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December 7, 2016

busy-doing-nothing

I’ve been very busy doing nothing in a land of sunshine and beaches :]. This also means I took a break from writing for the week, and now it’s time for some Christmas merriment with the family!

I did want to take a moment to thank you all for staying with me here and reading along with me each week! It still boggles my mind to think that people let me into their inbox each week- a privilege I do not take lightly! Thank you so much for letting me share my life and thoughts with you!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season!

JoEllen

 

December 1, 2016

how-to-keep-kids-art-space-clean

Have any of you taken the leap and started an art space for your child? I was so happy to hear that my brother and sister in law went out and stocked up on art supplies after seeing my post! I’d love to see pictures of your child’s work or photos of your space if you’ve done it, too! Now, if you’ve actually gone and started the whole art thing, you’re probably running into a common problem/fear of parents of kids with paint: MESS

November 23, 2016

dont-make-eye-contact-with-your-students

I attended a training for Sunday school teachers this past weekend, and came across the most unexpected piece of advice: don’t make eye contact with the students.

Wait, what?? Did I hear that correctly? Don’t make eye contact?

Yet I knew inside, even as I wondered this, that it was exactly what the instructor meant. Because as I thought back to her slow and deliberate model lesson earlier that day, I remembered that she had indeed kept her eyes down on the materials and on her hands the entire time. It had been calming and strangely entrancing.

But it was still very counter-intuitive for me. She went on to explain, “This will be especially hard for those of you who come from a teaching background.”

Yes.

“You’re used to making eye contact to keep the students engaged and to make sure they are paying attention. You need to release your students from that. Release them from that. If they are trying too hard to look at you to show you they are paying attention, then they won’t be able to see the lesson and focus as well.”

Hrh. I guess that made sense, in a sad, ironic sort of way: The effort I put into helping them stay focused could be the very thing that took away from their complete focus.

Interesting.

“Release them from that,” she repeated, “You have to release them from that so they can be free to be completely engaged. If you make eye contact with them, they get tense and worried that you’re going to ask them a question to check if they are paying attention, so instead of focusing, they’re busy worrying about how to prove that they have been paying attention.”

Hrh. That’s exactly what I did to my students. I mean, I called it “keeping them on their toes,” but maybe the very process of keeping them on their toes kept them from fully engaging in their hearts, souls, and minds.

HMM.

Interesting.

She elaborated, “Too often we are concerned with having them produce something to prove they learned something. When you make eye contact, they think they will have to produce an answer to prove that they are listening. Release them from that.

It wasn’t the only time she mentioned this concept of us forcing students to produce something to prove their learning, and I knew I was 100% guilty of this practice. I had it ingrained in me from years of teaching in the classroom. As public school teachers, we were supposed to teach to the standards, and we were supposed to be able to point to student work and say, “LOOK, this student’s work is meeting so many standards! Here is a ton of work to prove it.”

In the classroom, producing stuff to prove learning was the name of the game. I was always looking for evidence that the students were learning the content I was trying to get across, whether through verbal answers, written work, listening in on conversations between students, or closely observing their process in a science lesson. Wasn’t that my job as a teacher? To make sure that things were being learned?

Apparently not. Well, not always. Maybe sometimes, my job is to simply let the student be fully immersed, and to offer them the freedom and space to soak up whatever they want to soak up- not what think they should be soaking up.

This may be especially true in the context of introducing children to God. In so many Sunday school rooms, the children are expected to hear a story and then leave with a take-home point to repeat to their parents- “God loves me,” or “Love your neighbor,” or “Put others first.” They’re not bad ideas, but maybe there is a more effective way to point kids to real and living God.

Teaching academic content to children is not- cannot- be the same as introducing children to a real and living God. Does it benefit the child more to say, “Here, learn these facts and take home this knowledge about God,” or to offer them a place and space to freely engage in an experience and walk away with… whatever they walk away with? We have to consider what would benefit children more as we prepare them for (hopefully) a lifelong relationship with Him. Children may not always emerge with the ability to verbalize what was impressed upon them, but that’s not always the point, is it?

