Category Archives: Art

Diversion: Art Project

We needed a little break from our normal school routine today, so I pulled good ol’ Storybook Art off the shelf and found an easy project for us to do.

The book was The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. A beautiful classic.

The project was to divide a large piece of paper into fourths, draw the same picture in each of the four quarters, and then detail each picture with what the child imagined their picture would look like in each of the four seasons.

As usual, I loved watching how each child created and what they came up with, each creation as individual as the creator.

Here they are during the creation process. So focused!

And here are each of them with their finished (or near-finished) products:

It’s good to have a creative outlet now and then. 🙂

Easter Craft

What do you do on a rainy afternoon when everyone is itching for something different to do?

You dig through the archives of your memory bank and produce a spontaneous craft project!

I honestly don’t know why this jumped into my head this morning, but it worked. I remember doing this on several different occasions during my elementary school years. It’s pretty simple.

You will need:

  1. Tissue paper, in whichever array of colors work for you
  2. Scissors, to cut tissue paper into 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ squares
  3. Cardstock, to draw or copy a black-line image onto
  4. Glue, the drippy kind, not the stick kind
  5. Pencils with fairly new erasers (the flat top makes things a little easier somehow)
  6. Paper plates (optional), should you have preschoolers who get frustrated with glue. Squirt a little puddle of glue on their plate and let them dip.

Here’s a quick tutorial:

Start with one of your pieces of tissue paper, cut into a small square. We used 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ but you could do smaller or larger, depending on the look you want. The squares don’t have to be exactly square, by the way, but it helps if they look squarish. How many you need to cut will depend on how big your image is. But you’ll need a lot. 🙂

Place the pencil eraser in the middle of the tissue paper.

And gather up the ends so that you are holding the edges of the tissue paper against the pencil, like so.

Either squeeze a little drop of glue onto the tip of the tissue paper as you keep holding it to the pencil, or dip the tip of the tissue paper into the glue on the paper plate. Either works, just make sure you’re still holding onto the tissue paper.

Gently press the tissue paper onto the cardstock in the location of your choice. This is Henry’s. He chose to keep each of his tissue papers pretty close together for a fuller look.

Each of my kids approached this project differently and I loved seeing what they came up with. Here is Sam’s:

Kate caught the vision of this project and exhibited some amazing manual dexterity for a 3-year old!

Becca could have cared less about trying to make it look like everyone else’s:

Still cool, though!

Also, on Becca’s, you can see how I quickly free-handed an Easter egg with the Sharpie. Forgot to take a picture of that step!

Rinse and repeat until your image is filled in to your liking.

The beauty of this project is that you could easily adapt it to any holiday, any occasion, any shape, any size. The other beautiful thing is that these are materials most households would have on hand (assuming you stock tissue paper in your gift wrap box). I love a pick-up craft that is easy to execute.

Have fun creating!

Trying New Things

I finally got brave enough to jump into some art mediums other than drawing and painting. We’ve recently tackled “It Looked Like Spilt Milk” by  Charles G. Shaw (Storybook Art, page 33) and “Snow on Snow on Snow” by Cheryl Chapman and Synthia Saint James (Storybook Art, page 86).

The kids did a project based on “It Looked Like Spilt Milk” with my parents while we were in Chile. They blobbed some white paint in the middle of blue paper and then folded the paper and opened it back up. Once dry, they looked at their image from different angles to see what it looked like and wrote their impressions on the paper. Such fun.

If Storybook Art hadn’t had this other project to go along with the book, I would have left it alone. But I was really curious to see how this one would work.

You take shaving cream and white glue and mix together. Plop a blob down on a piece of paper and let your kid explore and shape and create. Whatever they come up with will dry puffy.

This was such a sensory activity for the girls and Samuel that they didn’t get past smearing the shaving cream mixture all over their paper and the table. Henry had the only picture that dried puffy.

Here they are:

Kate, loving the feel of pure squishiness


It took Becca a minute or two to fully embrace the experience.

Henry was very deliberate in his creation.

