Monday, February 27, 2012

Truffula Tree Pencils

This week my son’s preschool is celebrating Dr. Suess’ Birthday.  My husband and I are big fans of Dr. Suess so I pulled a bunch of our books off the shelf and read them to our boys.  Many of these tales are familiar to them.  The Lorax, while a favorite of my husband, was not one that we had read to the boys much… yet.  Our oldest really liked it.  In fact, we’ve read it at least twice every day since it came down off the shelf last week!   A friend of mine made truffula tree pencils for her students and I immediately asked how she made them.  Some of hers were made with wool roving which I happened to have on hand from when my son and I made felted bead earrings for teachers at his school around Christmas time.  I was a little leery of gluing loose pieces of roving onto a pencil that I was handing to my preschooler so I took a few minutes to do a little wet felting of the wool first.  It’s relatively quick and easy, two requirements for doing crafts with preschoolers!  I was pleased with the outcome and my son loves tickling his cheek with the soft truffula tuft.  Hopefully when my son practices writing with his Truffula Tree Pencil he will be reminded of the tale of the Lorax and conserve paper!
Wool roving dyed in bright colors
Old Towel
Bubble wrap
Spray bottle with warm soapy water (a little soap goes a long way)
Waxed paper
Rolling pin
Glue or a hot glue gun
Yellow #2 Pencils
Black Fine Point Permanent Marker

Directions:1. Spread an old towel on your work surface. Place the bubble wrap with the bubbles facing up on top of the towel.  Separate the fibers of wool roving and fluff them.  If you are not familiar with working with wool roving, grab the piece of wool with your hands a few inches apart.  If you pull and the fibers don’t easily pull apart, your hands are too close together.  Lay the wool fibers directly on the bubble wrap. Layer the fibers until you have a nice thick layer that is about 6 inches long on the side where the ends of the fibers are lined up.  You can put a few fibers along the edge running them perpendicular to the other fibers to make your felted portion stronger.
2. Place a piece of waxed paper over the fibers leaving only the ends exposed (an inch or less).
3. Spray the exposed fibers until they are just damp.  Gently fold the bubble wrap over the wool fibers and wax paper.  Roll over the ends of the fibers with the rolling pin for about 30 seconds, rolling in different directions.  The bubbles in the bubble wrap act as little fingers massaging the wool fibers.  The warm water and friction from the bubble wrap make microscopic barbs on the wool fibers link together and tangle to create felt.
4. Peel back the bubble wrap the fibers should not look fluffy anymore.  
5. Fold the hairy ends over onto the rest of the wool and pat them, spraying if necessary so they stick.  Put the bubble wrap back over the fibers and roll the same as before for 30 seconds.  Peel back the bubble wrap.  Remove the wax paper flip the wool fibers over.  Cover the dry section with the waxed paper.  Spray the felted edge if needed, place the bubble wrap over the fibers and roll with rolling pin for 30 seconds. 
6. Allow the wool to dry (overnight) or use a hair dryer to speed this step along.  Separate the fibers into sections and twist them (similar to twirling your hair).
7. Glue the pencil to the wet felted edge of the wool.  I chose to glue these for my son using a hot glue gun (after he was tucked into bed for the night).  Roll the pencil along that edge adding more glue as necessary.  If using white craft glue I probably would clip a clothes pin while it dried to keep it tightly in place.
8.  Allow to cool or dry.
9.  Sculpt your truffula tuft by spinning the pencil between your fingers and swirling the ends to achieve a shape and texture like the illustrations in Dr. Suess’ book. 
10. Using the permanent marker, sketch zig zag stripes around the pencil to simulate the bark in the drawings and allow the marker to dry.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Creativity on the Move:
Yoga Flash Cards for Kids

My father introduced me to yoga when I was a first grader.  Starting full day school was stressful for me and falling asleep on school nights did not come easily.  So my dad taught me some tried and true yoga poses and relaxation exercises that we practiced each evening.  I continued to do yoga and twenty years later I found yoga to be a tremendous help during my pregnancies.  Shiva Rea’s Prenatal Yoga DVD made its way onto our living room TV almost every day, right up until each of my boy’s births. 

