You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2011.

5 = the number of days since my last post

7= days remaining until Celebration Weekend (Rosa’s baby shower in L.A. on Saturday; Eric’s first birthday bash on Sunday)

2= afternoons spent this week tidying the yard

1= night we went on a “moon hunt”

4= cups of frozen yogurt at the new neighborhood yogurt place (I love lychee, honeydew, and taro root with mochi balls, coconut, and carob chips)

1= fun meeting with my friend and client John at Starbucks

$17.99= price of the cake I ordered at Costco for Eric’s party (will make him one from scratch on his actual birthday, but need the store cake for number of people at the party)

3= number of hours and 2= number of people it took to install the Leapfrog software and appropriate drivers for Katie’s TAG reading system (but it was worth it, because she LOVES it)

about 178= pages we’ve read in our newest Harry Potter (Goblet of Fire) book

20= minutes spent building our Thomas the Train track on the living room coffee table

1= present I gave to Eric early (the corn ball popper—he saw it while I was in the middle of wrapping and loved it immediately. He thinks the pops are funny!)

1.5= hours spent at the Lake Skinner Splash Zone (super fun, the kiddos really had a great time)

3= hours Eric napped today (which allowed me time to read Harry Potter to Katie and give us pedicures, and also time to read more from my book containing all the published interview between Truffaut and Hitchcock, who is my favorite filmmaker of all time)

8= messages I had on my phone (I just don’t check it, friends, sorry—I view my cell as an “emergencies only/mainly” device.  I belong to a different era in that regard, and in many regards, truth be known).

1= morning dining al fresco with my babies in our backyard watching the birds, eating one of my mom’s homemade apricot scones, and sipping Yorkshire tea.

2= babies I cuddle with every night in our rocker, singing them lullabies, one in each arm

It has been a bustling week, and most of our schooling this week has taken the form of reading, discussions, talking about our globe, etc. I didn’t really slow down to take many pictures this week, and this next week will likely be the same. Cleaning, cooking, organizing…I absolutely LOVE party prep, and we’ll be devoting ourselves to it this week. My goal is to be ready to roll on Friday, given that I will be celebrating my friend and her baby on Saturday. Fun, fun, fun!


In the spirit of giving credit where it is due, I have to acknowledge my cousins Jed and Fon and my Aunt Debbie for generating this whimsical idea that instantly invigorates a backyard. Looking for something to perk up a dreary fence? Want to add a dash of fancy in an unexpected place? Creating a space for children where magic might like to come and linger for a spell?

Why not try hanging a mirror on one of your fences?

I found this mirror online for under $20. My mom also now has a green shuttered mirror in her backyard, as well. I am absolutely in love with this idea this summer. It is a bit of a non-painted trompe l’oeil, giving the illusion of a portal through the fence into another yard or world that looks perfectly realistic. What I adore most is the funkiness of taking an indoor piece and finding it in the yard, as if to say, “Anything novel can happen here.” Nothing is serious about a mirror on the fence; it invites imagination. If it is possible, I am very much focused on “decorating” the backyard right now, an extension of our living space, with quirk and beauty.

Novelty, quirkiness, whimsy, and beauty—all our birds in our hand. That is to say, we can use these gifts inside each of us to add spark to our world, to create works that make us feel joyful.

One of our bigger art projects this week (in addition to the Marauder’s Map) was an acrylic on canvas piece for the fence in our backyard. We’re in the process of creating a magical picnic area in part of the yard for the kiddos, one of whimsy and fancy, a nesting place for them to alight in the midst of busy play. I thought an art piece would help bring a pop of unexpected color to the place.

To give some of the painting a bit of texture, we chose to thicken some, but not all, of the paints we used. As we did for last year’s Van Gogh project, we thickened about half of the paints with cornstarch. We reviewed warm and cool colors, and we reviewed what we know about the ways in which Van Gogh uses his paints.

Artist at work

Katie made a landscape of flowers, grass, and sky.

We hung it up in the backyard (pictured behind Mr. E and Miss K).

The kiddos share a moment

We were heavily into art this week. One of our morning trays involved sponge painting. I cut some cheap, thin sponges into astronomy themed shapes: planets, moon, sun, star, comet. We used our tempura paints for this, and Katie made several sheets of prints. A fun way to start the day…even Eric got involved. When Katie was finished with her prints, she showed Eric how to do it. He learned how to dip the sponges into the paint, and by the end, he was pressing them down onto the paper. Very sweet.

