was made."

The Dinosaur Riddle poem is from a book called Bone Poems, a book of poetry about dinosaur skeletons. It is a lot of fun!

I made notes on the books we read for our discussion on the civil rights movement (it was an introductory discussion; we focused on Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) Here are the ones I recommend:

Book of Black Heroes from A to Z: An Introduction to Important Black Achievers for Young Readers

Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

I Have a Dream with forward by Coretta Scott King

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dear Dr. King: Letters from Today's Children to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tomorrow the entire preK and K are going to the National Air and Space Museum; my children can't go since I'm not allowed to take my children out of the state of MD during the temporary court ordered custody. So the girls and I will be going to the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

Whenever I'm not teaching, spending time with my kids, taking care of the house, or resting I'm supposed to be doing my Montessori teacher training (HUGE binders, hundreds of questions) but I will still try to write when I can.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Knitted Cast-On

So today I went to buy the yarn for my class. We glued the clay balls on to the dowels, sharpened (you can just use a regular pencil sharpener for this), sanded, and polished them (I prefer Clapham's Beeswax Salad Bowl Finish) and the children are SO excited to begin to knit. I brought in wool and cotton yarns day, so they could feel the difference, as well as my wool carders for those who had not yet had a chance to try their hand at them, and some thick 'n' thin spun yarn so they could see how spinning with different tensions gives a different result. One child tried just twisting the wool "fluff" around her finger and then pulling on it to see how much stronger it was -- she was amazed! By the way, the boiling thing worked great for the polymer clay. The only downside is that some of the colors bumped into each other in the turbulent water and left some little colored marks -- nothing serious but you wouldn't want to spend hours on an elaborate sculpture and have that happen. I put them in a large stockpot (for crafts only) and filled it halfway with water, set it on the stove, set the timer for 20 minutes, and turned the heat up to High. The water probably spent 15 minutes getting hot and 5 boiling. Then when the timer dinged I took it off the heat and let it cool down with the balls still in the water, then turned them on to a paper towel to dry and they were nicely hardened. Easy as pie.

Back to the yarn story. I purchased twelve 100 gram balls in a variety of colors (but none too dark, makes it harder to see what you're doing) and tomorrow will lay them out in a beautiful rainbow. The lady at the wool store offered a wonderful suggestion -- since I don't know if every child will really "take" to it and want to do a large project I don't need to give them a large amount of yarn to start. (She said she always gives her beginners acrylic but I insisted on a Natural Fiber to protect the integrity of the History of Clothing.) And so we will wind the wool skeins into balls, the children working in partners, and they will weigh the two balls on the balance to make sure they are the same amount. Isn't that a lovely idea? And a nice way to both keep my budget to a reasonable amount and bring some authentic math work into the project.

In other news, I have no other news. Except that someone donated a carnivorous plant kit to my classroom and I am super-excited about it... always wanted to try one! And one of my fellow teachers found this lovely learning material about how different insects eat and what human object or tool best matches the action of their mouths... for example,

Party Blower
Nail Clippers

So we can use this material to introduce it. We want the children to match the diagram of the insect head to the tool (we would prefer to have actual tools but they might be cards with pictures of the tools) and then match the head to the body to see what animal it is. Then we can ask, is it only animals eating plants or can it be the other way round?????


Oh, I almost forgot. I named this post the knitted cast-on because when I was at the yarn store, Nancy Donley told me that when she teaches new knitters she doesn't teach them the cast on method I was taught (or, rather, taught myself) but she teaches them a simpler way, the knitted cast-on. This way, she went on, they already know the knit stitch and they are good to go. And it keeps the tension more even. It is also easier. So she taught it to me and now I will attempt to explain it.

Make a slip knot, stick the left-hand needle into it, put the right hand needle into the slip knot (your first stitch) and proceed to knit a stitch in the usual way except when you pull the loop towards you (and usually would slip your yarn off the left hand needle) you take that loop that is coming right towards your belly button and pop it onto the left hand needle, above the slip knot stitch. Voila! You have created a stitch. Then stick your right hand needle into your newly formed stitch and repeat, until you have cast on the desired number of stitches.

Family Time

I just want to share that we have recently incorporated a nightly board game or other game into our bedtime routine. It is going very well. My girls are ages 4, 5, and 6, and so everyone is now old enough to understand the rules of whatever we are doing. So it is dinner, board game, change into pajamas, brush teeth, bedtime story. The Uncle Wiggily board game has been a big hit. Tonight we did a memory game called Life on Earth which I got at Mindware. The pictures are quite lovely and the quality of the game is very good (nice thick cardstock). Tomorrow I think we will try Charades...

