Monday, September 27, 2010

Lie-Down Painting

Today we did Lie-Down Painting a la Michelangelo. Yes, we used real paint. I had the children work in pairs to sketch a design on large paper, then they taped it under the tables and the fun began! Smocks, of course. I only gave them poster paint, since it's thick. Paint for each child, a brush for each child, a jar of rinse water to share. It took about 45 minutes to read and discuss the short biography of Michelangelo, half an hour for their planning/sketching time, and half an hour for the painting time. My only suggestion is that you should have the cleaning spray for the floors and a pile of cleaning cloths at hand right away so that you can give them to the teams as soon as they are done painting. Also, it helps if the teacher goes around and gives each team 8 pieces of masking tape, stuck to the edge of the table, instead of the children trying to tear off their own tape and tape up the paper while two other teams are trying to take the tape away from them because they need it next.

By the way, expect that children will get paint in their hair. I don't know why but there it is.

Bio we read was the chapter from Collier's Junior Classics, volume 8. I posted a review of this book; find it here: Road to Greatness (Collier's Junior Classics, Volume 8)

The review I wrote includes a list of all the people from history for whom there are biographies in this book. It's a wonderful set for homeschoolers -- the very best quality -- and I love that there's a quote from Walter de la Mare in the introduction to the series.

Pangea Resources

I was looking for something else on the computer (isn't that always the way?) when I found these lovely resources for Pangea/plate tectonics/continental drift. 2 pdf files -- free. Use them to help your students find the current continents in the ancient landmass.

Pangea Matching Cards
Pangea Three Part Cards

The way this is done in Montessori is that you print 2 copies. For one, keep the "answers" with the pictures. Don't cut the line. For the other, cut on the line between the two. Give this second set to the child to match on his own. Then use the intact picture/answers for child to self-check work.

Another great resource is This Dynamic Planet: World Map of Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Impact Craters, and Plate Tectonics, produced jointly by Smithsonian, US Geological Survey, and US Naval Research Laboratory.

This amazing map is just $14.00 and it's HUGE. I use it in my classroom all the time.

Quiz: What was the name of the enormous ocean which surrounded Pangea?

The single enormous ocean which surrounded Pangaea was named Panthalassa.

By the way, on a completely different note, if you're wondering how the Green Smoothie experiment is faring, I do seem to have more energy! In the past four hours I made tonight's dinner, tomorrow's dinner, washed all the dishes from breakfast and from dinner, helped the children choose their outfits for picture day tomorrow, gave all the girls their showers and washed their hair, did my lesson planning for tomorrow, and am currently making chocolate chip cookies from scratch. I don't know if it's actual energy or the placebo effect but I don't really care, you know? Today's smoothie was kiwi, banana, and celery.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Green Smoothies

I am a member of Amazon Vine which means I am given free stuff to review... sometimes it's advanced copies of books. I have here an uncorrected galley proof of Victoria Boutenko's Green for Life: The Updated Classic on Green Smoothie Nutrition

Some background on me. I like to try to eat healthy (I think everyone does) and I am a member of our local CSA and have been doing CSAs for about six years, mostly because I thought that having the fresh produce in the house would inspire me to eat more of it. It doesn't really work that way, though, and I've struggled to find recipes for things like bok choy and sweet potato greens. I do a lot of convenience food as a single mom and my freezer has several Stouffer's frozen lasagnas in it right now. I try to eat yogurt (with fruit or honey) or cold cereal with milk at night when I'm craving something sweet instead of ice cream which I definitely know better than to keep in the house or I'll have a quart for dinner. I don't have poor health per se, I rarely get sick, but I have poor circulation in my legs and I worry about my heart. I also am exhausted constantly which I always figured was just part of being a mom but lately I have been thinking that maybe other people don't get as tired out as I do. I didn't have health insurance for years because I couldn't afford it and the state of MD only gives low income insurance to children and pregnant women. Not being willing to get pregnant just for the health insurance, I just skipped going to the doctor. When Amazon Vine sent me the list of products available for me to review, I picked Green for Life: The Updated Classic on Green Smoothie Nutritionbecause I was interested in her claim that a quart of delicious easy healthy green smoothie a day could cause a significant improvement in health, even with no other diet changes.

I read it cover to cover and here is what I think.

