Saturday, July 31, 2010

Wild Weekend 7/31-8/1

"Tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" - Mary Oliver

Our definition of "wild" is most likely far different than most. I plan to offer you a glimpse into our "wild" and precious weekends. (And perhaps get a blog hop going in the near future to allow those of you who share our definition of a family friendly wild weekend to share in your adventures! I just need to learn how to make it all work!)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Chenille Stem Sculpture Stories

This morning, we broke out the pipe cleaners/chenille stems. We store them in a bucket when we put them away, so they are usually a "wild heap" when we take them out.

The children love exploring with these inexpensive, bendy, and fuzzy material. As you can see from the photos, they manipulate the stems with their fingers. Can you also see how much they are using thier minds? Look at the expressions on their faces, you can almost feel the thought process and concentration involved.

"Can you take a picture of all three together?" (Of course I grabbed the camera immediately!)

Activities like this one are a great way for children to work on their fine motor skills and enjoy creating "cool stuff." (as stolen/borrowed from Teacher Tom.) Not only is it important for them to have the opportunity to make these cool things, but it also a great jumping point to work on language development and telling a story. After our time creating, I asked each child to select thier favorite sculpture and then we talked about them. Here are some tidbits of our conversations:

"Do you know what it is called? A Pointer. Well, It pointing to whatever way you can go, down or up or across. You know what? I could even put it in water and it doesn't even break. When I go swimming, I will bring this with me and it doesn't even break, and it won't. It is made out of metal and metal doesn't break in water, it doesn't right? You can do this and point whichever way. You gotta like spin it with your fingers and thumb."

"It is orange and sparkly and it got bumpies. Bumpies are when you touch it they go up and down. It gots a lot of things and lots of tools. LOTS OF TOOLS. It can build something, and it is a robot, a caterpillar robot, yeah. It is a caterpillar and it is doing things, a caterpillar or a robot."

"It is a caterpillar. It is white and brown and green. It doesn't have any eyeballs. I wrapped it around. That's it."

These are great little stories that help you get a feel for what the children were thinking when they made their sculptures. Making little videos is a great way to document the knowledge and skills they show through a simple art/craft activity.
Here are a few tips on helping children talk about their work:

1) Don't ask "What is it?" instead say, "Can you tell me about this?" By asking them to tell you about it, you often get a much more indepth answer. When you ask what it is, you are talking more about the product than the process. When you ask a child to tell you about their art, you give them a more open ended question and option to share with you what they would like to share. As you can see from the short segments of our conversations above, children were able to take that short prompt and offer the information that they were comfortable saying. It isn't really about the product, it is about the process. If the child was so engrossed in exploring the process and different ways to manipulate the material, they may not have an "it" to talk about. They may only be able to describe to you what they did, what it looks like, how it feels.... and that will easily come from them when you ask them to tell you about it, instead of what it is.

2) Offer feedback, not praise. Give the child an opportunity to feel good about their work for them, not for you. Try to stay away from the phrases: "I like" or "that's beautiful/pretty/etc" say things like- "I noticed you used.... (lots of colors, different techniques, etc)" This shows that you are being observant and that you are interested without giving your opinion. It helps if you are specific about details. It is great to validate the child's efforts by saying, "It looks/It sounds like you really worked hard on that."

3) When a child asks you... "Do you like my sculpture/picture/etc?" Think about how you respond. Bring that value back to the child. Ask them, "What do you think about it?" or ask them "Can you tell me about this?"

Use as many every day activities and projects as a jumping point to let the child tell you about what they are doing and learning!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Paper Punch Collages

Most of our art materials are always "open" and available for the children to use. The scrap bucket of paper is usually raided quite frequently, and I like to make sure that there are plenty of "standard" shapes cut for the children to use. Of course, we encourage lots of cutting of their own shapes, but sometimes it is nice to have just the right shape without having to cut it. Today- I hid all of the pre-cut shapes and replaced that basket with paper punches instead!

Some of the punches required the children to push down, while others required them to squeeze. This was a challenging activity that required them to use their small/fine motor skills. For some of the younger children, assistance was required to add the necessary pressure. (I didn't help them until they had exhausted their own techniques and they asked for my assistance).
The "squeeze" punches were used much more frequently than the standard push punches. The children were giggling and talking about how the shapes (especially the frog) just jumped right up!

Most of the children opted for glue sticks. (Although we always have sticks, bottles, and dabbers available for them to choose from). Much to my surprise, the projects were completed without the use of any other materials, and children opted to keep not only the page they glued the shape to, but also the scraps of paper they cut the shapes from. I anticipate that these new paper punch tools will be used quite frequently now that we have a set of them on our shelves.

