Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Christmas in August

Christmas Stocking

The time to knit stockings is not during the holiday season when you want to be making gifts, so I curl up in the air conditioning to hide from the heat and knit. We are officially legally adding to our family very soon via adoption from foster care! The inspiration for our son's stocking pattern comes from kente cloth to acknowledge and embrace his biological ancestry. In joy our family wishes you joy as well... in August, even though it is traditional to wish such a thing in December. Big gifts can come in any month! 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

How To: Make Alternative Montessori Style Sandpaper Letters

We love our homemade letters
Have you noticed a strong inverse relationship between how much prep time you spend on a teaching related project and how interested your kids are? Not so with this project in our family. Using hot glue to make flash cards worked! It doesn't look fancy, but if it does the job, who cares? These are a great teaching tool for Montessori style learning and D'Nealian cursive, as well as general writing skills. I can see this technique being successful for children with sensory processing issues who don't like rough things as well.

Montessori letter k tracing

For the most part I really adore Montessori materials and concepts. One material my children rejected outright is the sensory sandpaper letters and numbers to trace with your finger as preparation for writing. The materials I got from Adena Montessori are great quality, but the girls abhor the feeling of sandpaper and took their strokes willy-nilly out of order regardless of instruction, so I let it go until their numbers were reversed and I was in an all-out war over cursive.
#teacheroftheyear right?
The beauty of the hot glue cards is that the glue guides their fingers into the strokes in the right order! Before I took the plunge I started with numbers 0-9 with gold stickers, and with success ventured into lower case and finally upper case cursive letter cards.

  Note: In a world where people write by hand infrequently cursive seems like an indulgence that is "way too hard" according to my kids, except for one thing– You remember things better when you write notes by hand, and one of the best ways to write fast enough to take thorough notes is cursive. I credit a lot of my good grades to cursive. Plus if you have nice handwriting its an easy ego boost because people always notice.

My children vehemently disagree with my premise, preferring to print in all caps, hence the cursive battle!

Montessori Hot Glue Letter Cards 

27 cardboard sheets sized 5.5" x 8.5" (mine are 8.5" x 11" cardboard sheets cut in half),
a popsicle stick (optional),
red or pink glitter glue,
6 blue metallic dot or star stickers for vowels, (mine is leftover table confetti)
21 red metallic dot or star stickers for consonants,
hot glue gun, and
10 sticks of hot glue


1. On 19 cards draw solid marker lines 1.5" from the top and bottom, and a broken line 4.5" from the top, centered between the solid lines. My broken line is 1/2" on, 1/2" off. These cards are for the letters that sit on the line. 

2. In marker on the lower righthand corner print these cards with the letters a, b, c, d, e, h, i, k, l, m, n, o, r, s, t, u, v, w, and x. 

3. On the remaining 8 cards, draw a light pencil line 1.5" from the bottom, a solid marker line 3" up from that, and a broken line another 3" up from your solid line. These cards are for letters with tails that drop below the line.

4. In marker on the lower righthand corner print these cards with the letters f, g, j, p, q, y, y, and z. Yes, 2 y's, as one will serve as a consonant and the other as a vowel.  

Montessori letters glitter glue

5. Apply a line of pink or red glitter glue to the bottom-most solid marker line on each card. In D'Nealian handwriting curricula the line the letters rest on is often red/pink. Highlighting it helps the child to hold the card right side up, line the cards up by matching the red line, the glitter is a rough counterpoint to the smooth glue, and shiny is always better. 

Montessori letters draft letters

6. In pencil, lightly rough out each letter referencing D'Nealian resources, Learning Curve Pro font for cursive, School House A font for print. For the letters with tails, use the pencil line toward the bottom of the card to show how far the tail should drop. Use the popsicle stick as a point of reference for the width of the strokes, and to round off the ends. Draw your final lines in marker and erase all visible pencil marks.

Montessori letters add sticker

7. Apply blue stickers or confetti to the leading stroke of each vowel: a, e, i, o, u, and y. Why use stickers? To show where to start. Why metallic? Because, I am told by my product testers, that is one of the things that make these cards great. Why blue? Because in the Montessori method vowels are always shown in blue.
8. Apply red stickers to the leading stroke of each consonant, b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, and z. Why red? Because in the Montessori method consonants are always shown in red. 

Montessori Letters Cursive H

9. With a steady hand, squeeze an even amount of glue along the outline of each letter starting at the first upward stroke. You can see on the letter "h" here that if a stroke crosses itself priority is given to the first pass, in this case the stroke from bottom to top, and the later stroke is partial for the sake of simplicity. 