I was a little more skeptical to try “Snow on Snow on Snow” as it was a cut/collage project, but figured that we needed a baseline to determine time between projects such as this. As we read the book together, I tried to draw the kids’ attention to the pictures, asking them how they would create a scene like that, or pointing out that nothing was drawn; the images we were looking at were void of detail and drawn expression.

My takeaway was that my littles are still a little too little for a project like this. They had lots of creative ideas but haven’t developed the fine motor and scissor skills to execute independently. Henry wanted to draw his objects and then cut them out, which was fine. Samuel had a whole story in his head that he dictated to me while instructing me what pieces to cut out of which color papers. The girls also had specific ideas of what they wanted on their snow scenes, but ultimately ended up more interested in the glue sticks (as you will be able to see on Kate’s picture).

Here’s what they came up with:

Here is Kate’s Frosty the Snowman at the bottom of the sledding hill, complete with flecks of goldfish cracker that stuck when she sneezed without covering her mouth. All of the yellow on the green background is dried glue from the glue stick.

Becca and her tutu were pretty proud of the “nummy” (cat), doggie, and baby frolicking in the snow.

Sam liked the idea of the “nummy” and wanted to copy it, although he was insistent on cutting his own tail for the cat. He put glue on the wrong side of the cat so it had to face the opposite direction from where he originally intended it to face. So he changed the story to be that the cat was running away from something scary. Enter the shark. Then he liked the idea of Becca’s baby, so he wanted to have a mother holding a baby. Evidently, they’re not as scared of the shark as the cat is. The snow at the bottom of the picture and the giant snowflakes (big brown and white squares at the top) were Samuel’s original and independent contribution to the project.

Henry was the only one to work independently 100%. I get the house on the snow but am a little unsure of what the red arch is. I was very pleased with his efforts, though.

Ah, life!

I think I was a little over-ambitious this week. I thought it would be fun, given the simplicity (term used loosely) of the projects, to have the girls join us in art and science. Maybe it was fun for them. It wasn’t so much for me. I don’t know how public school teachers do student/teacher ratios of 20:1 or 28:1. Sometimes 4:1 does me in.

Our art project was based on “Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson  (Storybook Art, page 51). The idea was simple: get a long roll of paper and three or four different marking mediums and draw a long unbroken line. It could be as light or heavy, curvy or straight as we wished.

Bottom line? Fail. The best part of the project was reading the book. One of the kids ended up in time-out because of hitting when someone else drew out of turn and into their line. A short-lived project that went right into the trash.

Ever forging onward, Mom pulled out the science project for the day: “Rampin’ Up” (Mudpies to Magnets, page 51). The idea was to explore planes (not air-) and the effect of a given plane on how far a little toy car could travel. We were supposed to build varying heights on support blocks and find the best angle for helping the car travel the farthest.

Fail #2. Someone ended up in time-out for throwing a car at someone else’s head. The only scientific conclusions arrived at were #1) Mom is mean because she wouldn’t let the kids race every single one of their HotWheels down the ramp, and #2) Becca ruined the ramp because she kept stepping on it.

Some things just aren’t worth trying to patch up.

The Best-loved Bear

“Corduroy” by Don Freeman is one of those childhood classics that I couldn’t wait to share with my kids. I love that they’ve found it as enchanting as I remember it being. So it was no great surprise when all four kiddos wanted in on this art project. (Storybook Art, page 19)

Given that they all started with the same template, I thoroughly enjoyed watching each of them create their own Corduroys, pouring their personalities into each of their creations.

I started by giving them a piece of cardstock (color of their choice, of course) and told them to draw any design they wanted as a background. Then we divvied up the bears I’d created the night before: two cardboard with construction paper overalls and two bears cut from corduroy fabric with fabric overalls. The craft box came out of the cupboard and eyes and buttons found their way onto the papers. They all thought Elmer’s Glue was the greatest. And they were all quite proud of their artistic efforts and all four renderings are on display in our Hall of Fame.

Here’s Kate’s. I love how she felt it necessary to add more “background” right on top of her bear. Also love how Corduroy has one button on his overalls (as per the story) but how he ended up with pierced ears and toe rings, too.