I want to try this! So today I got up, full of energy at the prospect of having more energy, and had my daughters read through the recipe chapter and choose a smoothie. Each girl made her shopping list on a piece of paper. When we got to the store, we spread out through the produce section, got what was on our list (which involved a lot of reading of labels, good Language work), and we headed for the checkout. It was three reusable bags full of produce. I'm thinking, how much is this going to cost? We love green juice that's pre-made and sold in the stores (Odwalla Micronutrient Fruit Juice Drink, Bolthouse Farms Green Goodness Fruit Smoothie) so I was hoping this would be tasty and cheaper. My total for four recipes -- EIGHT quarts of juice -- was $25.00. So much cheaper! I was dancing in the checkout aisle. Plus we can experiment with our own combinations. I figured that even if I got home and lost all my enthusiasm for this project, we'd still have apples, bananas, kiwi and mangoes for lunchboxes, and romaine, spinach, and Swiss chard for salads and side dishes with dinner. What's the harm in trying?

I was intrigued by her list of what constitutes a green, and some of the nutritional information she discovered. Here is her list of greens that they've eaten in the past year (not counting the wild greens she harvested herself):

beet greens (tops)
bok choy
carrot tops
collard greens
edible flowers
mustard greens
radish tops
romaine lettuce

aloe vera
baby dill
peppermint leaves


All juice making aside, a family trip to the produce section of the grocery store was great fun and a learning experience for the children. Standing in front of the fresh greens section (a section I usually quickly bypass and don't even see), my mouth was watering. So many new things to try! Once I saw them as food, I couldn't wait. Not having to worry about a recipe really freed up my mind. And these foods are super cheap. Super healthy. My family is so excited about making a smoothie for our afternoon snack. The four we are trying are:

Welcome Smoothie for Beginners
chard, spinach, strawberries, mango, apple, banana, lemon, water

aloe vera leaf, celery, kale, apple, banana, lime, water

romaine lettuce, honeydew, water

Kiwi Enjoyment
kiwi, banana, celery, water

Adjective Webs

In Waldorf 1st grade, wet on wet watercolor painting revolves around "color stories," winningly explained and demonstrated by Kelly Morrow on her watercolor painting DVD workshop:
Double Workshop DVD - $27.00

Great for those new to Wet on Wet watercolor painting. I also was glad to see her tell stories in a "Waldorf way" -- sooo helpful for a newbie homeschooler!

If you are teaching in a trad school and want to do these stories, I have a suggestion to help you work it in to the traditional curriculum. Adjective webs! A Waldorf classroom would never bring the relationship between or personality of the colors up to the head so early on by concrete discussion, but I think it would help you sneak painting into your Language Curriculum. Paint happy Little Yellow dancing in the center of the paper and shy Little Blue standing in the corner. Next day, blue comes right up to yellow but doesn't quite touch him. The next day, he approaches and they play together. (These are the first 3 in the series she demonstrates). Do a whole group lesson/brainstorm on the board creating an adjective web describing the personality of yellow. Do another adjective web describing the personality of blue. Then ask the children, what kind of personality do you think Little Red will have? Then do the painting where she shows red boldly barging right in to the play. Ask the children to do an adjective web of their own with words or phrases describing Little Red.

I think any way to get watercolor painting into the classroom is a valuable experience for the children, even if it's been adapted and isn't traditional Waldorf. No doubt plenty of people out there would disagree with me! I know so many traditional teachers who hunger to get more storytelling, painting, knitting, and so on into their schools. Let's find a way to make it happen...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Confessions of a Binder Queen

I actually own a book called Confessions of a Binder Queen. It's all about how to organize your life using 3-ring binders. But I didn't actually become a Binder Queen until I started my current job where my boss, who's a bona fide BQ, got me into it. Here are some examples of ways I use binders to make my teaching life happy, healthy, and organized.

A Binder Topic Begins
Right now, I am making a gigantic spreadsheet combining the artists covered in Using Art to Create Artand Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Mastersto see which artists I have the most project ideas for. I am putting them in chronological order by the birth year. These pages are in landscape format and will get printed and put in page protectors at the beginning of a binder labeled Heart: Great Artists 2010. Then I'll make a separate page for each artist as I go through, listing additional resources (like the biography of Audubon) and the projects we did and how they turned out.