Mommy takes a moment in this restful pose
while getting a, suprisingly nice, toy car massage

Now as a mom of two busy little boys I struggle to find time and space to practice yoga.  As a morning person, I would love to start my day with a salute to the sun as it peaks over the horizon.  Unfortunately, sleepless nights with a hungry newborn or teething toddler have prevented me from waking up before I absolutely have to.  On the rare occasion that I do wake up before the boys, our squeaky staircase nearly always gives me away, waking my guys up and keeping me from sneaking down to the living room to catch a half hour of uninterrupted quiet.  Evenings are tough too.  Between the boy’s bedtime routines, doing the dishes and catching up on anything else that I want to get done while the kids are asleep, I have used up the last scraps of the day.  A yoga teacher (and mother of four) suggested that I had to figure out a way to include the kids to fit my practice in.  Riiiiiight.  She must know what she’s talking about, she has two times as many children as I do, but including them seemed impossible!  If my youngest wasn’t driving toy cars and trucks along my spine while I was curled into child’s pose, my preschooler was literally burrowing under my mat or using my block as a drum set. 
Balancing in tree pose
Then I took a mommy and me yoga class, taught by a friend of mine.  The class incorporated an element of storytelling.  How creative and cool is that?!  After considering this concept I came up with a project idea for my kids and me that combined visual art, storytelling and movement.  We made a deck of flashcards with illustrations of animals, places, people, and miscellaneous things on one side and a written explanation and stick figure diagram on the opposite side.  Many yoga poses mimic things from the natural world and various exercises from other physical practices like aerobics and pilates can remind you of verbs and nouns that can be used in storytelling. 
Making the cards stretched my kid’s imaginations.  Drawing and coloring strengthens fine motor skills and muscles used for writing.  We labeled the pictures which gave my preschooler some practice writing.  Then we spread the finished cards out on the floor, pick out pictures and place them in a long line in the order we wanted the story to go.  During our time of storytelling we are building vocabulary and communication skills.  We exercise our bodies by acting out the story.  It may not be the yoga practice I used to have or one I was striving for, but it got us moving and stretching.
  The nature of the flashcards helps us to make up a new story each time we use them which keeps it fun and helps us to flex our imaginations to!  Try making your own set of yoga storytelling flashcards.  Get creative and get moving with your little ones!
·         Index Cards
·         Favorite Art Supplies: markers, crayons, letter stamps & ink pads, magazines, scissors, glue, pencils,
·         a rubber band or manila envelope (to hold the deck of flash cards all together)
1. Make the cards illustrating the poses and exercises. 
·         draw the picture and have your child color it in
·         search for free coloring pages online and print them to fit your index cards or print them on cardstock that can be cut to size and have your child color them in
·         cut out pictures from magazines and glue them on with a glue stick
2. Label the picture: if your child is able and in the mood, verbally tell him or her what letters to write. 
If not, try one of these alternative options:
·         write the word on a scrap paper or type them on a computer screen and have your child copy the letters
·         write the letters lightly in pencil and have your child trace them with brightly colored markers
·         write the letters with dashed lines to create a dot-to-dot type image that your child can connect with markers
·         type the labels in an easy to read font, print them out and have your child glue them to the card
·         use letter stamps and help your child find each letter and stamp it on the card (even though they aren’t practicing their writing skills this helps with letter recognition and strengthens their fine motor skills)
3. Draw the stick figure demonstrating the exercise on the opposite side of the card and write a brief description of what to do.
Here are a few examples of yoga poses and aerobic exercises you can use to get started:
1.       Tree pose: balance on one leg with the sole of your other foot resting at your knee
2.       Mountain pose: stand with your feet a comfortable distance apart (under your hips) put your palms together in front of your chest
3.       Volcano: start in mountain pose and move your hands upward and then as they stretch towards the ceiling open your arms, rotate your palms outward and sweep them down to your sides and then back to the starting position. All while making volcanic noises of course!
4.       Lion: start seated in a cross legged position lean forward onto hands and knees and roar while sticking out your tongue.
5.       Cow: Kneel on all fours with your knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders.  Start with your spine flat like a table top as you exhale relax your spine stretching your tummy towards the floor gently and say, “moo” for sure!
6.       Cat: Kneel on all fours with your knees under your hips and hands under shoulders.  Inhale and tip the hip bones towards the ceiling while drawing the shoulders back and down away from your ears. Exhale and tuck the chin while pulling your belly towards your spine. Round the back and feel a stretch down your spine.  And don’t forget to meow!
7.       Cobra: lie on your stomach, gently lift your head and upper body and hiss
8.       Surfer (aka: warrior): stand on a yoga mat or towel and with your feet spread out wide point one foot toward the front of the mat (pretend it’s your surf board) hold your arms out straight and try to keep balance while to pretend to ride the waves!
9.       Bicycle: lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent.  Bring your knees up so your thighs are perpendicular to the floor and peddle your feet like you are on a bicycle.
10.   Swimming: lie on your stomach with legs straight and together.  Keeping your shoulders away from your ears as you stretch your arms straight overhead. Pull your abs in so you feel your belly button pull up away from the floor and while looking at the floor so as not to crease your neck, extend your arms and legs so they lift off the floor alternate right arm/left leg, then left arm/right leg, pumping them up and down in small pulses as if you are swimming.
Make a few at a time so it doesn’t become overwhelming.  This is an ongoing project; you can always add more cards to the deck!  It’s more about the process than the product! 
If you choose to do collage and are cutting and pasting elements of your cards (like magazine pictures and or printed words) keep them together in a big manila envelope so you can keep track of all the pieces between crafting sessions. 
Older children might benefit from talking about different parts of a story.  Talk about setting, characters, plot, conflict and resolution if you like.  You can even color code your cards to remind children which ones are nouns and which ones are verbs.
Remember this is a time to teach your child about how yoga helps your body be strong and calm, you can blow off steam and energy but also breathe and relax.  It’s also about paying attention to your body and how it feels.  Skip anything that doesn’t feel good. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Preschool Craft Time = STRESS!
10 Tips and Tricks for Crafting Success