This is a lovely month to learn about the calendar and how different cultures measure time in different ways since the end of January is the Chinese New Year. We are trying to decide how to celebrate it. I have a Chinese student in my class so this will be a great experience! Today I read the story The Song of the Swallows by Leo Politi about the swallows of Capistrano. It was a wonderful tie in to both the calendar work and the instinctive vs. learned behaviors discussion that we are going to do tomorrow about humans knitting (learned behavior) versus birds building nests (instinctive behavior). As far as I know no one knows how old knitting really is but it is thought to have evolved from tying nets. I have seen ancient Egyptian tomb paintings showing use of a drop spindle. Weaving I think is even older than knitting; at least, it seems to me that it would be a more primitive way of making fabric and I know there is a weaver bird so did we learn it from watching them? If you are taking rushes and making a protective cover for your hut it is logical to overlap them a bit so they don't fall off... and did weaving come from there? Anyone know anything about the history of making textiles? One thing I love about teaching is that if you know everything you just preach and preach to the kids and they learn nothing... if you wonder, hypothesize, and discover it together than everyone is learning and you are modeling not only how to look up answers to questions but how to be an engaged, curious adult -- a lifelong learner.

Learning to Knit

So, the kids in my class are learning to knit and the first step today was to begin to make our needles. Following the directions in Kids Knitting, we are doing the polymer clay balls for the end of the dowels. You can buy packs of 12 pre-cut dowels in the Wilton cake decorating section at Walmart for less than 2 bucks, making this a fairly inexpensive craft for a class. The REAL expense is the yarn! Anyway, I am baking the beads tonight.

Baking the polymer clay releases dangerous fumes if it is over-baked and so there are different recommendations of how to do this safely. One is to use a toaster oven that is dedicated to polymer clay so no residue gets in your regular oven. One is to use your regular oven (if you are doing this very infrequently) and to open up all the windows in your house to provide adequate ventilation. One suggestion I just read online is to boil it in water. Obviously you would want a craft-only pot for this.

To harden Sculpey, bake it in an oven at 225 degrees for 15 minutes for every half-inch thickness of Sculpey. A toaster oven works fine if the piece you're working on is small enough, the kitchen oven is better for large pieces. Just remember to remove it well before dinner time!

Sculpey can also be hardened by boiling it in water. This works great if an oven isn't available, but a pan and hot plate or stove are. Another advantage of boiling over baking is that the pieces never scorch or become discolored from too much heat. Boiling works best on a solid Sculpey piece. If you are boiling a piece that has an armature and foil filler, care must be taken that no cracks develop on the piece, as water can leak into the piece and cause potential problems.

I will try the boiling since I haven't been happy with the regular oven technique and I don't want to open all the windows in January! I will report on how it goes.

The students are dying to try spinning wool and this afternoon after they left to go home for the day I found the bag of wool that had been sheared off our Tidewater sheep this summer (remember when I spent all summer tending the sheep?) so we can wash it, card it, the whole deal... oh, I know they will be so excited. By the way, we are working this into the curriculum under History (the history of clothing) in case you are at a school that won't accept it just for its own merits. We will be making beanbags to start, casting on 12 stitches since 12 is so lovely with fractions and my 2nd years need more practice with fractions. When you have knitted six stitches you are halfway across, three stitches is a quarter of the way across, etc.

Notes on wool pictures:

In my other class (Sunday School) we are making magic wool pictures. This is very labor intensive so we are spreading it out. First we did the story of Epiphany and Herod's decree and the angel telling Joseph to flee to Egypt. Then I had the children each take a tray and go over to the bins of wool roving and choose the colors they wanted and lay them out on the tray. This works as a first draft of the picture, helps them see how much of each color they might need (more sky, less donkey hoof), and to give an overall idea of the color scheme -- does it look balanced? Too dark? For the next step I had them carefully tease out all their wool choices so that they were airy and fluffy. The number one trick to success in dry wool pictures is to have the pieces of wool be quite small and open; if there is too much wool or it is compacted you can't get it to adhere well. By teasing the wool prior to beginning the picture, I hope to ensure their success. Otherwise, kids will be rushing to complete the design and throwing wool down in a hurry.

I will also let you know how this goes... I am doing this project with 5 children ages 3rd - 5th grade. They are quite excited about it! The knitting project is 18 children ages 1st - 5th grade plus three adults.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Blank Calendar Pages

I am so excited to be heading back to school tomorrow -- the new year always makes everyone so refreshed! Here is a link to a lovely blank calendar page template. We will be using this one. There is room to write in the month name and the dates but the days of the week have been already filled in and the weekends are shaded. I think this is most appropriate for my students but if you have an older child you may want to have him or her write the days of the week each time. I am giving my students the blank pages and index cards which state for 2009 what day of the week each month begins on and how many days are in it. They can copy the spelling of the month name off the card, orient themselves as to the day of the week it begins on, and start to write the numbers. When they get to the last number they can check it against the control (a commercially printed calendar) to make sure they have not made any errors.