Sponge printing

Katie always loves to make concoctions, or potions, as she calls them. In a week themed with connections to our Harry Potter reading, we were able to tie in this activity (as well as the astronomy prints) to the classes that Hogwarts students take. Katie used her plastic measuring spoons to make her concoction from the twelve different ingredients in her muffin tray. She is now able to identify the tablespoon, half tablespoon, teaspoon, and half teaspoon measures very easily. We cook together all the time, so this is a natural language for her—and we are building a solid base on which to construct our teaching of fractions when the time comes.

For math, we are progressing into addition. Katie worked on a simple addition worksheet this week. She can count only up to 13 (and then jumps several numbers and finishes, “18, 19, 20!” with flourish), so we keep our addition sums under the number ten. We use these wooden disks (they are actually part of my checker/chess set) as manipulatives to help her work out the sum. She now knows the vocabulary of addition, and can translate”+” and “=” into English. She worked these sums fairly easily: I have her pull out the first set of wooden disks and then add whatever number comes next in the problem. Then she counts them all up to arrive at the sum.

We are still working on writing the numerals 1-10. We have focused mostly on teaching her to write her letters, and I am aware that we need to practice our numbers, as well. She loves our Kumon tracing cards (dry erase), and we’ve worked on that this week, too. For the above worksheet, I would write the sum she figured, and then she traced it with her pen.

Katie also received her very own Hermione Granger inspired “Time Turner.” In The Prisoner of Azkaban, Hermione uses the magic Time Turner to travel back in time (which allows her to attend multiple classes held at the same hour). Our Time Turner was easy to make: take an hour glass from a board game, and tie yarn around it to make a necklace. Two seconds later: a Time Turner of our own! We are going to use this as an entry next week for some time-telling work.

I found these worksheets online, created and shared for free be The Enchanted Homeschooling Mom. I actually wasn’t looking for a Harry Potter activity when I stumbled upon this, as ironic as that may be. I was searching for something else and scrolling through her blog when, whoa, these perfect worksheets appeared serendipitously. For the first worksheet, Katie had to write in the letter that begins each character’s name. She had an easy time with that.

Then there was a pattern completion worksheet using Harry Potter characters. Katie has been working on pattern completions for over a year (age 2.5 or so), and she found this very simple. Still, it is a great skill to practice—and a fine tie-in to our literature this week.

Another art-themed Montessori tray: Katie woke up one morning to the task of uncovering a hidden message. It is just a simple crayon resist project, actually. I used a white crayon to write a message to her on white paper, and then she used her watercolors to reveal it. We talked about how wax resists, or pushes away, water to reveal the message.

Some of our science this week involved one of our FAVORITE outside activities: turning over rocks to see the bugs living underneath. We found some neat ones!

Eric points to some ants. Eric has noticed ants over the past couple of weeks and finds them fascinating. He likes to show them to us and watch them.

Finally, we brought out one of our treasures this week. When my mom was just in middle school, she made an “All by Yourself” book for a home economics project. It is a book designed to teach young children how to button, snap, zip, use a hook-and-eye,  tell time, and tie shoes. She was designing Montessori products before she even knew what those were! Cool! This red felt book is probably around 44 years old, and I love that on the front my mom has her name “Becky Yoder” written in Sharpie. I love that my kiddos are using it, when she made it way before she even knew her own children would exist.

Eric is also fascinated with faces, especially family faces, this week. We have many, many family pictures framed in our house to begin with, but this week I made an extended-family viewing area of more framed pictures. I remember Katie LOVING to look at pictures at around the same age. We identify every person, and then ask things like, “Where’s Uncle Chet? Which one is Aunt Ashley?” I am still working on adding as many people as I can to his viewing gallery. We have a big black and white themed gallery of our ancestors upstairs, including great-greats and a  great-great-great. I just don’t think I could ever have too much family all around us, you know?

Happy homeschooling to all!

I originally published this Van Gogh project experience on June 1, 2010, when Katie was two-and-a-half and Eric was still growing in my womb. I am hoping to move some of our best learning experiences over to this blog. We spent months talking about Van Gogh and looking at his work, and our studies culminated in this project. My friend Susan reports seeing similar techniques in the Usborne art book—not sure of its title, but I probably should get a copy because it sounds like something we’d enjoy in this house. We love painting with acrylics (paint clothes required!), and we had fun thickening the paints with cornstarch to give our Van Gogh painting some texture.