Organizing Your Binder Efficiently
I always label the spine with Head, Heart or Hands, the unit title, and the month and year when I taught it. Then I put the binder on the shelf. NOT in a pile on the table!!!! On the shelf it will still be there when you want to refer to it. Also, I have learned to make the binder at the very beginning of the unit instead of at the end. If you do it right when you begin to plan the unit and then keep it on the shelf in the classroom, you can write in all those notes or good ideas as they occur to you. Trying to record the thing afterwards never works out. For example, in my Sewing binder for this year I have a booklist, a list of project ideas, and my notes as to how it went. I have the photocopied pages from Around the World with Finger Puppet Animals that we used in sewing our Peace One Day flags, plus extra pieces of tracing paper in the back pocket. In the Knitting binder that I just began a few days ago, I have a note on the wool dyeing we did yesterday (white wool yarn pieces cooked with turmeric in the crockpot plus a tray of wool yarn and a bunch of pokeberries collected and smashed on top of it with a rock). I also was idly flipping through a vintage book called It's Fun to Know Why: Experiments with things around usby Julius Schwartz and discovered a chapter on Wool! I immediately put a note in my Knitting binder of this resource. My binders begin with a complete booklist (just a piece of college ruled paper that I can scribble notes on), then a plan for the unit, then the actual notes from the unit as it progresses. Put a bunch of loose leaf paper in it, stick it on the shelf, and write in it as you go. It Really Works! And, believe me, you'll be glad for it next year. For units that I've already taught, I just download them from the website, put the booklist page in front, and then add my looseleaf paper so that I can take notes in real time and update the unit pdf later.

Right now I would say that you should have several binders working. I've got a Math unit on Number Shapes & Patterns coming up in October so I have my planning binder. That's Head. Heart is Watercolor Painting and I've got my binder started for that. Hands is Knitting and I have a binder for that. I also have an ongoing year-long unit on the Great Artists. You can have a binder for any year-long topic, such as poems you memorize in circle time or math games you play. Just make the binder before the unit begins and put it on the shelf. You'll be glad of a place to make those notes, I promise.

By the way, this book It's Fun to Know Why: Experiments with things around usis pretty awesome. It has a simple explanation plus science experiments for the following topics:

  • Iron - King of the Metals

  • Coal - Black Diamonds

  • Cement - Rock of Ages

  • Glass - A Window on the World

  • Rubber - Jack-of-all-trades

  • Wool - Fleece for Man

  • Salt - The Spice of Life

  • Bread - The Staff of Life

  • Soap - Dirt Chaser

  • Paper - A Web for Words

Written in 1952, it's a little old-fashioned but still incredibly interesting. And I love the science experiments for wool. One involves putting hot water into three small jars with lids. One jar is left as is, with the lid on. One jar is closed, the lid put on, and then a wool sock is placed over the jar, covering it completely. The third jar is covered similarly but with a cotton sock. After half an hour, remove the socks and feel all the jars. Which one is the warmest? The coolest?

What You Need to be a Binder Queen
You need a bunch of white 3-ring binders (trying to color coordinate the binders to the color of the main lesson books used actually makes things more difficult -- white is the way).

Page protectors for things that you want to put in the binder but don't want to put holes in, like sample watercolor paintings.

Looseleaf college ruled paper, so that you don't waste time typing up your notes on the computer and printing them out, because you'll never get over to the computer anyway. You also won't need a hole punch.

A pencil.

Art - The Great Masters

Wendy Libby's Using Art to Create Art

One of the unique things about this book (and maybe the reason why its price is a little on the high side for a teaching book) is that every page in it is perforated, ready to be torn out and placed in page protectors for a teaching binder. How thoughtful!

The art projects are used to study masterpieces and work in the style of some of the great artists. It fits in well with MaryAnn Kohl's Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters
Wendy Libby has the artists listed alphabetically instead of in a chronological timeline like MAK. Here is her list:

  • Romare Bearden

  • Georges Braque

  • Alexander Calder

  • Mary Cassatt

  • Paul Cezanne

  • Marc Chagall

  • Salvador Dali

  • Leonardo da Vinci

  • Stuart Davis

  • Edgar Degas

  • Albrecht Durer

  • M.C. Escher

  • Paul Gaughin

  • Winslow Homer

  • Edward Hopper

  • Jasper Johns

  • Wassily Kandinsky

  • Paul Klee

  • Henri Matisse

  • Joan Miro

  • Amadeo Modigliani

  • Piet Mondrian

  • Claude Monet

  • Georgia O'Keeffe

  • Pablo Picasso

  • Jackson Pollack

  • Rembrandt van Rijn

  • Pierre Auguste Renoir

  • Georges Rouault

  • Henri Rousseau

  • Georges Seurat

  • Vincent van Gogh

  • Andy Warhol

  • Grant Wood

  • Frank Lloyd Wright

  • Andrew Wyeth

If you are planning your homeschool art curriculum for the year and would like to study great masters, I highly recommend this book!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fresco Plaque