Other things to share:

I was looking for some seasonal poetry for us to paint and found this lovely poem called Robert's Cove. It is too old for my students but someone may be able to use it for their children so I am passing it along.

Also while looking for seasonal poetry, I found this page of pithy little seasonal phrases for use in scrapbooking -- although, I'm sure, you can use them in many ways -- and so if you want some little quotes for the seasonal calendar check it out. Or perhaps you are the type who makes up little poems for the front of the refrigerator in which case you may also enjoy them. My favorite is

I know there will be spring, as surely as the birds know it when they see above the snow two tiny, quivering green leaves. Spring cannot fail us.
- Olive Schreiner

One of the classroom materials I have that I love and didn't know you could buy online is actually available through the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum and I found it when I was wondering around their website. If you are teaching about plate tectonics or earthquakes or volcanoes, you definitely want to check out this amazing map! It is called This Dynamic Planet and my students were enthralled by it. One of the men who worked on it knows me and gave me a copy when I graduated, as a gift. It is gorgeous.

Let's see... do I have any more links to share?

No, it looks like I'm done. But I did want to pass along the recipe for Snickerdoodles which Leah and I made. They turned out quite yummy.


1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/3 cup sifted flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt

(later: 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon)

Heat your oven to 400 degrees F. Mix butter, sugar, and egg thoroughly. Sift remaining ingredients together and stir into first mixture. Roll into balls the size of small walnuts.

Roll in mixture of the tablespoon of sugar and teaspoon of cinnamon. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until lightly browned but still soft. (They will puff up at first, then flatten out.) Cool; store in a covered jar.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

We stayed up until midnight (3 out of 4 of us did, Natalie tucked in early) and rang bells and shouted Happy New Year! And drank homemade eggnog. I have a lot of recipes to share -- yesterday was a day full of successes in the kitchen. For dinner we had a meatloaf recipe with a layer of mashed potatoes tucked away in the middle (a big hit) with Irish Soda Bread Rolls and green beans. The eggnog recipe I've also included; it is alcohol free and very easy.

Mashed Potato Meat Loaf
from Taste of Home magazine

1 1/3 cups water
1/3 cup milk
2 T butter
1 1/2 tsp salt, divided
1 1/3 cups mashed potato flakes
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
3/4 tsp pepper
1 lb lean ground beef (we used bison)
11 1/2 oz V-8 juice
1/4 cup ketchup

In a saucepan, bring water, milk, butter, and 1/2 tsp salt to a boil. Remove from the heat. Stir in potato flakes; let stand 30 seconds. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

In a bowl combine the egg, oats, green pepper, pepper and remaining salt. Crumble beef over mixture and mix well. On a piece of waxed paper, pat beef mixture into a 12 inch x 8 inch rectangle. Spoon mashed potatoes lengthwise down the center third to within 1 inch of edges. Bring long sides over potatoes to meet in center; seal seam and edges.

Place seam side up in a greased 13 x 9 baking dish. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Drain. Pour V-8 juice over loaf and top with ketchup. Bake 18-22 minutes longer or until meat is no longer pink and a meat thermometer reads 160 degrees F. Let stand for 5 minutes before slicing.

Irish Soda Bread Rolls
from Celebrate! by Sheila Lukins

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup golden raisins OR 6 T dried currants
1 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, oats, salt, baking soda, raisins, and caraway seeds (if using) in a bowl and mix well. Add the buttermilk and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined; do not overmix. The dough should hold together and be slightly sticky.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Form it into a ball, kneading it once or twice, just until smooth. Cut the dough into 8 pieces and form rough balls -- it is okay if they are not perfectly round. Place them on the prepared baking sheet. Using scissors dipped into cold water, cut a 1/2 inch deep X in the top of each roll.

Bake, rotating the baking sheet to ensure even browning, until the rolls are golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Serve hot.

Note: If you've made the rolls in advance, warm them in a 350 degree F oven for about 10 minutes before serving.

Yuletide Cheer Recipe: Eggnog

6 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 quart whole milk, divided
1 T vanilla extract
3/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a heavy 2 quart saucepan, whisk together eggs, sugar, and salt until well blended. Gradually stir in 1/2 quart (2 cups) milk, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens, about 15 minutes. Temperature on the thermometer should reach 160 degrees F.

Pour mixture into a large bowl. Stir in remaining milk, vanilla, and nutmeg. Cover and chill at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat cream until soft peaks form. Gradually fold whipped cream into the chilled mixture.

(We made this the afternoon of and then close to midnight we shook the cream up in a jar -- stop before it becomes butter! -- and added it to the recipe. Delicious!)