a "works in progress box"
filled with kid friendly washable art supplies
When I do a craft with my kids we really get into it.  However, we like to be crafty and I have art teaching experience.  After hearing groans from other moms who were frustrated with the task of making valentines with their little ones I thought of some tips that might be helpful.
10 Tips & Tricks
to ease your stress when making cards with your kids (or any craft for that matter!)
1.       Lean into your child’s strengths and interests.  For example, if they love to cut things out let them go at it, if not pre-cut the hearts for them and let them glue the hearts onto their valentines.  If stamping is their thing, go for it and skip the cutting and gluing altogether!
2.       Lean into your strengths and interests.  If getting messy with art supplies makes your heart beat a little faster because of stress rather than excitement, opt for supplies that you are comfortable with.  There are lots of options available that are less messy.  For example, stickers and crayons.  If your child has their heart set on glitter and paint look for tubes of glitter glue rather than loose glitter that you’ll be vacuuming up for months, and paint brushes with liquid watercolors in the handle.
3.       Be sure it’s washable!  Unless it says it’s washable on the package it may not be.  Opt for the tried and true brands and be sure you pick up the products clearly marked as “washable”!
4.       Keep it simple. If your child gets bored making every card the same set out their favorite art materials and jump in.  But if that would overwhelm your child (and you for that matter!),  design a card that has clear easy steps for completing. 
5.       Set limits ahead of time for example say, “Here are some stickers.  Choose three for each card.”  This will prevent your sicker budget from going through the roof and keep your child’s cards from weighing five pounds when you are done.  Plus they get to practice their counting skills!
6.       Don’t make all the cards at once.  Pay attention to your child’s mood and when they get antsy it’s time to put the project up for a while.
7.       Keep a box on hand for easy clean up, then when you and your child are in the mood all your materials are ready to go!
8.       Use technology to help.  If making cards by hand is not your thing, try scanning your child’s favorite painting or drawing into your computer and print the cards.  Then all they have to do is sign them!
9.       You are the facilitator.  Yes, teach them how much glue is appropriate and remind them to keep the markers on the paper, but when they place a sticker or heart crookedly resist the urge to fix it!  Your job is to keep paint off your carpet and marker off your kitchen table.  It is their card after all, not yours.
10.   Remember to breathe!  If you are stressed your child will feel it.  Try to stay upbeat and help them have a positive experience.  Save your war stories of preschool crafting for your spouse or phone a sympathetic friend after bedtime.
You probably already practice some of these strategies in your house.  Maybe you have a few tricks of your own that you can share.  What do you do to keep crafting time with your preschooler successful?  I’d love to hear from you!  Don’t despair; keep crafting with your little creative hearts!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Make your own Valentine's Day card for loads of fun!