Our Great Artist for the month of September is Michelangelo. Using MaryAnn Kohl's suggestions in Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great MastersI had the students paint with bright tempera paints on wet plaster. Here is how it went:

First, I had a difficult time finding plaster of Paris which is not as readily available as it used to be. Finally I found some and promptly bought up all they had (three large containers @ $4.00 each). I recommend that if you have a local source for plaster of Paris that you get more than you think you will need for this project. Or consider getting it from an online source

I bought inexpensive packs of 6 9-inch pie pans from the grocery store for the plaster of Paris molds. I waited until the students were ready for the lesson before mixing the plaster (instead of mixing it while they were in Spanish class and then having it be ready). I wanted them to get an idea of the complexity involved. Mixing it just right, spreading it, waiting patiently for the perfect consistency, then rushing to complete the work before the plaster dried.

Our plaster of Paris ratio was 2 parts p of p to 1 part water. So I set up two 1000 mL beakers of plaster of Paris and 1 1000 mL beaker of water and we did a short lesson ratio. Now that I've done these I know that I would need 4 beakers of p of p and two beakers of water. We had enough to only barely cover the bottom of 12 pie pans. I would like the plaques to be thicker next time.

After the ratio lesson and before mixing the stuff, I passed out the pie pans. I had the children emboss their initials on the bottom with a regular pencil. Then we passed out little 4 cup egg carton sections with four colors of tempera paint. I had an array of inexpensive brushes available and a bucket of water for soaking brushes that got plaster in them. If the children try to paint too soon, they will get wet plaster in the brush and it needs to be soaked right away. Every child got a thick popsicle stick for smoothing out the surface of the plaster and for poking it to see if it was firming up. This is better than having them poke it with their brushes.

We donned smocks.

I cut short pieces of yarn for the children to hold in place as I poured the plaster; these hardened into place and became hanging loops for the Fresco Plaques.

I mixed the plaster in a large bucket and accidentally didn't stir it well enough so each child had to continue to stir to break up lumps in their pie pan. I need to use a trowel to mix it and I need to stir it for a longer amount of time. After I ladled out a scoop of the goo, they sat and observed their plaster and waited and waited and waited. It was about ten minutes before suddenly the surface was firm enough to paint on but not too dry. Then you have to rush because you only have a few minutes to do your artwork. We definitely got the idea of the complexity of fresco painting!

I played Haydn's "The Creation" in the background -- LOUD -- when we painted. I think it added a lot to the experience.

If you try this, have fun!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Hundred Penny Box

Today is September 21, which is when we celebrate Peace One Day. At our school we are collecting Pennies for Peace. It got me thinking about a lesson that another teacher lent me on the Newbery honor book, The Hundred Penny Box by Sharon Bell Mathis.

The premise of this book is that every penny tells a story. A hundred year old woman has a hundred pennies and uses them to remind her of something special that happened every year of her life. The teacher lent me her large beat-up wooden box, small cloth bag, and a hundred pennies. She had also made labels for every penny (they don't actually have to be mint marked from 1910 to 2010, they can be of any year; to have a hundred is the point). Each decade was printed in a different color and she laminated the labels, like this:



And the ten little paper labels for that decade were all printed in blue, etc. She must have laid out the hundred pennies, each according to its label, to show just how many years the lady had been alive. Then she had the children bring in the number of pennies as they were old, and make a card for each with a memory (like a personal timeline, something we are required to do each year). Also, the children were invited to find an older friend or relative, give them a penny with a certain year stamped on it, and ask them to write up a memory from that year.

The idea is lovely so I wanted to pass it along. If you are counting to 100 with your child, or skip counting by tens, you might like the color coded label idea in and of itself. Sorting the color cards by decade, and then arranging them in number order within that decade, is less daunting than sorting from 1900 to 2000 with no help.

In our house we have dime books and every year the children get a dime (mint marked for that year) at the bottom of their Christmas stocking. As they fill in the books, they have one dime from each year of their lives, marked with that date.