Van Gogh Project

“Looking at the stars always makes me dream.”

~ Vincent van Gogh

Katie and I have been studying the artwork of Vincent van Gogh for the past couple of weeks. She has been captivated by his “Bedroom at Arles” after seeing it in one of her Touch-the-Art books, and was also very familiar with “Starry Night.”

We checked some books out from the Temecula library and have spent considerable time pondering his work, mostly from his later period. We looked at several of his paintings from his time in Arles, and reflected on his life there.

Also inspiring are van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Cypresses” and some of his other landscapes. She also loves his portraits, especially his self-portraits. Although I didn’t tell her how it came about (I think she is too young for that detail), she was fascinated that his ear was hurt and that he painted himself wearing a bandage.

As we looked at his work, we tried to note the essential characteristics of a van Gogh painting. Allowing for exceptions, we noted:

1) He mostly uses cool colors, such as blues and greens, with yellow being his primary warm color. Every once in awhile, such as in “Bedroom at Arles,” he throws in a red. Katie knows what cool and warm colors are from her art class earlier this year, and studying van Gogh is a good way to help cement that knowledge. We talked about how the cool colors make us feel, and she told me the other day that she prefers warm colors, actually (which I would have guessed). “I like warm colors better.” Her favorite color right now is red.

2) His paint is very thickly applied. You can see the brush marks and sometimes ridges of paint in his paintings.

3) His background textures are “swirly” (for lack of a better word!) You can probably picture “Starry Night”—think about all the circular motion you see in that painting. That is fairly typical, as it turns out, in his later work.

We decided to do a mimicry project based on some of van Gogh’s landscapes. (A portrait probably would have been too difficult for Mommy to draw, and although I would have loved to capture Katie’s “Bedroom at Temecula,” I wasn’t sure that would lend itself to large scale “swirlies” and thick paint application. The “Bedroom at Temecula” project might be a further study of van Gogh when Katie is older and can add another layer to her skill set and knowledge).

So a landscape it was.

We needed thick paints, and I had read somewhere that you can thicken acrylics with glue. That is probably true, but I wanted to make them really thick so I used cornstarch. That turned out to be successful. We achieved the ridgey paint marks and they were fun to use.

To test her knowledge, I put out all of our paints and had Katie choose the colors she thought van Gogh would choose. She correctly identified blue, green, yellow, and white, and then she begged to have a mix of red and dark pink for herself. We mixed those colors up with the cornstarch in separate bowls.

Then we prepared our canvas. We made a few marks to give us an outline when we painted. She helped draw the horizon, and we talked about where we wanted some clouds. She wanted a tree, and we briefly sketched one in.

Outside, we worked together to fill in the painting. She worked extensively on the grass, and was keen to do a mix of green and yellow. She also mixed the green and white herself to make a paler green. I didn’t prompt this—she likes to mix paint, and I waited for her to discover it. Then she got to put on her red and pink flowers. That was totally her idea. I think she was happier with the painting once she made it more exuberant with the warmer colors.

I did do a bit of fill-in work with the sky, but quite a bit of it is hers, and you can see that she did the clouds herself. We worked on getting the “swirly” motion into the painting. You can see it a little better close up, but for the most part it is there.

Here is our van Gogh landscape painting:

As I reflect on the lesson plan, however, I can’t help but feel that it wasn’t as solid as the Cassatt lesson. The stages and steps worked and there was evidence of learning…but as a teacher you know darn well when a lesson plan has that extra element of spark and magic and when it doesn’t. The Cassatt lesson plan connected with Katie on every level: she still talks about it. This van Gogh lesson plan was coherent, but I am dissatisfied with it on the deep level. It could be because Katie was not as big a fan of his work as she was of Mary Cassatt’s body of work. She doesn’t connect to his use of color, for one thing.

Also, some of the lesson did not meet my standards of “discovery.” I love leading Katie through discovery, and for the record, I think that is how students really learn and ought to learn…versus feeding them answers or leaving no surprises. The thrill of discovering something for yourself is the reward and motivation of learning. Anyway, I was dissatisfied with how I taught the elements of van Gogh’s texture. When it came time to identify his essential elements, I had to give her choices: does he paint with straight lines or swirly lines? Giving her an either/or is not good teaching—and I should know that by now. She learned, but it was not totally through her own discovery. With Cassatt, Katie knew so much about pastels that she was able to come up with that medium entirely on her own as we examined Cassatt’s work—that is discovery.