Have any of you tried this? How has it worked for you? I feel like if the content is naturally intriguing and presented well, it could work wonderfully. I’ve seen it happen. But we all know there are those lessons that nobody is that excited to teach, but still need to be presented. What then?

Don’t make eye contact. Don’t make them produce work to prove anything to you. Release them from that. It’s a drastically different way of approaching instruction than I’m used to, but I find myself wanting to hear more.

November 16, 2016

brush-lettering-fun-1

A couple months ago, I picked up a new hobby: brush lettering! I was inspired after seeing my friend Marilyn post these amazing pieces of art and calligraphy on her Instagram account (@minkandotter). I was mesmerized with her videos and would watch them over and over and over again. I loved the way her lettering was so fluid and the simplest words looked so beautiful! It helps that she’s got an amazing eye for beauty and art so everything looks just lovely and perfect.

14063229_316316415388375_143001549_nIsn’t Marilyn’s work amazing??

Words as art. I liked it. I have always had poor handwriting, mostly due to my tendency to rush to get things done, but this felt like something calm and beautiful, and I wanted to try my hand at it. I asked her for some tips on where to start and she sent me some super helpful recommendations, including some blogs and materials to start with.

I wasn’t ready to completely commit to this, so I started off with just a $2 brush pen and have slowly accumulated more materials over the last couple of months. I’m pretty happy with the progress I’ve made so far:

brush-lettering-fun-2

This brush pen doesn’t require a separate pot of ink like a dip pen would, which makes it super portable and easy for me to sneak in practice in random pockets throughout the day. This convenience factor has been key for me. After dabbling in this new brush lettering hobby for a few weeks, I can safely say I REALLY LIKE IT! It’s been the perfect little hobby at this stage in my life for many reasons.

November 3, 2016

the-ikea-art-cart

We are fortunate enough to have a dedicated art room. I basically decided we weren’t going to attempt fancy dinner parties anymore and gave away the dining table and chairs. (Everybody likes scrappy dinners better anyway, right?? I mean, at least they happen.) And just like that, we had a dedicated room just for making things.

I didn’t fill the space with a ton of stuff. Just a low shelf, a kid-sized table with chairs, and a rolling “art cart” full of art supplies. But before we got rid of the dining table, when I was still in my let’s see if this art thing is really going to stick phase, the only thing that made that space “the art room” was the art cart. It was a great start to our art studio, and if need be, it would have been enough on its own to accomplish most of the things I wanted to do with the art space.

What is an art cart? It’s just what it sounds like. It’s our 3-tiered rolling IKEA cart that I’ve stocked full of the most-used art supplies. Here are five reasons why I love it and would keep it even if we downsized:

  1. It’s kid-sized. My two year old can access everything on it.
  2. It makes everything visible. If you can see it, you’re much more likely to use it!
  3. It’s portable. She can roll it to wherever she’s working. That means if the room gets turned back into a dining room someday, she can roll the main art supplies to the kitchen table, her room, or wherever she feels inspired to make.
  4. It’s relatively inexpensive. At $29, you’d be hard pressed to find a quality 3-tiered shelf, let alone a cute rolling one!
  5. It’s non-committal. Are you afraid this art thing is just a phase and you might regret installing a shelf full of paint and glue? I’ve been there. No worries. If you’re not ready to have a shelf full of art supplies make a permanent fixture in your dining area, the art cart is the perfect let’s-just-try-it-out solution!

You can get it at IKEA for $29.99 (or on Amazon if you MUST have it in blue…).

What do I put in my art cart?

Whatever you want! But since this is my blog, I’ll tell you what I did. Our art cart has evolved in the last couple months, and will continue to, but here’s what we’ve settled on for now:

20161012_185921

The top level consists of frequently accessed supplies, mostly writing utensils. I picked up eight metal plant pots at IKEA for $0.99 each. The eight pots are filled with these easy to access essentials:
Note: This post contains affiliate links. 