Stancup (tm)

We use half-pint jelly jars for watercolor paint. We use cardboard egg cartons cut into thirds (4 cups each) for tempera paint. But sometimes you just need a small sturdy disposable container because whatever you are doing is too messy or just not something you can wash out of a container later. Enter the Stancup disposable container

I went online today because we had a small stack of these in the art closet and I wanted to be sure I wrote down the brand so that when we ran out, no one was running around saying, what was the name of those really nice little paper cups? It's Stancup and they are sold by the bulk in boxes of 1000. On Amazon it's $99.99 which comes to ten cents per cup. They look like little muffin cups but are very durable and thick. Handy to have around. Recommended!

Monday, September 20, 2010


At our school we use Junior Great Books as part of the literature program and this week's story for the second graders is Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin

This is a lovely chance for me to introduce riddles to the class, so appropriate for that age group.

I do not breathe, but I run and jump.
I do not eat, but I swim and stretch.
I do not drink, but I sleep and stand.
I do not think, but I run and play.
I do not see, but you see me every day.


It's hard to find a good collection of classic riddles for children, though. Here are two I recommend:

A Collection of Songs, Verses, Riddles and Stories for Children of Grades 1-3 by David Adams, available from

Or, if it's just Riddles you want plain-and-simple, Steiner Waldorf Fellowship Publications used to have a book of them. I purchased a copy in February 2007 for £1.75 GBP. They have a new website so the link to the old bookstore doesn't work. I found the new Bookshop but no luck with the title "A Collection of Riddles". The book has no author listed inside the cover. Thank heavens I had the good sense to hang on to my copy, knowing it would probably drift back out of print. I did find a list of teaching vacancies posted on their site, including a kindy teacher position in Aberdeen! I used to live in Aberdeen, so that was cool to see.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Artsfest - Wood Burning

Today I met a new artist at Artsfest, the annual weekend Arts celebration at Annmarie Gardens in Solomons MD. This prestigious event draws artists from all over the country to showcase their work. We love walking through the shady sculpture park and visiting all the booths. Rebecca loved the blacksmith at his anvil. Natalie loved the fiber artist at her spinning wheel. We had such a good time that we are going back tomorrow to do it again. I usually walk with my arms crossed tightly to avoid reaching for my wallet, but I did relent and purchase something for the classroom. Next month's artist study is John James Audubon and I've been working on preparation. I was thrilled to find a Newbery honor biography called Audubon by Constance Rourke which I purchased and plan to read aloud...


the bird logs for Nature walks...
Bird Log Kids: A Kid's Journal to Record Their Birding Experiences

and MaryAnn Kohl's project idea for Audubon (green Science main lesson books) in Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters

But I'm still looking for more ideas to help us explore this great Artist. Today at Artsfest I came across a booth which inspired me. The art is called "Pyrography" which means wood burning. The artist, Rose M. Beitzell, had wonderful work, especially accessible because she has made a lot of her wood burning available as prints or made into notecards. I purchased 14 different bird notecards for us to study and I plan to have us compare her bird portraits with Audubon's. I also asked the artist herself, who was there at the booth, if she would be willing to visit our school and talk about her art style. I'm hoping we can make that happen!

Check out the Studio R online gallery.

Autumn Crocus

The kids keep asking me when it will be Autumn. And now it is early Autumn for sure.

How do I know? The Autumn crocus popped up a few days ago. Today the horse chestnuts started dropping -- thump -- on the roof. We didn't know that there was a chestnut tree above us until breakfast time. It's a new house and we have only been here for the summer. Suddenly there was a thud, as if a tennis ball had dropped from the sky onto our roof, and then something bounced down and dropped past the window. I looked out but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. A few minutes later there was another thud and when I looked out into the yard, I realized why there had been a horse chestnut burr in the driveway. We have a tree! It's right overhead so all night long, while I sleep in the loft, they will be bouncing along the rooftop. One more sign of Autumn: my mother's dogwood tree is turning red. So it is official.

Time to change out the Nature table silks to reds and purples.

Time to play conker skittles and make conker dragons for Michaelmas (All Year Roundpp. 133 and 144, respectively). There's a crocus flower child pattern in Feltcraft: Making Dolls, Gifts and Toysthat would be good for the nature table (page 21 of the old edition, I'm not sure if page numbers are different in the new one).

Acorns, black walnuts, autumn leaves in changing colors, maple helicopters... so many lovely things for the nature table this time of year.