What I should have done was taught her more about different textures PRIOR to the lesson. Just a lesson on texture… straight lines, swirly lines, dots, etc. She of course knows different shapes, but I should have taught her some vocabulary prior to looking at the paintings, and THEN had her identify what she saw in van Gogh’s work. Instead, I tried to look at the work while teaching her the tools to look at the work. I am not sure, in this case, that that was the best practice I could have done.

I will have to make these revisions for Little Eric’s turn. 🙂

Overall, though, the learning took place (just not in as solid and authentic a way as I should have guided), and we had fun doing the project. I am thinking my next step in her art education needs to be returning to fundamentals. Maybe I should do a series of lessons on textures and the color wheel and focus on developing some vocabulary. That might be a good step before delving into another artist. She does seem to be interested in Roy Lichtenstein’s “dots” right now, though… and of course, ever since encountering him in art class, Katie has been fascinated with Andy Warhol. She loves the tomato soup can picture—probably because she recognizes it from using it in our kitchen. I saved an empty one, in case I could figure out a way to use it with her. I am waiting for inspiration to strike on that one…

Katie and Eric have been playing with their fishing game:

We made ours, and it was really a straightforward project. My mom made a set ages ago for my brother when he was a toddler, so she is the inspiration for this idea. Best of all, making one ourselves saved us a bunch of money. For just the cost of a dowel (about $1.00) magnets (between $5.00 and $6.00, but so many come in a pack you can use them for many projects), and self-laminating paper (average cost $7.00) we were able to make a game that costs around $24.99 sold online. We don’t have the fanciest rod or plastic fishes, but we do have a very usable hand-eye coordination game that we can play either indoors or outside. Fun.

To make the fishing pole, we just glued and wound some of our kitchen twine around the top of the pole. We made the length long, so that adults could play it and so that we could play it leaning over the back of a couch or off of the stair landing. We can roll the twine around the dowel when we need to shorten the length of the fishing line. At the end of the twine, we tied/glued a simple round magnet.

The fish are cut out from spare construction paper and decorated on both sides with markers. We laminated them using self-laminating paper so that they would have more durability and a heartier surface on which to attach a magnet for each.

Katie caught one!

Super easy! Maybe a morning’s work, depending on how elaborately you design your fish. This game is perfect for practicing dexterity and patience. Why not try making one?

You know what? I just had an idea! I think you could also make a fun cowboy-themed project that works in a similar way. Maybe laminated horse, cow, and tin star shapes with a bit of a thicker rope serving as a lasso. I bet many of you can think of other creative ways to extend this project to other themes. Please let me know what you come up with!

During the rest of the day:

Katie and I finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and celebrated by opening up our Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans and summoning our courage. Readers of the Harry Potter series will remember that Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans (sold now by Jelly Belly) are jelly beans that wizards eat that have all kinds of strange tastes included—including grass (YUM!), dirt (okay), earthworm (um…), pepper (fine), soap (not in our boxes), and vomit, earwax, and booger and some others. We tried a few of the more innocuous ones, but saved vomit, booger, and rotten egg for later.

When Eric woke up from his nap, we taped down some paper and the kiddos had fun coloring. Eric seems to understand what to do—he loves to follow whatever Katie is doing.

We needed to make some fresh pasta today for dinner, so Katie and Eric helped roll it out. Katie can roll it out from start to finish by herself now (though I also did some today). Eric, who is holding the pastry brush, loves to dust flour on the machine, the dough, my pants, everything. He is also helping out by holding the dough while Katie rolls it. I love to see my babies working together!

I hope everyone is having a beautiful Saturday!

Katie and I are almost finished with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I was curious about how her mind would grapple with the plot twist and the reversal of good/bad characters at the end, yet she is so deeply engaged in the story that she sailed right through the plot twists (and the potential confusion of some of the characters having nicknames/secret identities). It is a testament to the beauty and vivid quality of J.K. Rowling’s writing that my just-under-four-year-old can hold her own with this novel.