Sam’s. Love how he used a button for the nose but drew in the eyes with marker.

Becca’s. Easily the most fascinated with glue and buttons. But I also love her deliberate markings for the background.

I thought Henry was doing a great job BEFORE he added button arches for the eyebrows. But I understand that eyebrows add character.

This was a really fun project!

Of Masks and Monsters

In honor of Halloween, our art project this week was based on Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” Instead of going with the project as outlined, I tweaked one of the variations offered at the bottom of the page. We made Wild Thing masks. The boys had a blast. (Storybook Art, page 59)

Samuel had so much fun he couldn’t stop at one mask and ended up making four.

Henry made two.

Art for the Faint of Heart

I love art and am certainly a proponent of the fine arts as part of an education. But I have had a really hard time wanting to work on any art projects with the boys lately.

I’m not sure what it is. I’ve been making honest efforts. I’ve checked out several books from the library that were on my list of projects to tackle in Storybook Art. But I just wasn’t feeling it.

We finally had a break-through last week and we might back back in the groove again. Thankfully.

Here are some of the projects we’ve done in the last little while.

From “Have You Seen Birds?” (Storybook Art, page 108):

I highly recommend checking this book out from the library if it’s not in your budget to purchase. Wow! Barbara Reid does an amazing job with modeling clay. All three of us were enthralled with her illustrations as well as the breadth of the varieties of birds she portrays in her book. Our favorite was the owl, who looks like he’ll fly right off the page into your living room. The details are incredible.

I knew the boys would enjoy working with modeling clay (I was right) and I wasn’t a bit surprised when their Pressed Clay Illustration project had a bird theme (the book was really that good).

Then we hit a slump. The best I could come up with was folding newspaper boats ala Curious George because the instructions were part of the story (not a Storybook Art-approved project). Not one of our finer moments.

But then we rallied and had some fun with “Drummer Hoff.” I remember loving this book as a kid. Going back for a first read-through as an adult, I couldn’t figure out what it was I loved about it way back then. It’s kind of a dumb storyline with a weird ending. But after reading it to the kids several times a day for the past two weeks, I’m in love again, and I think it’s all about the illustrations.

We had a blast imitating Ed Emberley’s illustration style for our weekly project.

Henry drew a pirate ship approaching an island.

And included the all-important underwater prison cage.

Samuel opted for a literal interpretation of Drummer Hoff to get warmed up:

(Drummer Hoff is in brown at the right; the guy in the blue is Sergeant Chowder with the peg leg; and the yellow guys are two of the other characters. He messed up with one of them and was so upset over it that he drew a blue line through it to “kill” him. I love the chain that Private Parriage used to lower the carriage. And I’m not entirely sure if the purple blob is the shot, the carriage, or the barrel.)

But then he came around and let me “help” him draw a shark and was very focused on coloring in the panes. He did a great job and this is a current obsession of his—coloring something all the same color and doing his best to stay in the lines.

This week, we opted for creating an illustration using a “sidebar” technique, copying illustrator Jan Brett. If you’ve never heard of her, RUN to the library or bookstore. She is my new favorite. We have absolutely loved everything we’ve read of hers.

The main portion of the page is the jist of the story, and then in the sidebars, she tells a sub-story or two through illustration. It is simply enchanting.

Henry and Sam had a great time creating their own stories. We took our piece of drawing paper and folded two sidebars on the edges. I wish the boys had chosen different mediums to create their pictures because they were really great. Sam drew an alien and some alien wars in the sidebars…with a peach-colored marker. Henry also had an alien theme…in pencil. Here are the pictures I took but they aren’t the easiest to see. Perhaps the best part was listening to them narrate as they drew. Either that, or listening to how the story changes every time I ask them to tell me about it.

The big alien is in the middle, a blue alien covered in green is the right sidebar, and a small alien in a bubble is in the left sidebar.

I don’t know why, but the facial expression on this alien cracks me up!

Henry’s six-handed alien was the hero of his story.