For Valentine’s Day my son and I usually break out the scissors, doilies, glue, and glitter.  This year we designed a card to give his friends at Preschool that’s a little more boyish with a cheesy joke that most preschoolers will appreciate.  My mother had bought him a hole punch in the shape of a dump truck so we dug it out of the scrapbooking supplies and put it to good use.  You could use the same design and change up the hole punch for a different shape that suits your child’s personality and interests.  Help your child come up with a joke or rhyme to go with the shape. 
Tips: If you don’t want to handwrite the words on every card, type it up in an easy to read font and print it in a fun color.  Remember to give yourself plenty of time to get the job done.  This is supposed to be a fun activity, so break it up over a few days so the task doesn’t become frustrating to you or your preschooler.  For example, punch the holes and cut out the hearts one day, glue on the words and hearts the next, and finish with signing and sealing the cards during the last crafting session.  
Your child will look forward to giving out valentines that they helped make.  We hope our card inspires you to get creative with your kid!
Cardstock – cut in half to make two 5 ½” x 8 ½” rectangles and folded
Shaped hole punch
Colored construction paper
Child safety scissors
Glue stick
Valentine’s Day themed stickers

1. Prepare the cards by cutting an 8 ½” x 11” piece of heavy cardstock into two 5 ½” x 8 ½” rectangles and fold in half.  You will get two cards out of each piece of cardstock.
2. Punch out three dump trucks across the top (folded side) of the card.
3. Fold construction paper the long way and trace the heart template onto the colored paper with the center of the heart lined up with the fold.  Let your child cut out the heart.  This is good hand eye coordination and practice for cutting with scissors.
4. Using the gluestick, glue the hearts in place on the inside of each card covering the punched shaped holes on the back side of the card so that the color shows through the front of the card when closed. 
5. At the bottom of the heart write:    Happy Valentine’s Day!  from,  
(leaving room for your child to write his name.)
6. On the front write:                     Friends like you
are loads of fun!
7. With the card closed flip it over and have your child write their classmate’s name or write it with pencil and have them trace the pencil lines with marker.
8. Seal the card with a Valentine’s Day themed sticker and your child is ready for his or her valentine exchange!

Heart Template

Monday, February 6, 2012

Creative in the Kitchen: Literary Lunches
Yoko's California Rolls

One of my son’s favorite books is "Yoko" by Rosemary Wells.  In the story the Japanese cat, Yoko, brings traditional Japanese sushi to school for lunch.  When she gets teased by her American classmates, toting American delicacies like “squeeze cheese on white and franks and beans”, her teacher plans a special international food day.  Each character brings a food from a different country under the expectation that they are to try everything.  This piqued my guy’s interest in sushi so we tried our hand at some simple veggie California rolls (see recipe below). 

available at my etsy store:

At the end of the book Yoko hasn’t changed everyone’s mind about sushi, with the exception of one classmate, Timothy.  They decide to push their desks together and open a restaurant where they share their lunches.  After lunch at our house my son and his brother can open a restaurant just like Timothy and Yoko.  I created their own Japanese style bento (which means box) complete with inarizushi, California rolls, spring rolls, edamame beans in the pod and a cup of sauce all made out of felt.
cooked rice
yellow pepper
toasted seaweed sheets
Cut your veggies into sticks.  Place a sheet of toasted seaweed onto a bamboo mat.  You can also try rolling it without a mat or substituting a piece of waxed paper for the mat.  Spread a layer of cooled rice onto a sheet of toasted seaweed leaving an inch or two on the side furthest away from you.  If the rice is sticking to you dip your finger tips in cool water to keep it from sticking.  Place your sliced veggies across the end closest to you and roll.  Wipe a small amount of water on the wrap as you close it to help seal it.  Trim off the ends and slice into “coins” about an inch or so thick.