Last night we stayed up reading incredibly late—I love that. I’ll willingly be on the tired side today if it means sharing that magic moment of “just to the end of the chapter” and “let’s just start the first couple of pages of the next chapter” only to find ourselves through two chapters as the moon sails high. At its best, reading a great book brings with it a feeling of necessity, like we just cannot bear to put it down. I want Katie to feel that. I believe that if she feels that joy and wonder and lets those feelings seep into her every fiber, then she will be a lifelong and voracious reader. I want her to be consumed by the beauty of a great book’s vitality, to feel it be alive with her.

The Marauder’s Map is an object that features heavily in the plot of this third Harry Potter book. A magical object, the map reveals not only secret passageways into and out of Hogwarts Castle, but also the location and movement of professors and other notable characters via dots on the map that actually move. Katie and I decided to make a Marauder’s Map of our own.

Lesson: Marauder’s Map from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Skills addressed: maps and map-making, connections to literature, identification of significant characters, drawing and hand coordination

Materials needed:

1 piece of construction paper (white would work best)

Sharpie (I used two different colors. I like these because they don’t bleed while tea staining).

Tea bag


Matches (for parents)!

Jeweled dot stickers/any small stickers

To start, Katie and I drew her version of a map of the interior of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Although I gave her a few ideas, she generated places like the Great Hall (and drew dining tables with plates on her own accord), Hagrid’s house, Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, etc.

After drawing the map, I helped Katie label the places while I brewed and cooled a cup of tea. Here’s where I wish I had used a plain sheet of white construction paper. Although we have butcher paper and newsprint paper, we are actually out of white construction paper—I know, right?!? (A trip to the teaching supply store might be in order). I grabbed pink, thinking it would make our map have some pizazz. The problem is that the super-fun tea staining we did only barely showed up. I think if you want to make the map look like really old parchment, use the white paper.

Burning the edges, though, achieved the effect of making the map look more ancient.

This afternoon we sat outside and put on our jewel stickers to represent some of the main (and, okay, also some of the subordinate) characters. We happened to have these stickers on hand from another project, and just about anything else would work, too, including hand drawn dots. The mantra of my home school art projects is “stress free.” I do like a thoughtfully stocked and versatile home school supply cabinet, but I also don’t think we need to go out and buy special items for a craft like this.

Katie placed the stickers on, announcing who each sticker represented; Eric and I wrote the names in for her.

Ta-da! Our own Marauder’s Map! “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good!”

Thank you to my friend and client John Richardson for inviting me to write a guest post on his blog today. John is the author of Success Begins Today and a friend from Toastmasters. A writer of both fiction and non-fiction, John’s message is to embrace our true passion(s) and to use S.T.R.O.N.G. goals to make those passions central to our daily lives and careers.

You can find my guest post, and John’s blog, here.

John’s theme this week, and the theme of my post, is “communicating to connect.” He also has another awesome give-away this week on his blog!

I originally posted this lesson plan/art project on my previous blog (“Bubbles and Blossoms”) on Sunday, May 2, 2010. Eric was still growing happily in my womb, and Katie was a little over two-and-a-half. During the spring and summer of 2010, we immersed ourselves in the oeuvre of several artists and worked on understanding their styles. 

Studying Mary Cassatt

Katie and I have been studying the work of Mary Cassatt (leading American female painter who studied with the Impressionists in France and was good friends with Degas) this week. A portrait of hers, “Children at the Beach,” appears in one of our “touch-the-art” books (references for purchase at the end of this post), and we really love it. I figured that Mary Cassatt, known for her paintings of mothers and children, would be especially accessible for Katie as we pursue our art history studies. Indeed, Katie has responded well to her artwork. I borrowed a huge book of Mary Cassatt’s work from the public library, and we have spent time looking at the works, talking about them, speculating about the thoughts of those potrayed, and picking our favorites.

Her work also ties in perfectly to a medium Katie already loves: oil pastel. Boppa picked out a set of oil pastels for Katie for Christmas, and we love using them. Until now, however, we haven’t placed them in any particular context. Mary Cassatt, though, regularly used oil pastels in her portrait work (although that was not her only medium). Looking through the big book from the library, I showed Katie a few portraits that used the pastels, and without telling her, has Katie deduce what material Cassatt used. I pointed to the smudging and the brightness of color (Katie is familiar with the properties of her pastels) and told her that she likes to use these, too. Katie immediately guessed, “Pastels!”

And so today’s lesson plan was born. I decided that I would use a couple of our favorite Cassatts as inspiration for a mimicry project. I chose these:

Children at the Beach. Mary Cassatt. 1884. Oil on canvas.