Some of the children used scrap pieces of our homemade paper on their colllages too. They were quite satisfied with the shapes and the glue, as they opted not to add any additional materials. I anticipate many more creations using multiple mediums with these new additions in our future projects!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

And Then Came the Monarchs

This is a photo of a milkweed plant. In June, I asked my dad if he thought that they had any growing on their 40-acre farm. I wanted to have a place to gather some for food in the case that we were able to get some monarch caterpillars from a friend of mine. When I finally took the time to look up milkweed plants, I came to realize that I've been killing milkweed all summer long. It keeps sprouting up in my flower beds and I have been pulling those weeds!!!


Live and learn, I guess. Fortunately, my darling hubby thought that they looked pretty cool and let a patch of them grow near our shed and near one of the liloc bushes. Now, we don't need to have someone bring us monarch caterpillars, we have been able to find our own!

Here is Dane pointing to a tiny little egg sitting on the back of this leaf. We gathered some eggs and some tiny little caterpillars to watch them transform with all of the children. Most of them are quite small. The largest one found by Mr. Allan is about a centimeter long. The rest are very tiny.

You can see the centimeter ruler we put in the next two photographs to give you an idea of exactly how big they are.

After we looked at the milkweed that was in our yard, we went for a short walk to the bike trail near our house. We found a lot of milkweed, but not many eggs or caterpillars. However, with our overall collection, I think we have 7 caterpillars and quite a few eggs. You will have to check back to watch us as we observe this "magical" tranformation happen.

If you missed our first caterpillar/butterfly metamorphosis observations with the Painted Lady Butterflies, you may wish to check out these posts:
I can tell you already that I am liking the experience with the Monarchs much better than that with the painted ladies. For starters, I like how we can see the full life cycle and how the children can help to find the eggs. I also like how they can see the caterpillars eating their natural food and not some "goop" in a jar. I know there will be more to post as we compare the two experiences in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned for more updates!

Our Stepping Stones Project

If you have been following our blog, you know that we are in the middle of our yearly stepping stones project. Each year, each child that is enrolled in our care has the opportunity to create a decorative stepping stone for display in our outdoor rock garden. We have become known for our display and the children look forward to creating their own stepping stone each year. Many people make stepping stones by purchasing kits from craft stores. We have found that option to be okay if you only plan on making a single stone, but if you would like to make more stones, there is a much more economical way to do so!

We make our stones with Portland Cement that is mixed with play sand. You can find Portland Cement at nearly all do-it-yourself type stores. This makes very smooth stones. You can use a variety of sand, we always use the sand that has previoiusly been part of our indoor sensory tables. (After we have used the sand indoors we either use it in stones or move it outside. Most of the time, this play sand is the colored variety).

I like to mix the crete by hand. I usually double glove my hands for mixing. You can also use a small shovel or wooden spoon. I like the feel of the mixture oozing through my fingers and I feel better about having a good mixture if I can "feel" it. The mixture we use is:

2 Scoops of Sand (Our sand is purple, yours does not need to be).

2 scoops of Portland Cement. (This is put in the old ice cream bucket right on top of the sand). We add one scoop of water and then begin to mix:

It takes a few minutes to get a good mixture going. If the crete seems too dry add a little bit more water, if it seems too runny add a little bit more sand and portland cement. The consistency you are looking for is almost like cookie dough.

We don't use any special forms for our stones. In fact, the octagon shaped forms we have came from a local grocery store. They typically sold cut fruit and salads in the plastic forms. We have reused these forms for 4 years now, and they still work fantastic. You can use plastic containers and many metal ones. (I don't have a lot of experience with metal forms, but I have been told that you might want to use cooking spray with those forms to make it easier to remove). We opt to reinforce our stones with a light weight rebar that we have left over from creating a rabbit cage. (We have also tried recycling metal window screen, but have found that the rebar works much better). We cut a small piece and place it in each form prior to scooping in the crete.

When the crete has been thoroughly mixed, we add some to each form, tapping the form gently on the table to flatten the crete and remove air bubbles.

We add additional scoops of crete, repeatedly tapping the form until we are satisfied with the thickness of the crete.

I always place paper towels over the top of the wet stone. This helps keep it from curing (drying) too quickly, and then after we let it set for a few minutes..... It is time to decorate:

(You can visit our previous post where you can see some of the materials we use to decorate by clicking here)

Some of the children plan out their designs very carefully before they place the decorations in the crete while others prefer to just add items and see what they come up with.

After all of the items have been added. I take a wooden toothpick and write the child's name in the crete. Each child helps me determine where they would like their name. Then, I place a paper towel over the stone and we set them aside to dry. When the weather is really hot, we spray them down with water rather regularly to slow the curing process. (If you do not do this, you could end up with cracked stones).

When approximately 24 hours have passed, we remove the stones from the forms. This is typically a very quick and easy process. We just turn the form upside down and tap gently. Then we spray the stones down with water again and wait at least another 24 hours before putting the stones outside.