Here’s the antagonist on the right sidebar, guns blazing.

In the left sidebar, we have a pile of alien eggs with one freshly hatched alien child. Henry assured me that by the time he reaches alien adulthood, he’ll have all six hands just like his dad.

Here’s hoping we can stay in our groove!

Random Ruminations

Ruminations on Reading: Reading is going well. Henry is able to sound out the words in his workbook every day with very few hang-ups. He is always excited to read a story or a book and get a sticker on his progress chart. And he’s always willing to pull his workbook out whenever I ask him if he’s ready for reading. Okay, those were more observations than ruminations. But they set the stage for the ruminations.

I wonder when Henry will start seeing the words he knows how to read in picture books not part of Hooked on Phonics. I wonder when that light will click on for him and he’ll start transferring his skills outside his comfort zone. He’s only been reading, really, for two weeks. I’m not trying to rush this. I just wonder.

I also realized with a start this week that Henry becoming an independent reader means that my days of snuggling on the couch with him, logging hours of reading together, are numbered. Sad thought.

Ruminations on RightStart: We introduced the abacus to the boys this week. They both liked being able to represent quantities in a way other than their fingers or their tally sticks. I asked them to show me “4” on their abacus. Henry selected the right amount and pushed them to the left as a unit. It was exactly the way the textbook wanted him to and I didn’t even say anything to him about it. Yay, #1! Then, I asked him how he knew it was four. He said, pointing to the lone blue bead at the right, “Because there’s only one blue bead left!” That was literally a textbook answer. Yay, #2! I think I did an inner Toyota jump because he’s getting it. So exciting.

This math curriculum is geared for two lessons a week. Sometimes I wonder if I ought to do one more day a week since they both seem to like it so much. But sometimes I think I should just hold back a little and keep from overwhelming them. Fine balance.

Ruminations on Art: Not our best week. I didn’t do a very good job of explaining the scope or what I expected of them. Oh well. It’s okay.

We did Fanny Joly’s “Mr. Fine, Porcupine” (Storybook Art, page 31). The boys think the story is hilarious and it’s one of the most requested reads from this round of library books.

The idea was to finger paint a simple large line drawing of choice (think a drawing of a sheep or a house) before using craft sticks to scratch away paint to create a textured look. Instead, both Sam and Henry opted to recreate a page from the story. Sam did a darn good job of creating Mr. Fine, Porcupine, and Henry chose a page with a town on it. Here’re the finished products:

Please meet Mr. Fine, Porcupine.

This is the town Mr. Fine rides his bike through, a la Henry

So…the ruminations in my head that are art-related are mostly happy thoughts at finding such a great resource to gently guide our creativity. I love that my boys are creating. It’s fun to see them be more excited over a blank piece of paper and a box of markers than a coloring book. It’s fun to see what’s in their little heads—especially the level of detail! I love learning new techniques and love that we’re being exposed to more than just line drawing or painting with watercolors.

Ruminations on Science: My biggest concern in this area is that I need to practice with different settings on my camera. I need to learn how to take better pictures. I know what I want different compositions to look like in my head; I just haven’t figured out how to make them happen. Not even school-related. For the boys, anyway. Just realizing that if I’m going to document our journey, I’d like to figure out how to capture better shots than blurry stills or flash-washed close-ups.

But our science experiment this week was tops. We tackled “Shine Your Pennies” (Mudpies to Magnets, page 99). I was messing around with the camera more this day, so my explanation of our experiment will be peppered with pictures.

The set-up was pretty basic: four bowls, varied combinations of salt, vinegar, and water.

(Yay! I figured out the macro setting!) 3 of the 4 bowls required 5 mL of salt. Thank heaven for medicine cups. I had no idea how I was going to measure 5 mL!

Our first bowl had vinegar only; our second, salt only; our third, salt and vinegar; and our fourth, salt and water.

We placed one dirty penny in each bowl and made observations after five, ten, and fifteen minutes. The most pronounced changes were observable at the five minute mark.