10. Spend the rest of your children's school ages trying to get the little glue strings off. Good luck!    
Now, does anyone want to buy my barely used sandpaper letters? 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Three Year Old Tantrums– Making Peace

Peace Table

Three year old tantrums are like tsunamis. You don’t know how big the cataclysm will be until it’s on top of you, and you can’t stop it once it has started. You just have to be prepared beforehand and get to higher ground. 

As my daughters have moved from the developmental stage identifying themselves with me to seeking individuality and choices, the transition has been rocky and full of temper tantrums. As much as I would like to point fingers and blame their tender youth, I myself am not always the example of maturity I wish to be. I try to let myself off the hook because I am not a yeller, but I’ll say it before someone else rats me out: Bull-headedness and snarling are patterns God convicts me about regularly. Oh God, you multi-tasker, you! Using me disciplining my kids to discipline me! 

So here we are with long, massive meltdowns in very public places, but that doesn’t even matter because I happen to know you can still hear that little voice shrieking inside the house from down the block. Thank God we don’t live in an apartment at this point!

As I said, there’s no stopping it: The element of surprise is impotent. Punitive action and reasoning are equally fruitless. It takes a good 20-30 min. before distraction is an option. Mostly tantrums just have to be forestalled before they start. 
Sure, I know that means eating real meals at regular intervals. Of course it means getting regular sleep. Gee, thanks, parenting sites. I'd never have thought of that on my own!

The key for me was realizing what my daughter was trying to accomplish with her tantrums. On the surface they seem whimsical –in a bad way– but for her it is all about feeling like her rights were trampled on and having no recourse. Her solution might not be the same as your child's solution because her reasons may be different than your kid's. But if you think it may help, read on! 

What has really helped is having a family peacemaking strategy. The work of making peace is not best done by the clear-headed outside observer. It has to start in the heart of the person who is angry and sees the wrong. We have found my daughter's temper escalates when she sees no recourse for due process and justice.
My idea and my children’s ideas of justice don’t often coincide at first, but having a calm, consistent road to travel together makes a difference.
Here are the tools I want to give them: A desire for justice, capacity for mercy, a chance to cool down, a template for respectful discourse, empathy, and experience with un-begrudging compromise. The terrible thing is that this list doesn’t describe my heart of hearts! My own desire and practice are far from perfect, so this is for me too. 

My efforts at cool down time and respectful discourse had so far been blown away in the blast of living fury that is my second-born, so I needed a new strategy. We tried a Peace Table ala Montessori, and it is working surprisingly well! The idea is to have a neutral place for conflict resolution and the promotion of peace. The genius of it is that it gives my kids an avenue for positive action, not just violent protest. 

Supplies: On the table we have a rose in a shallow bowl- not a long stemmed flower in a vase, because vases are easier to knock over, and long flowers can be turned into cart whips by furious children– and a battery operated candle. 

Step 1: If someone in the home is feeling upset or experiencing conflict they can present the involved person with the rose, and it is part of the social contract that they go to the table together to resolve their difficulty. 
Step 2: Whomever is holding the rose has the right to speak, and anyone else has the privilege of listening. 
Step 3: The rose is passed between them until they resolve the matter. 

Having physical tools to hold as protocol for the intellectual/emotional process of conflict resolution is grounding and reassuring for them. It keeps them on track. There is a Montessori book to introduce this activity, but role playing was enough, and in fact, quite revelatory for us!

The purpose of the battery candle is that it is an extra task and treat for the angry child to turn on, allowing for a few more split seconds of cool off/distracted time. Every instant counts! Also they are mesmerizing and cheap at the dollar store! Another advantage to having a dedicated space for this is that it is proactive. Choosing from a small selection of activities from the table is a self-directed action. I see cool down time-outs as preventing anyone or anything getting hurt, but the angry child sees it as punishment or banishment, which compounds the drama. I want them to grow up knowing that they don’t get positive or negative consequences for how they feel, but for what they do with the feelings they have. Mature people find activities that de-escalate themselves when they are angry, but sometimes we stop kids from de-escalating by mandating things that make them angry. Once again, anger is fine, being destructive and rude is not. They have to be dealt with separately. 