A Kiss for Baby Anne. Mary Cassatt. 1897. Oil pastel on paper.

With our inspiration works chosen, I went into my photograph files and selected corresponding images:

Katie and Mommy on the Beach. July 2009.


A Kiss for Little Katie. August 2009.

From there, it was easy to make little reproductions for use with our pastels. (Please don’t chuckle, as I am no visual artist myself)!

A more simple version of us at the beach.

And here is a version of our kiss…

After some review of Mary Cassatt’s work this morning and teaching Katie a little bit more about Cassatt personally, we were ready to begin our pastel work. Katie was so engaged in the project that she made me call her Mary Cassatt as we were working, and she said I could play the role of her friend Degas. When I asked Katie what Degas (she has seen some of his work, as well) was famous for painting, Katie exclaimed, “Ballerinas!”

Katie works with her pastels. I participated as well, and so some of the coloring is a collaborative effort.

Katie holds up her finished work.


A closer view of our project.

We had fun with this project, and it was personal for us as well, as the love between a mother and child is at the core of most of Cassatt’s work.

Katie really has an attention for art and art history. We first encountered the “touch-the-art” series of books by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo in our Tuesday morning art class. When Katie kept talking about the books even after our first class session, I decided to invest in them (something like $9.99 apiece from Amazon). We have “Make Van Gogh’s Bed,” “Brush Mona Lisa’s Hair,” and “Feed Matisse’s Fish.” There is at least one more that Katie hopes we get (“Pop Warhol’s Top” which features more modern works). Through these books she has been exposed to famous works by Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Raphael, Monet, Rivera, Vermeer, Van Eyck, and many more.

Because she loves reading these books so much, I checked out several other art references from the library in addition to some of the textbooks we also own. She loves to look at paintings and hear about them. She is so curious, about the elements in the works (“Why is that shoe there? Who is that?”) and the artists themselves. She was so tickled to learn that Diego Rivera colored all over his parents’ walls with his crayons (similar to her artistry in the supplies cabinet a week or so ago). We talk about symbolism (she loves dogs, and so I have been pointing out dogs in marriage and romantic portraits—dogs are often a symbol of marital fidelity in classic art), and color and movement. Just today, we sat for about an hour or more just combing through an art book and talking.

She even has her own interpretation of Mona Lisa’s expression. 🙂

It really wasn’t until high school that I knew much about art (either its elements or its history), and I learned quite a bit through studying for Academic Decathlon. Art interpretation is so much fun that the art category was one of the categories in which I earned a medal during my last year of competition. Since then, interpreting and enjoying art has remained a hobby of mine, and I love being able to share it with my daughter.

I am not sure who we will study next—maybe Degas. There is a natural connection to him through Cassatt, and Katie is starting a dance class in a couple of weeks so she will have even more context. I will have to think about it. I am also gearing up to start a rocks and mineral unit with Katie, since she has shown interest in my rock collection lately. I checked out some books at the library and we have some whole quartz rocks to hammer open. But that unit will need more planning and review on my part first (to know what to teach) than the art will. No matter what though, I have always LOVED lesson planning and lesson planning for my own child/children is even more fun! We’re able to dive into any subject we want to, and Katie is just so curious and engaged—teaching her is a real treat!

I was thankful today to finish making two more elements of Eric’s birthday party: the main tablecloth and the cookie mixes to award for winners of the games.

After starting strong on the tablecloth, I felt myself in a design rut for a few days and didn’t make much progress on it. One of the challenges of its design was, as I expected, the fact that I made it out of all scrap pieces of fabric from the pennant bunting. That presented challenges of length and width when trying to make a symmetrical design, as well as challenges of being able to balance color/texture throughout the whole piece. Accounting for seam lines and adding on fabric also worked the ol’ noggin; thank goodness for all of my excellent math teachers, such as my AP Calculus teacher (Hi, Hubby) who made us take tests rampant with fractions and without calculators. A little mental math always clears out the cobwebs, right honey?

Finally, I decided to buckle down and get it done—my last sewing project of the spring/summer. I’ve had my machine in the living room for several months now (Katie’s blanket, Eric’s blanket, the bunting, a present for my best friend’s baby, the tablecloth), and I began to be eager to put it away and take a little break from it before starting some projects I have in mind for the fall. It feels good, now, to have all of my sewing items back in the places they normally live, and it also feels good knowing that the last big prep item for Eric’s birthday is now completed.