Here are a few more of the stones created this year:

We keep our stones on display throughout the summer and early fall, and then the stones are sent home with the children. Our winters are far too cold and snowy to keep our stones out year round! Everyone looks forward to making the stones each year and the parent's love having the yearly keepsake!
I haven't priced the stepping stone kits lately, but our method makes stones for less than $1.00 each!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Recycled Paper

One of my favorite activities to do in the warmer months is recycling paper. We save all of the unclaimed art and scraps of paper from other projects in a big tote. When we have a large amount, we fill the sensory table with scraps of paper and scissors. This first stage of the process often takes a day or so. The children are given the opportunity to come and go, cutting and ripping whenever they choose. (Some people use a paper shredder if their goal is make homemade paper. We try to do our without the aid of electrical tools.) In order to make great paper, it is necessary to cut the paper into tiny pieces. The smaller the better. This give the children ample opportunity to work with scissors and to tear paper which is very important to building their fine motor skills.

We cut and we tore, and we cut and we tore... (You will notice that the majority of the paper is white. We usually reuse our colored scraps for other projects adding only a small amount into our recycling project. This is mainly for reasons of color. We always put a little bit of colored paper in, but it takes longer to break down and the red paper runs and turns our paper slightly pink.)
Then, when the paper is in tiny pieces, we add water. We pour just enough to cover up the paper scraps.

The water is clear when we add it to the paper, but in order to recycle the paper, we need to work with the scraps and make the water cloudy. The paper will start to break up into "pulp" which is necessary to make good paper. We "mush" and "squish" the paper between our fingers. We make it into balls and we tear it apart. The more we play with the paper in the water the more it breaks down. (Some people put this mixture in an old blender to help the process. We don't, we use our hands, and we play with the mix almost all day.) We usually let it sit for awhile and we come back to it again.

The paper mix starts to look like oatmeal, and we add some more water to get it ready to place on the forms. There are a lot of different forms you can use to put the paper pulp onto to dry. Some people use old window screens. We use embroidery hoops and tulle. Mainly because they are inexpensive and easy to adjust. (These forms have been used a number of times. You can see some of the residual paper sticking to them).

Before we use the forms, we always take out some of the larger pieces of paper. We learned this by trial and error. If you have too many big chunks of paper, the recycled paper will be more like cardboard and it will be difficult to get a consistent layer of paper pulp in the form. We use some of our sand and water toys to do this, but you could use one of the forms or a colander. We scoop the water and paper mixture and drain the water.

Then we take the pulp and form it into a ball, removing as much water as possible. (We set this aside and add it back to the mixture in small amounts as we use it from the pulp water. When we have leftovers, we add glue to it to make a great sculpting clay or paper mache.)

Finally, we are ready to put the pulp into the forms to make our new paper. This process is kind of like panning for gold. We place the form low down in the table and repeatedly move it back and forth.

This process is fun and can be messy too! The movement creates waves and mixes the water, paper scraps and pulp. Children can often make HUGE waves and splash over the edge. This is part of the fun and the process, but we try to keep the water/pulp level low enough that we don't lose all of our hard work in the waves.

When the child is satisfied with the movement and the pulp they are seeing, they pull the form up. If they can see through it, we encourage them to try it again. If there is not enough pulp in the form, the paper will be thin and difficult to remove from the frame.

We place all of the wet pulp in the frames on our front porch to dry. You can dry them inside, but for us it is quicker to dry them outside. (The forms drip quite a bit as they dry.)

After they have had an adequate time to dry, you can remove them from the form. The best way to tell if they are ready is to rub on the tulle on the opposite side of the pulp. If you rub gently and the paper begins to separate from the tulle the paper is ready. If it does not, you need to let it dry longer.

If the paper is too thin, it will not remove as one piece, it will easily tear. (You can see in this photo, some of our paper was too thin.). When this happens, we usually add the paper back into our scrap box or add it to the balls of pulp we use for sculpting.

Some fun things we have done with our paper include making cool shape collages using scrapbooking punches, making great cards for our parents, or just coloring it with different mediums. The paper has a great texture and is fun to experiment with.

You can add other items to the paper for some fun twists! First, you can add flower seeds when you are getting ready to place the pulp in the molds. Then the paper can be planted. You could add Kool-Aid to make scented/colored paper. You can add red/purple cabbage juice to make your own "color changing paper" for experimenting with acids and bases. Some people add small pieces of yarn or dryer lint. If you are going to add either of these, make sure that the yarn pieces are small and that you don't have animals in your home. (If your dryer lint contains animal hair it does not work out very well!)

This was linked up to: Teach Preschool

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wild Weekend, 7/24-25

"Tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" - Mary Oliver

Our definition of "wild" is most likely far different than most. I plan to offer you a glimpse into our "wild" and precious weekends. (And perhaps get a blog hop going in the near future to allow those of you who share our definition of a family friendly wild weekend to share in your adventures! I just need to learn how to make it all work!)

My friend died

 I learned a hell of a lot from Dan Hodgins.  He was mentor, a friend, and a "bone shaker" for many of us in the field of Early Ch...