Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Waldorf-Inspired Natural Christmas Ornaments

This year I'm making more ornaments that are all-natural and more aligned with the Waldorf philosophy which I follow in part when I homeschool my daughters.

Some of the ornaments I am keeping for the Christmas tree and the girls to enjoy. Others I am giving as gifts, swapping, or selling. My Etsy shop has some ornaments that are available.

Why do I spend the time and create natural Christmas ornaments? Why do I make natural toys? I found an interesting article about the philosophy behind Waldorf-inspired toys that sums up how I feel about natural toys and decorations.

Generally, Waldorf toys are:

- Made of natural materials. Waldorf toys have simplicity of design. Constructed of wood, fabrics, beeswax, or items from nature, children fill in the blanks with their own minds. Children enjoy the smell, the sight, and the texture of these toys.

- Open-ended and unstructured. Children do not need to be taught how to play with Waldorf toys. Playtime is kept unstructured. Children are led in play by their own minds and thought processes. Toys are meant to inspire children’s imagination, not to stifle or limit their creativity.

- Multi-purpose and versatile. Toys in Waldorf homes grow with the child. Consider blocks as an example. Babies play with the blocks by banging them together and exploring them with their senses. Young toddlers delight in stacking the blocks in a tower and knocking them over. Older preschoolers use their imagination to create buildings or design patterns from the shapes. These toys offer a longevity of use and duality of play.

- Lacking of commercialism. Unlike the common result of modern children’s toys, the Waldorf philosophy emphasizes that less is more. Parents are discouraged from rushing out and “buying it all.” The belief that with just a few quality toys, children will naturally push their imaginations to create greater meaning and purpose.

These four reasons are plenty of reasons for creating a Christmas tree filled with Waldorf-inspired natural Christmas ornaments, and I'm excited to see my daughters' reactions as they enjoy these new ornaments on the tree this year.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Preparations

Had this idea in my "Thanksgiving" folder for some time now. The girls are older and thought this might be a fun activity for them to do this year.

Sophia took a sugar cookie and frosted the top with chocolate frosting. On top of that, she placed seven pieces of candy corn (for the feathers).

In the middle of the cookie, she placed two drops of frosting on which she placed Skittles. She topped each with a tiny amount of frosting for the pupils. (It's all in the details, I guess.)

With orange decorator gel, she drew on a beak and legs.

She and Olivia did this during the weekly homeschool Home Ec class I teach. All the girls enjoyed this activity. It's fun...easy...and gives kids a sense of satisfaction of being able to decorate a cookie.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Benefits of Teaching Children How to Sew

One of the goals I have set for homeschooling is to provide the girls with practical, hands-on lessons in which they can develop life-long skills. Sewing is one of those skills.

Olivia, who is homeschooled at the Kindergarten level, is sewing a scarf by using the blanketstitch along the side. This will create a pocket on one side.

After sewing both pockets, she will sew on two buttons for the pockets and make buttonholes.

She wants to add flowers with button centers on her scarf (3 on each side above the pocket), and she has them lined up and ready to go.

Next to her is her needlebook that is in the shape of a house. She embroidered this earlier in the semester.

Sewing is a great activity for children, especially when they can make something functional. It improves hand-eye coordination. It teaches patience and persistence.

Olivia is proud of her scarf. She has worn it each day, and tells people she made it. Clearly, she has a sense of accomplishment and pride in a job well done.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Christmas Pickle Tradition

Christmas Pickle
Originally uploaded by Pictures by Ann

The Christmas Pickle is a pickle-shaped ornament hidden in the tree. The child who finds it first on Christmas morning receives an extra present.

While the Christmas pickle is believed to be a German custom, it is fairly unknown in Germany but widely spread across the United States.

This pickle is 3 1/2 inches. Compared to the other pickles, this would be relatively easy to find. It would be good for a young child's introduction to the Christmas Pickle tradition.

It's also a nice alternative to the glass pickles that are so fragile and easily broken by young hands.

This one is made from 100% wool felt, and hand-embroidered using straight stitches and blanketstitching. It is stuffed with wool from sheep I raised.

The first pickle went on sale in my Etsy shop today, and the rest will be available during the week.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Girls Ready to Eat Octopus Hotdog Lunch

Not a typical lunch I would make for the girls, but this one tied into a homeschool unit study on the ocean and ocean life after reading the book "Dolphins at Daybreak" (part of the Magic Treehouse series).