It could have done with some ironing and straightening before I took pictures of it, but I was eager to finish up before the kiddos’ bathtime. I tried it out on the dining room table, though we’ll be using a different long table outside for the party. The design is meant to be whimsical and fanciful, and as we all know, I have almost an obsession with surrounding myself in bold and cheerful colors.

I love that it will match the bunting, although I only included seven of the eight bunting fabrics in the tablecloth.

Another view. (Smooth out and straighten your tablecloth, Mrs. M!)

Finally, here are the cookie mixes: oatmeal chocolate chip. My mom came over to help me put these together efficiently. I am always grateful for an extra set of hands—any task goes much faster! I had enough bunting-tablecloth fabric left over to cover the lids of the mason jars.

And in celebration of Mr. Eric, here is a picture my mom took of him sleeping:

One of my little angel-babies.

Katie and I had a great time this morning, too. We started making the “Marauder’s Map” of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series, and we also played “potions” having pretended that Snape gave us a call on the phone to remind us of our potions class homework. We tried staining our map with tea, and so it had to dry before we could burn the edges and place the magical jeweled dots on it indicating the whereabouts of Headmaster Dumbledore and the others. I’ll probably write more about how it turns out in my weekly McGaugh Academy wrap-up. Suffice it to say, we are having so much fun exploring this world together and for the first time, she is really experiencing three dimensional characters in literature. She has so many questions and observations about how some characters seem both good AND bad (Snape, for example), and she really grapples with the difficult decisions many of them face. We talk endlessly at mealtimes about these characters, and it is leading to so many insights about what human nature is really like. I love watching her mind absorb and think about these complexities—one of the reasons that, although I often choose to read non-fiction these days, I will always be a champion of fiction and the novel. Great non-fiction leads to staggering and stunning philosophical insight, too, yet fiction can often create whole new worlds for us, worlds parallel to reality in which we can test ideas about ourselves and others. I love watching her hold that whole beautiful world in her mind’s eye.


Some highlights of our homeschooling week…

Katie and I are loving, loving the Harry Potter series. I have such cozy memories of reading it all the first time, but I am experiencing more joy sharing that world with her. She is so engrossed in it, and I can see her actively involved in that world as we’re cuddling and reading and discussing. We finished the second book, The Chamber of Secrets, this week, and we are now a little over a third of the way through The Prisoner of Azkaban. We love to read. Katie and I are bookworms together—I love sharing that trait with my daughter. She has had many, many, many thousands of pages read to her in her short life—and we see the fruits of this philosophy in her vocabulary and cognition and in her imagination. This Harry Potter world is such a rich one for her. Even when we are not reading, I can hear her using the characters and plot and some of the new words in her play. I do not know which one of the seven books we’ll be on in October, but I plan to decorate parts of the house like Hogwarts this year for Halloween. So much fun!!

Her favorite character, by far, is Rubeus Hagrid. She wants to marry Hagrid and go to school at Hogwarts. She asks daily when she can meet Hagrid. We’ve discussed whereabouts Hogwarts would be on our real globe (most Harry Potter scholars locate Hogwarts in the Scottish isles based on textual information).

One of our morning activity trays involved coloring three pictures of Hagrid and gluing them on orange paper to make a Hagrid poster. She also wrote his name at the bottom of it. She is gaining real momentum now on writing her letters—very exciting!

In The Prisoner of Azkaban, Hagrid teaches a class called Care of Magical Creatures. We read a passage this week about a hippogriff, one of the creatures Hagrid introduces to the class. The hippogriff is described as a blend of several animals’ body parts. For one of our trays, I cut out several different animal heads and bodies, wings, and tails from various magazines. Katie was instructed to glue them together however she wanted to make more of the magical creatures that Hogwarts students might learn about in Hagrid’s class.

Some of Katie’s magical creatures.

After reading about stereognostic activities (the student is blindfolded and must discern properties of objects through senses other than sight), I decided to try a stereognostic tray. I put four different kinds of blocks (several of each kind) in a big jar, attempted to blindfold Katie, and had her sort them using only her sense of touch. This was a BIG FLOP for us. The blindfold kept slipping, and Katie couldn’t resist the urge to peek. Since she obviously can sort blocks very easily when looking at them, this did not have the degree of educational value that I’d hoped for. I need a better blindfold!