When I said that role playing was revelatory, what I mean is that I discovered a reason my explosive child has a short fuse: Her fuse is not that short, it’s just that her sister is a pyro. As I found myself trying to negotiate a pretend argument for the rights to a toy I don’t even care about, I discovered that my oldest drives a really hard bargain, and she denies others acknowledgement that they have a real case. While she looks level headed and peaceable to authority figures, she looks like a tyrant when you are standing eye to eye. It raises the point that making peace is everyone’s job. No one is exempt. The burden of it can’t only fall on the people who burn for justice. Acknowledgement and sensitivity are really important. Without empathy the person who is wronged just comes off as a complaining troublemaker, and that is unjust too! As a mother it is tempting to focus my efforts on the child who is most publicly embarrassing, and who inconveniences me most, but my job is to help both the explosive child, AND the kid who casually plays with emotional matches. One is no less important than the other. 

 The spiritual component is something we are working on as well, but not in the tsunami moments. Jesus said that when you try to feed pearls to swine, they turn around and eat you. Raise your hand if that’s happened to you when your kids are angry! I find my relationship with God, my prayer life, and the help of Scripture invaluable, like pearls, but when my kids have a hunger for justice they don’t appreciate moralizing.   

Becoming peacemakers is a life-long, not week-long evolving process. Additionally, peacemaking is not just about resolving conflict, but about developing an eternal perspective, deepening one’s walk with God, developing love, practicing patience, and self-control. As my children master the peacemaking skills we started with, I expect to swap in other activities at the peace table. 

Here are my ideas: 
  • Calm-down glitter jar,
  • Music player with Scripture songs,
  • Books about peacemaking... any suggestions? 
  • Stones with applicable Bible verses on them,
  • Tactile celtic knot tracing activity to introduce labyrinth prayer aides,
  • Recorder for work on taking deep breaths, and 
  • Puzzles for taking time to cool down.
The end of this story hasn't happened yet, but we have gone from 2 huge tantrums a day to 1 or 2 short ones a week. My daughter has been swallowing back the fearful rage and seeking healthy things like cuddling and talking about it since we have a plan. The rose is something she can present to parents too, and be certain her appeal is heard. The table also gives us a benchmark for the minimum of what is required to work something out. Often I would see my older daughter sulking about something her sister did. She always claimed to have tried to work it out, but I wasn't sure. Now I can tell them "If you haven't invited your sister to the peace table, you haven't tried to work it out. If you aren't willing to do that, you can sulk in your room, but not in our space." Very effective! 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Little Big Challenges

studio shelves

I'm typing one handed with a baby on my lap amongst other hinderances, knowing what I want to write, and also knowing I don't have the time to write to my quality satisfaction.
This is life.

little toes

It's easy to show my process when life looks pretty and put together, and harder when I have more time to think than act. This is a really crucial point in my work, I think. I've never felt more assured about direction, more certain of my mind, more confident in my work, or more supported by the people who count in my life. If only I could get into the studio!
In my twenties I was really honing my technique, I just didn't know what to do with it. Now I'm motivated, but the same little people who are arranging transformative life experience are also the main reason I can't get a move on. Here's to taking the scenic route!


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Succulent Painting

Succulents Silk Painting

When I am working on a project I desperately want to be able to write about it one day and show you the next without a pause, but art labor intensive, and it takes time. Factor in making meals and taking kids to lessons and parks and libraries... well, here's what is left!

I have been working on a silk painting for a while now. My idea was that the girls love to paint too, and maybe they wouldn't interrupt if we were all painting together. Hahaha! Sheez, I crack myself up.

The original sketch itself was in progress for the months of February and March through mid April:

Succulent Repeat

I drew succulents afternoons, evenings, and whenever I could steal a moment while binge watching Beauty and the Geek Australia on Youtube. As I am a beauty married to a geek I consider this to be pure research, not reality tv. What I mostly learned is that self tanner has magical transformative powers. Never mind that, what is important is that I finally ended up with a 36" square pattern of succulents. It is a repeat, meaning that if you lay the pattern side by side in any direction it will fit together like a puzzle.

silk painting

As I said, the pattern is one yard square, but my fabric is 45" square. I traced the pattern onto my fabric lightly in pencil making use of the repetitive properties. You can kind of see the faint pencil lines in the picture above. The fabric was then painted over with wax, then the wax ironed off. This is what the paper looks like with the wax ironed onto it. I always think it is rather beautiful.

wax patterns

  I had to do the wax/iron step twice as I ironed too thoroughly the first time and not thoroughly enough the second. Applying wax is fun. Ironing the waxed fabric is pretty much my least favorite job, pretty paper notwithstanding.

Silk Painting in progress

Then I paint. And paint. And paint. I am trying to watch as many of the American Film Institute top 100 movies list as I can stream while I paint. That, and looking introspective. You can't spend enough time trying to look introspective.

Silk Painting Portrait

Such is my progress to date!


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