The hotdogs were cut into 8 parts at the end with about an inch or so uncut at the top to represent an octopus.

When the hotdogs are put in hot, boiling water the arms shrivel up a bit. They thought this was pretty cool to watch.

The octopus hotdogs sit on a bed of macaroni and cheese (for Olivia) and rice (for Sophia because she has a dairy allergy).

I enjoy bringing books to life for the girls, and one way to do that is through food. As they watched their lunch cooking on the stove, they shared some information they remembered hearing about octopuses (or octopi...whichever form you prefer using) and the ocean. Good...now I know they were listening to what I was reading.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Children's Giving Spirits

Each year the girls eagerly look forward to filling box of goodies for Operation Christmas Child (OCC).

According to the OCC website, "Operation Christmas Child brings joy and hope to children in desperate situations around the world through gift-filled shoe boxes."

The girls went to Target and I helped them purchase items to fill two shoe boxes - one for each girl. Once they were at home, they sorted through the items and divided them according to which box they were going to go into.

Sophia and Olivia were so happy to be able to assemble the boxes this year. It is one way that they can give and make a difference in the lives of children who may not otherwise have gifts this Christmas.

Community service is a hands-on activity that I enjoy integrating into homeschooling. It is a simple way for the girls to share their gifts or time with others.

As the girls get older, it is so inspiring to watch their giving spirits develop and continue to impact people locally and throughout the world.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Preparing for Thanksgiving

Taught a Home Ec class to homeschool girls that was focused on Thanksgiving. The two main activities in class were making a Thankful Tree and decorating it with leaves cut from construction paper. Each of the leaves had something for which the child was thankful.

The second activity was a "Fruits of the Spirit Cornucopia." I read about this in a book called "Homespun Memories for the Heart" by Karen Ehman, and modified it for the class.

Gave each of the girls a recipe to make a pastry cornucopia at home. Inside and around the baked cornucopia, you can put fruits and vegetables.

I read the following two sentences to the girls: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law." (This is from Galatians 5:22-23).

Whatever your spiritual beliefs are...these are good character qualities to possess.

So, I set a table with a display of fruits, vegetables, and grains as well as two books about Thanksgiving.

One by one I named the item I was holding and what the item represented (e.g., love, joy).

(Obviously, the idea I found below can be modified to fit one's beliefs and/or a traditional classroom setting, but I want to share it as I found it so people can use what they feel comfortable with):

1) Love GRAPES (can be shared)
2) Joy ORANGES (juicy and joyfully delicious)
3) Peace PEARS (peace takes a pair)
4) Patience PUMPKIN (waiting for pumpkins to grow, the pumpkin pie to bake, and Thanksgiving)
5) Kindness INDIAN CORN (the Native Americans shared their corn with the Pilgrims)
6) Goodness SQUASH (squash out all hatred and bad things...and you're left with the good)
7) Faithfulness WHEAT (God faithfully provides the Bread of Life)
8) Gentleness or Meekness GOURDS (excavated gourd shell used as a dipper to serve others)
9) Self-Control APPLES (Adam and Eve in the Garden)

As I picked up each fruit or bread, I divided and shared it with the girls so they had a snack and could eat what they were learning.

Reviewed at the end what each fruit, vegetable, or grain represented.

The girls really enjoyed this lesson and snack. They thought the squash was funny...and couldn't get enough of the grapes.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hand-Embroidered Felt Elephant Stuffie

Although this was created for a swap on Swap-Bot, my daughters have asked me to make elephants for them for Christmas. I'm going to do this plus create a couple more stuffies (like a giraffe and a zebra...or other animals that live in Africa since that is a homeschool unit study that I'm wrapping up with them now).

The girls enjoy playing and bringing to life what they learn...so stuffies that are small like this one would be fun for them to play with and the perfect size for their little hands.

It's important that the girls have all-natural toys to play with. This one is made with 100% wool felt and is stuffed with wool from sheep I use to raise. I embroidered it using cotton floss.

The rich, sensory input the girls receive when they play with toys made from natural materials is so much better for them than playing with plastic toys...or toys that have questionable materials in them.

Last year, there was a huge issue with toys that contained lead. After that, I began making more of the girls' toys by hand. Not only does this give them safe things to play with, but - if they take care of their toys - they are things they can pass along to their children.

The girls and I talk a lot about family heirlooms, and passing things along to their children. I feel a greater need, perhaps, to create a sense of "legacy" and give them heirlooms because they are both adopted from China.