The penny in the vinegar didn’t get shiny but it put off a lot of bubble chains from the penny to the surface of the vinegar.

Hmm…nothing’s happening…

Ooo! Can you see it getting shiny?

The boys thought this one was cool. Maybe a teensie bit more than the shiny one.

After we recorded our observations and the boys made their notations in their science journals, I let them go crazy trying to shine the rest of their pennies. It made for a fun project.

Ruminations on Spanish and Social Studies: I’m kind of bored, not going to lie. I’m pretty sure we’ll be through both the yellow and red levels of Spanish by Christmas. Then what? Who knows.

I think if I cared more about our approach to Social Studies this year, then I could make it more fun with menu plans and supplemental library books. Maybe when I find my groove again in the menu planning arena. Hmm. Something to think about.

Learning to Juggle

This past week was a really good illustration of what happens to well-laid plans when life gets in the way. For various reasons, it was hard for us to find our groove.

However, I will say that the flexibility of homeschooling is something to love. Even though we still tried our best to do some learning during the girls’ naptime, I loved that when it didn’t happen, I could do it whenever it worked best. Sometimes it meant doing math with the boys while the girls were in the tub and couldn’t steal the manipulatives. Sometimes it meant working on our art project with all four kids at 8:00 in the morning. Whatever, you know? It’s working.

Henry made some great progress with Hooked on Phonics this week. He read his second story, “Dan Ran,” and his first book, “Cat.” He was so thrilled to be reading an actual book (term used loosely) that he called Nanny and Poppa to read it to them. I’m sure they understood every word of the six page plot, no problem.

Our two math lessons were pretty basic. I think both boys will be happy to move onto more challenging things. Still, they did hands-on exercises with patterning, matching, and sorting, and learned about parallel and perpendicular planes.

This week the boys joined Joe at the convention center for a morning to go see and play with the robots during the company’s yearly conference. Daddy was happy to fill in for me on science this week! Here are some pictures of the boys before the camera conked:

Operating a robot with a joy stick

The boys in front of “The Bear,” a rescue robot

So yeah, science this week was a raging success. The boys couldn’t stop talking about all of the robots they had seen and I think gratitude for being part of the event was even expressed in their evening prayers.

I am still loving Storybook Art. This week, we checked out Donald Crews’ Ten Black Dots from the library and had fun with stickers. All four kids gave this one a thumbs up. The question is posed at the beginning of the book: “What can you do with ten black dots?” The author/illustrator used various numbers of dots as a starting point and then created a picture around the dots (Storybook Art, page 46). Henry jumped right in and had created this before I had finished passing paper and sticker dots out to the crew:

It’s an alligator, folks. A five-legged alligator with menacing eyebrows. I love it.

Here’s Samuel’s creation, a water slide, complete with splashes:

Henry did two more pictures, one was a spaceship and the other a train. Here, he’s working on the train:

Not to be outdone, here’s Becca’s creation. Once she saw the boys drawing on and around their dots, she followed suite. The boys and I thought this looked like a bunch of lightning bugs.

Ups and Downs

Week Two of our homeschooling adventure started out kind of bumpy but we had a slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am finish!

Phonics (Henry): We kept plugging away at the flashcards. I struggled all week with the dilemma of starting him on reading without being 100% confident with all 26 beginning letter sounds vs. making sure he could nail them. He just didn’t seem to be “getting it” and I didn’t want him to be frustrated.

I finally pulled the yellow workbook out of the box, along with some accompanying books, and explained to Henry that once he knew all of the sounds the letters make, we could start doing some of these different things. I think having a vision helped. He immediately began making up little games to help him through the flashcards (trying to beat the lady by saying the sound first) and within two more days, was nailing all but two letters. From there, it was easy to drill him on those two throughout the day as he played or while we were driving.

By Friday (July 30th), he was ready for the first story in the workbook. We spent double the time we normally take for phonics because he wanted to get to the story so badly.