  1. Paintbrushes and pipettes. If I didn’t already have a bunch of brushes lying around, I would get this set. And if you were wondering about the pipettes, they go in the paintbrush pot because they are a fun way to get liquid watercolor onto paper! We do this sometimes and then blow the drops or pools of watercolor around with a straw. They’re also great for squirting colorful vinegar into baking soda for a fun science-y project. (I got this set of 100 pipettes… want some???)
  2. Fat crayons.
  3. Normal crayons.
  4. Mr. Sketch markersThese produce the most vibrant colors! Not very washable though.
  5. Crayola Washable markersI let her draw on herself with these because they really are ultra washable!
  6. Thin markers from my childhood. When she encounters a dried out one, she has my permission to toss it.
  7. Medium sized markers, also from my childhood. Boy these things really last a long time!
  8. Washi tapeI was on the fence for the longest time about buying it, but decided it was worth it for fine motor skills. And for decorating paper plates.
    decorating-platesVerdict: She LOVES the Washi tape. It provides great fine motor skill practice as she picks away at the end, trying to get the tape to come off. She uses scissors to cut it, and it entertains her for dayz. WORTH IT.

20161012_185933

The second tier of our art cart is filled with tools, including:

  1. This tape dispenser. Related: You’d be surprised how many of my fourth graders struggled to tear tape off of a tape dispenser. I was determined that my children would have this skill down before turning nine!
  2. Elmer’s glue
  3. Glue sticks
  4. String
  5. Scissors: we have blunt end kid scissors (my favorite), toddler training scissors (she doesn’t mind them, but I find them kind of annoying to work with), and craft scissors with fun zig zaggy lines and stuff.
  6. Blue tape
  7. Baby wipes, for cleaning messes quickly
  8. Rulers. So far, I’m the only one who uses this.
  9. Stamp markers. Pretty inexpensive at IKEA.

20161012_185947

The bottom tier is filled with mostly off-limits items that I want easy access to. So I guess it’s mommy’s tier. I originally tried filling it with with jars of beads and cotton balls and stuff, but the raised edges made it hard to see what was inside each jar. Then I tried filling it with play dough supplies, but they wouldn’t all fit. I considered storing paper there, but it wasn’t practical with the raised sides. Since I already had six large plant pots from Daiso laying around, I decided this was the best place to use those anyway… so Mommy’s Tier it is! They’re filled with the following sundry items:

  1. Colorful set of permanent markers
  2. More permanent markers (mostly black)
  3. A rolled up cloth I use to cover her table when I know it’s going to get messy.
  4. Stamps (she can use whenever she wants)
  5. Unsharpened Pencils
  6. Random stuff that doesn’t really belong anywhere else.

If we didn’t have a shelf in the room, I’d probably use the bottom tier to store paints or maybe go back to the jars of knick knacks (beads, googly eyes, sequins, clothespins, foam stickers, etc.). I’m happy with this easy-access system we have, where both of us can reach for and use supplies anywhere in the room.

What about a rolling drawer cart?

Good question. I actually ALSO have one of these in our art space right now, because I stuffed a bunch of stuff in there before I picked up the art cart. And I have opened it pretty much zero times since then. It’s not that the items in it are completely useless, but it’s the nature of the cart. The drawers do a good job of hiding everything away, even with the clear-ish drawers. But that’s also the problem: out of sight, out of mind.

Meri Cherry, an art teacher in LA says, “My number one rule for organizing art supplies is, if you can’t see it, you won’t use it.” It’s true. I’ve had a TON of art supplies chillin’ in boxes in the closet for years, and I rarely touched them in that time. I totally forgot I even had a bunch of them and would sometimes buy double of an item or tool.