Although they do not have antiques or family heirlooms from their biological parents (who are unknown in both cases), they will have a selection of items that are gifted to them throughout the year...particularly on their Adoption Day Celebration, birthdays, and Christmas.

November marks the Adoption Day Celebrations for Sophia (11/26/01) and Olivia (11/17/03); both their birthdays (Sophia's is in December and Olivia's is in January); and Christmas. A lot of special days in a period of three months!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Alphabet Book with ATCs

Z is for Zebra
Originally uploaded by Pictures by Ann
I am in the process of making an alphabet book for Olivia (my 5 1/2 year old daughter) for Christmas. This project has been going on now for several months, and is almost done.

Each page of the book has 2 ATCs (artist trading cards) - one that I made and one that someone else has made. I've been trading cards through a swap on Swap-Bot with different partners throughout the U.S. It's been interesting to see the different styles of cards that are in the book.

This card is one that I made a while back, but it was never traded. Since Olivia likes zebras and loves the tactile cards (she's legally blind in both eyes and responds better to the tactile/sensory cards), I thought this would be a nice one for her book.

It is made with zebra-printed fabric on both sides. The card is hand-embroidered using the blanket-stitch. The green ribbon is in the shape of a "Z" and has beads hand-sewn on it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Donation to Project Quin

After reading the information about "Project Quin" to my daughters, we were all eager to go through our clothes and make a donation to the children in Quinhagak, Alaska.

"Project Quin" an effort to help children at a K-12 school in Quinhagak, Alaska, stay warm in their cold and very remote, tundra village. The children are all Alaskan natives. Although the village is rich in cultural heritage, the families lack the bare necessities to stay warm.

The bags we donated had shirts, turtlenecks, sweatshirts, sweatpants, sweaters, coats, a pair of boots, snowpants, underwear, socks, and many pairs of pants/jeans. Also had almost 60 diapers and a teddy bear that we included.

The girls and I dropped off our donation at the homeschool co-op they attended on Friday. One of the girls coordinating the drive and her mom were THRILLED with the items we brought. The mother (whose brother is the principal for the Alaskan school in Quinhagak) shared a bit more with us about the impact that the clothing will have on the children.

She said that they had sent a package of clothing they no longer wore, and as it was being opened by the principal's family, a villager came by for a visit. There was some underwear in the package. Knowing the villager had a daughter, they asked if she would want the underwear for her. The villager started crying. Her family was so poor her daughter had never had a pair of underwear. And the daughter was 10 years old.

The other thing the children and their families desperately need are toothbrushes and toothpaste. Because the village is on tundra, apparently the fecal count in the water is very high. All the water must be boiled to be sterile to drink. This process takes over an hour to do, so many of the children (and adults) simply drink pop/soda. As a result, many of the children's teeth are severely decayed.

Part of homeschooling includes community service. The girls love to help, and this was one thing they could do to make a difference.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Muffin Tin Meals

In an effort to get the girls to eat more fruits and vegetables, I needed an idea that might make these things a bit more appealing.

Saw this idea in a Flickr group called Muffin Tin Meals. It's a group where people upload pictures of different meals, snacks, and appetizers in muffin tins. The tins are either 12-count or 6-count.

The tins can be lined with a paper muffin cup or left plain (like I did in the picture).

Since Mondays are busy days with homeschooling and the homeschooling co-op, thought I'd do this idea on Tuesday instead. Thus, "Tuesday's Terrific Tin" or "Tuesday's Tiny Tidbits" was started...either one works for the girls.

The girls were SO excited. The entire tray was gone by the end of dinner.

An upcoming challenge that the group has is to create a tray based on your culture. Since my daughters were born in China, I thought it would be fun to try a Chinese-theme muffin tin.

A couple of the other challenges that the group recently had:

- make a tin based on a child's book that you read (essentially, you're bringing the book alive and doing a food activity with the book...a great idea for homeschooling families!)

- create a Halloween-theme muffin tin. Some upcoming holidays to try could be: Thanksgiving, St. Nicholas Day, Winter Solstice, Christmas, and New Years. What kind of tin could be created for each of those holidays?

So many possibilities...

In the muffin tin above, this is what is in each row:

Top row: green grapes, pistachios, teddy grahams, and carrots.

Middle row: peanuts, dairy-free cheese, Swiss cheese, and celery.