But this tray was much more to her liking! She had a bowl, whisk, a dish soap pump, and a little chicken pitcher filled with water. She had to pump soap into the bowl, pour in the water from the pitcher, and whisk heartily to make bubbles. Fun!

I was excited to give her this tray, too—but it proved too easy. I knew she would match up the lids to the jars right away, but I thought it might take her longer to screw them on. The whole tray took maybe a couple of minutes to complete…at most. I’ll give this to Eric when he is much younger. Again, I wish, wish, wish I’d started some of these “practical life” trays with Katie when she was 18 months or so.

This was an easy tray to set up. 😉 I love these Melissa and Doug lacing beads. We ended up moving this to the floor and all three of us played with it. Eric can’t lace, yet, but he loves to take the beads off of the laces—which is also a great skill to practice.

Science this week was more bugs! We had a fabulous opportunity to see preserved and living specimens from UCR on Thursday (see blog post) and also made a couple of bug-themed crafts at the workshop. In keeping with our bug theme, here was our major art project this week:

A butterfly! We painted it and then put some sparklies on its wings. We had made one like this for my mom for Mother’s Day using a cool color palette. I brought out the warm colors today, and I quized Katie to see if the big art unit we did last summer (my previous blog site has several posts about these lesson plans) is still sticking to her brain. It is. She identified these as “warm colors” and we talked about some of our projects last year on Van Gogh, Cassatt, and Monet.

We hung it up in our yard from one of our trees over by the kiddos’ picnic area.

Other fun stuff: one of the games we love to play is Memory. We started out last year with using just a few of the cards, and now we are actually playing the whole board. Great brain food, for sure.

And what is Mr. Eric learning?  The biggest challenge of schooling at home is accounting for the difference in their ages. I am thankful every day for my education and my experience as a teacher, for gaining training and experience with differentiating curriculum, and for knowing how to run parallel activities at the same time without going bonkers. Thank you, thank you, for years of classrooms with 35-40 students—I am used to energy, hubbub, activity, multi-tasking. It is still a challenge, and I am still feeling my way around the pre-school years. I will always be a high school teacher at heart, but I am grateful for this time of learning how to teach the basics, of how to break down concepts into simpler and simpler values. If I ever do return to my classroom, this experience of teaching my own children in their youngest years will have made me a better teacher for the older ages, as well.

Eric is learning how to use a spoon to feed himself this week. He is practicing at it very hard, every day. He actually initiated this earlier this week. Sometimes he wants to do it on his own, and sometimes he likes when I stand behind him and put my hand over his to help guide the spoon.

And in!

I’ve always read/attempted to read to Eric, of course, but unlike Katie, he hasn’t shown a true interest in books until just this month. (Katie was always interested in books, and she first laughed at a book at nine months old). Thankfully, Eric has now started showing definite interest in reading this month, and there are certain books he loves and will bring over to me to read. He loves a book about different colors, and a book about dancing. He likes the Karen Katz lift-the-flap books, as well. Generally, the more babies in the book the better—he enjoys their faces.

Eric is showing signs of understanding quite a bit of language. He knows what to do if we say, “Give the ____ to ____” or “Bring the _____ to ______ ” for example. He also understands more abstract phrasing such as, “Can you clap like that baby in the book?” (To which he responds by clapping). If I ask him (for example), “Can you point to the grapes?” in his book, he does. He likes to say, “I got” or even “I got it!” when he goes over and picks up a toy. He has also begun to point. We will ask him to find various objects in the house (“Where is the clock, Eric?”), and he will look around and point to whatever it is.

Most of all, like Katie, he adores the moon. He will point to it and make sounds whenever he sees it, inside or outside of the house.

His other favorite activity is to be held and walked around and shown all of the light switches in the house. If it is a switch, he likes to figure out what light it goes to, and then we turn it on and off, on and off, on and off, saying it each time. He likes to push on the switches himself, if he can. Cause and effect is endlessly entertaining, yes?

We also walk around and talk about all of the family members in our picture frames around the house. Katie used to love that, too.

Best of all, though, is time spent outside. Eric (and Katie, too) explores everything. We look at roly poly bugs, ants, leaves, bark, hoses, pipes, the garden, dirt. We go down the slide. We climb. We swing. We wander all over. I am fairly sure he would live outside, if he could!

Sarah McGaugh

Sarah McGaugh


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