Now that things are out in the open, we use them all the time. And this mantra definitely goes for 2-year olds, too: if they can’t see it, they’re really not gonna use it. Mostly because they don’t even know that the (hidden) items exist. Ever since I’ve put the writing utensils and tools in the easy to see and easy to access IKEA art cart, she’s taken off and uses them comfortably and frequently. So if I had to choose between the two, I’d definitely go with the IKEA one. There’s a reason all those art teachers rave about it!

ikea-art-cart

So even if your space is limited, I think this is a nice way to give the art space thing a try. The kids can easily roll it up to the kitchen table to do art, and you can also hide it away when company’s over. The plant pots are a great way to store everything and also make it super easy to pull out just what you need without disturbing other items. If you have a utensil holder in your kitchen, you’ll understand how much easier it is to pull out a wire whisk from that instead of fishing it out of a drawer every time. My daughter often takes out just the one or two pots she wants to use and sets it on the table, does her thing, and then puts it right back. Everything in it’s place. Yay :].

Just last week, the kids were both down to sleep for the night and I found myself pulling a bunch of materials off the cart as I made banners and decorations for a party. Blue tape? Scissors? Crafty scissors? Tape? String? Rulers? How handy- they are all right here within arm’s reach! Crafting had never felt so breezy before. My hope is that my kids will enjoy the same convenient experience as they continue to tinker and create in the future!

October 27, 2016

20161012_185321

Elephant: Tissue paper squares and a spray bottle 🙂 I drew the elephant outline with a sharpie. The rest was all her! 

Originally, I wanted a maker space. A “tinker lab.” A place where my child could go and cut, glue, saw, tape, wire, and mold things from her imagination to reality. Robots, pulleys, cars, machines.

But she’s still two, so for now, I need her to get familiar with the basics first. So far, that means paper, markers, glue, tape, scissors, and paint. You’d be surprised how much a toddler can do with those few items and, paradoxically, how hard it is to think of new things to do with those few items. At least it is for me. I’m not super creative myself, but I really like copying neat stuff other people do. So I’ve been all over the Internet and Instagram researching and now have endless hours of inspiration at my fingertips. I’m sure you’ll be seeing some of that here :).

This space has been GREAT for our family for so many reasons. My toddler has developed her fine motor skills like craaazy with all that drawing, coloring, painting, taping, and cutting. She has learned to use a bunch of different tools (like scissors, brushes, tape, glue, straws, syringes, pipettes, and clothespins) and mediums (watercolors, crayons, markers, tempera paints, ribbons, washi tape). Some days, she comes home and declares that she needs art time, and she walks right over and starts cutting paper. I think it’s one way she unwinds and calms her mind after busy activities, and I love that she has that option.

One of my biggest hopes for this space was that it would provide her a place to do stuff independently. And parents, it has been a dream come true. One of the things I love most about this space is

October 20, 2016

pumpkin-spice-latte-recipe

I’m not that good about checking my Facebook messages, so it was a couple days later before I saw my friend Angie’s message: “I wanted to share a recipe and write about pumpkin because I love pumpkin and I thought your blog could use something pumpkin.

It’s true. She loves it. This is definitely not the first year I’ve seen pumpkins take over her posts on Facebook, and I gotta say, I love the way she goes all in on the season!

By the time I finished reading the recipe, I was dyinggg to try it out. So I did, and it is DELISH. I deviated from the instructions a bit and added my coffee to the pot of milk and pumpkin and then used a hand immersion blender to blend it all together. So good. I’m making it again tomorrow! I will say the first 98% of it was really smooth, but there was a little bit of pumpkin residue at the bottom of my cup. Maybe my Vitamix blender would have prevented that? Not sure, but it’s not going to stop me from making it again! Try this out and let me know if you love it! 


Pumpkin Spice Latte Recipe
Guest post by Angie L.

Fall is my favorite season. Two of my favorite things about fall are pumpkin and pumpkin spice latte. When I went to coffee shops for pumpkin spice lattes, I didn’t enjoy the pumpkin spice lattes as much as I’d like because they were loaded with sugar and I couldn’t taste much pumpkin. So, I was on a mission to make the perfect homemade cup of pumpkin spice latte.

October 12, 2016

kintsugi

By Haragayato – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50344039

I learned about something beautiful this week. It’s called kintsugi: the Japanese art of taking broken pottery and using gold to piece it back together. The idea is that flaws and breakage aren’t things we need to hide, but are things that can be beautiful. Even highlighted.