Bottom row: dried pineapple, sesame sticks, pickles, and red grapes.

Everything, with the exception of the Swiss cheese, is dairy-free so my oldest daughter (who has dairy allergies) can enjoy the variety of items.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bringing Books Alive Through Natural Toys

Toadstoom Mushroom Felt Toy

Originally uploaded by Pictures by Ann

One of the gifts I enjoy giving my daughters is bringing books alive. I read a tremendous amount of books to the girls. There are many benefits to doing this, but two that I see every day are:

- the girls have incredibly creative imaginations which is evident when they play. They develop a wide range of stories with different characters and plot lines, and then act them out.

- their vocabulary is extensive and includes words that are challenging and not always used by children their age (not inappropriate language...just words that aren't "easy" and commonly used).

I enjoy giving them tiny, handmade natural toys that I make. In this picture, Olivia (who is 5 1/2 year olds) is holding one of the toadstool mushrooms I recently made.

She loves to play with tiny, all-natural toys that I make...especially when they tie into a book that I've read to her.

Perhaps the most endearing books that have illustrations featuring toadstool mushrooms are by Elsa Beskow. Three titles of books that Ms. Beskow wrote that I've read to Olivia and Sophia are:
- Children of the Forest
- Around the Year
- Woody, Hazel and Little Pip

Additional toadstool mushrooms are available in my Etsy shop. The link to my shop is to the right of this site. Otherwise, please visit http://www.harvestmoonbyhand.etsy.com

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

29-Day Giving Challenge

Came across an interesting website and concept that I have joined. It's called the 29-Day Giving Challenge ( http://29gifts.org/ ).

The concept is that you give one thing away each day for 29 days. Why? According to the website, "Because to see the world change, we have to do something to change the world. Plus, the best way to attract abundance into your life is to be in a perpetual state of giving and gratitude."

If this sounds intriguing, you can either start on your own...or you can register on the site and keep track of what you give by creating your own blog. It's inspiring to read what others are doing, and the impact that is being made through the 29-Day Giving Challenge.

I've been keeping track of what I've been doing each day, and it has been a very interesting journey...both in terms of what I am able to give each day and what I have received in return. In both cases, it can be tangible or intangible. Either way, it's been a wonderful experience.

It's worth checking out.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting in an Historic Election

Since cameras aren't allowed in polling places, this was the extent of pictures for this election.

The girls got to hand the voter receipt to the election volunteers, and then we all held onto the ballot as it was sucked into the machine. I was #1,159.

They have been following the commercials, mailers, and advertisements for the candidates, and made their decision about who they would vote for if given the choice.

During the day, we went to vote at the community center. As much as a 7 1/2 and 5 1/2 year old could be involved in the process, they participated.

Figured out that Sophia will be 19 years old and Olivia will be 21 years old when they will be able to vote for the first time in a presidential election. Until then, they get to watch and look forward to the opportunity to vote for who they feel will lead the country well.

The timing and results for the presidential election this year fit nicely with the homeschool unit study the girls are doing about Addy (the American Girl character who is was an African American slave who lived during the Civil War period, and escaped to freedom). The girls have been learning about Africa (culture, wildlife, geography), slavery, Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation, and life in the 1860s.

The girls saw a powerful lesson unfold in front of their eyes about what is truly possible in this country in a period of less than 150 years. To move from a point of slavery in the 1860s to having Barack Obama become the next president...that is an amazing and memorable lesson that the girls will never forget.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Making Sourdough Starter in Home Ec

I teach a class to a small group of homeschooled girls on Mondays. My daughters, along with the rest of the Home Ec class, are stirring their sourdough starter. They were so excited to be stirring the yeast, flour, sugar, and water.

On the front table is a science experiment with yeast. I had 4 quart-size baggies each filled with 1 packet of yeast.
- Bag #1, had only yeast.
- Bag #2 had yeast and 1/4 cup warm water.
- Bag #3 had yeast, 1/4 cup warm water, and 1 tablespoon of sugar.
- Bag #4 had yeast, 1/4 cup warm water, and 1 tablespoon of flour.

We let the bags sit for 30 minutes while the girls made their sourdough starter at the second table and ate their pancakes.

After the plates were cleared, the girls sat down and one by one I picked up the bags and let them touch each one so they could see how the ingredients reacted with one another.

They were fascinated that each bag was totally different. Had them write what happened in each bag on their worksheet.