The excitement that accompanies the success of reading something independently is immeasurable. Henry was over-the-moon excited and wanted to read to anybody who was willing to listen. Lucky for him, Daddy came home from work early this day, so he was able to read to Dad. He also was lucky enough to see Grammy and Grampa, so they were also an attentive audience for a labored rendition of “Fat Cat, Fat Rat.”

What an accomplishment! We are on our way.

Math: July 29th was one of my happiest days this year. It was the day the UPS man rang my doorbell and dropped a package on my doorstep that had our RightStart Math curriculum in it. Oh, my laws. It was seriously like Christmas for me. The kids and I tore into the box and started playing with all of the manipulatives. The girls loved the abacuses (abacai?) and would daintily move the beads from one end to the other, chanting, “One, doo, one, doo.” I could hardly wait for everyone to get into bed so I could curl up on the couch and read the teacher’s manual. Giddy would describe it. I kept ooing and aahhing over the way math concepts are presented and figuring out how it all fits into the big picture. I loved how each lesson is brief and extremely well organized and easy to teach from. I loved wondering why we were doing certain things (i.e., teaching the poem “One, Two, Buckle my Shoe”) and then discovering the reason a few lessons down the road (ultimately teaches kids to count by twos). I was fascinated by all of the introductions to geometry. This is just a way cool program. I was 13 lessons into it before Joe peeled my fingers off the manual and pointed me in the direction of the bedroom to get ready for bed.

Needless to say, we had our first math lesson the next day.

Both Sam and Henry did a great job. It was a pretty basic lesson but they were able to do everything I asked them to. It will be interesting to watch the two boys as we go along. Henry will have to overcome the crutch of counting where Sam won’t, but he’ll also have a year’s cognitive maturity advantage.

Really excited for math. Really.

Social Studies: We read about Mohammed (Egypt) (Children Just Like Me, pg. 36) this week. Still no reaction, good or bad. The boys were eager to cuddle up to me and read, so maybe I’ll take that as a good sign.

Spanish: Sam only wanted to do one lesson this week and Henry three, so I let them run with it. It wasn’t really a big deal since they were learning how to count from 1 to 10 in Spanish. Samuel struggled with the number recognition, and then having to translate that number into Spanish was a little much for him. Another reason why I think RightStart will be a good fit for him. He doesn’t need to worry about number recognition right now.

Art: This week we read Leo Lionni’s Fish is Fish (Storybook Art, pg. 53) and our art project was one that mimicked the illustrator’s style. The book is done with crayon rubbings on various textures for the background, with the drawings cut out and placed on the background.

The boys decided they wanted to make a space scene, so we spread various textures on the kitchen table (crumpled tinfoil laid flat, cardstock with holes cut out of it, cardboard, sandpaper, etc.) and used different blues, purples, and blacks to create outer space. Then they went to work drawing pictures on construction paper. We traced a bowl so we could make a planet. Henry made a space man with a jet pack and a rocket ship. Sam made (and cut out himself) an asteroid. Once they were done drawing and cutting, they pasted their scene together. Henry grabbed the hole punch and added a border of “stars” as a finishing touch. They were quite pleased with their efforts.

Here’s some detail on Henry’s space man (with jet pack):

The thing I think I really love about Storybook Art is that we can do these projects every year and every time the things we create will be different. That could especially be fun to compare year over year as the kids get older and more competent in different areas.

Science: We explored the world of bubbles this week (Mudpies to Magnets, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” pg. 96). This was more an observation project than one to walk through the scientific process with.

I filled plastic cups about an inch with bubble solution and stuck a straw in each one. And then we spent the next 20 minutes blowing. Blowing hard, blowing soft, blowing fast, blowing slow, moving our straws…it was a very enjoyable discovery process. We observed how bubbles pick up colors based on how much light was in the room. We had fun experimenting with lots of bubbles (think bubble trail on the table) and big, big bubbles. It was a definite hit and one I may use with Sam’s preschool group this year.

Again, I loved watching how the boys interpreted their experience with their drawings:

Love Henry’s bubble chain with flecks of color in each one.

And I love Sam’s variety of bubble colors and sizes.

Overall, another successful week. We are really having a blast!