With gold.

If you search “kintsugi” online, there are so many beautiful images of it. My personal favorite is the turquoise bowl with gold repairs. I can’t post an image of it here (copyright issues), but you can probably find the very one if you do a quick Google search :). Do you see it? Do you LOVE it?

I’m tempted to buy a turqoise bowl and break it just so I can use gold to put it back together. Except I think that’s not really the point, and… I also don’t know how to melt gold and stuff. But I definitely like the “after” version of this pottery better than what I imagine the “before” was.

I love this illustration of exchanging something worthless into something beautiful and good.

October 5, 2016

This story is several months old, but I think of it all the time.

something-bad-to-something-good

It was a Sunday. I know this, because we skipped church that morning. We had to, since my daughter had come down with a 104 degree fever. She had been sick for a couple days, and I was grateful for the weekend so Ben could step in and take on some of the burden of taking care of the kids. She’s usually a darling, but this sickness was making her kind of a mess- a hot, crying, whiny, screaming mess. So this weekend, I was especially grateful for backup.

It was still a lot of work. Taking care of a sick toddler and a newborn is hard. I was still nursing my son several times a day, and we were also in the middle of working through my daughter’s TWOS. Full blown 2’s on top of 104 fever = ROUGH TIMES. I think I was getting through a cold, too. So I was pretty ready to zonk out and call it a day.

Except I couldn’t. Because on Sunday morning, I woke to Ben sitting stiffly on the edge of the bed, looking at the wall.

“Oh no,” he said.

“What?” I said, groggily.

He slowly turned his body to me, “I tweaked my neck again.”

“What.”

“I can’t even move my head. Ugh. Oh man this is such bad timing.”

“…” (<–Yes, it is. It really is.)

“I can still get her ready this morning…” he started, referring to our sick toddler.

“No. You shouldn’t. You could make your neck or back worse. I’ll get her.” I mean, my intentions were kind, but I couldn’t control my tone of voice. I was NOT pleased with the situation. Ben was going to be out of commission the entire day?!?! NOOOOO!!!

“Ugh, no, you’re so exhausted already,” he began, “I don’t want you to have to-”

“It’s fine. I’ll be fine.” I was huffy. I knew he really did feel bad, but this was seriously not the best time for a tweaked neck! I tried to be sympathetic, but I think selfishness overwhelmed me and I was more sympathetic for myself than for him.

So the hard work continued. I got both of the kids up, dressed, fed, cleaned, and played with them. I took her to the potty and I changed all his diapers. She continued to be sick, I continued to be exhausted, and Ben… lay on the couch. In pain.

But useless.

September 30, 2016

how-to-answer-all-of-the-questions

Children are curious creatures. What was that? Where are we going? What are you doing? Why is he wearing that? Why?

Why?

Why?

How do you respond to all of these questions? I used to think I was doing my daughter a favor by answering her questions.

Daughter: “What was that sound?”

Me: “An airplane.”

Sometimes my answers were more involved:

Daughter: “What is that sound?”

Me: “It’s the sound that tells people that it’s okay to walk across the street. Most people can see the walking man sign that tells us it’s okay to walk, but some people can’t see it, so this sound tells them when it’s time to cross.”

I’d run with it and take it as a teaching moment to tell her more about people with disabilities and then segue into a lesson about compassion and empathy. She would eat it all up. Boy, I LOVE TEACHING! I just can’t stop myself. I enjoy being the first to unveil the mystery of why people walk outside with umbrellas on sunny days and what all the weird noises are. I love to watch her learn new things, discover how the world works, and make sense of things. But that’s just the thing: If I am always giving her the answers to her questions, maybe she won’t learn very well how to discover answers on her own and make sense of things herself.

If I simply answer all the questions, I rob her of the opportunity to think for herself, to hypothesize, and to develop confidence in her own ability to discover answers. Maybe all my teaching and answer-giving is actually doing her a disservice!