Art in the Afternoon

A long sheet of paper, some tubes of fingerpaint, two kids, and a sunny afternoon adds up to some pretty terrific process-based art.

It is really starting to feel like autumn out there. So chilly in the morning that we need sweaters and hot tea with breakfast, but we're stripping down to almost nothing to play in the afternoon sun. We're trying to make the most of it by doing some big and messy art outside before the cold and falling leaves chases us inside.

Nature Study: Cicadas

While doing my not-nearly-frequent-enough pass with the vacuum cleaner upstairs, I happened upon a dead mosquito on the floor. What luck! Immediately I called Silas in to preserve the specimen for viewing. We spent a delightful afternoon recording our observations and asking all sorts of questions. Doing so made me realize that it's been a whole year (!) since our last focused nature study and I never did get around to writing about that one (!!). Hard to believe, right? I mean, it's not like I had a new baby or an impending move or anything like that to keep me busy. *ahem*

Late last summer Silas became really obsessed with cicadas. Every morning he would take his little collection jar outside and gather all the "shells" that he could find. This collection was so important to him, I should note, that it made the move and is currently sitting on top of his dresser in our new house.

Most of our study consisted of really close observation. We listened as they sang us to sleep every night. We used a hand lens to look at the shells and other cicada parts that we happened to find outside and then drew them. We spent a glorious morning with some friends at the Natural History Museum looking at the specimens housed there and drawing what we saw.

We also read books, our favorites being Cicadas by Squire and Cicadas Strange and Wonderful by Pringle. Right after the trip to the museum we made a pinch drum, which is a wonderful model of how a cicada makes its sound. We folded origami cicadas. Well, I folded and Silas played. He was only 4 at the time.

There are many, many cicada videos online, but we especially liked this snippet from the longer documentary The Return of the Cicadas. Cicada Mania is a pretty comprehensive resource that I used to better educate myself so that I could more effectively guide Silas' learning. He also decided to dress as a cicada for Halloween that year and so there was a lot of practical work in translating his drawings into a costume. The construction of the wings was an especially beautiful process.

We looked closely at cicadas for about a month. I had grand plans of doing a different in-depth nature study each month, but things just didn't shake out this way. We're so excited to be getting back to it, though. I can't wait to see what we learn about mosquitoes!

Artist Study: Matisse

"I don't paint things. I only paint the difference between things."  - Henri Matisse

The second artist that we learned about in our Charlotte Mason-inspired artist study is Henri Matisse. This was a fun one! Matisse's works are so full of color and are so playful; Silas really enjoyed being surrounded by them. 

Much like Monet, there are so many great picture books about this artist. Our favorites were: Matisse's Garden, Henri's Scissors, The Iridescence of Birds, Matisse the King of Color, Colorful Dreamer, Henri Matisse, and Oooh! Matisse.

As before, we just checked out prints from the library to hang on our art wall and read books about the artist to immerse ourselves in his work. Our local art museum does have a Matisse in its collection, which we plan to go see soon. As I plan our artist studies, I'm trying to let what is available to us locally guide my choices. I think it's really important to see these works in person.

YouTube is such a great source to enrich these studies, even though it wasn't the first thing that popped into my mind when searching for resources. We enjoyed this video of Matisse drawing and speaking about his work as well as this video of Matisse creating a paper cut work.

To bring it all together, we created art "like Matisse." I asked Silas what he thought it would mean to do that. He said that he most liked the papercut works that Matisse did late in life, so that was our inspiration. I gathered a big stack of paint chips to cut shapes out of, which were then glued to a watercolor background that Silas painted.

A Rainbow Hat

There's nothing like a stretch of 90 degree weather to motivate some knitting, right? Poor Silas requested a rainbow hat for this past winter. The pattern was chosen and the yarn purchased, but with moving that project just never made its way onto the needles. Then the hot weather hit and our lack of air conditioning and single fan left me planted on the couch at the end of every day wanting to move as little of my body as humanly possible. Suddenly, knitting seemed like a great way to pass the time. By the time the heat broke he had a finished hat for next winter.

This is the Rainbow Trout pattern (ravelry notes here) and I used Crystal Palace Mini Mochi because it was the only self-striping rainbow yarn I could find after a quick search. It is very very soft and I like it, but I probably wouldn't choose it for a hat again. For socks, though, it would be divine. The pattern is fantastic and was a perfect way to add some visual interest to the rainbow stripes without being too distracting.

Joining Ginny.

A Scooping Game

Lately, we've been spending a goodly sum of our time in the front yard playing in the rocks. Silas is building quite an elaborate fairy house and garden (complete with pond, bridge, and stable for fairy animals) and Theda loves to splash in a little pan of water.

She is deep in an enclosing schema and much of her self-directed play consists of putting things into things. I often give her a pile of objects and an empty container and one by one she will put each thing into the basket. Her focus is amazing to watch; she is very determined that all things must be put away.

When giving her a little pan of water outside, I didn't give too much thought to the set-up - just some water with a spoon and a little cup - but she developed a little game for herself that she's been playing over and over for days now. One at a time, she'll pick up a rock, toss it into the water, and then scoop it up with the spoon. Then, very carefully, she removes the rock from the spoon with her other hand and brings the spoon all the way up to her mouth to drink whatever water is left in it. She will then either toss that rock and begin the process anew with a different rock, or she will place the rock back onto the spoon and dump it back into the pan of water. Over and over and over again.

There's also a fair amount of splashing and, of course, dumping going on too. But, this little game of hers, that she comes back to again and again, seems to be fulfilling a need for her. What exactly she's learning about the world or what skill she is trying to master I'm not quite sure, but it's not really important that I do. I trust that she knows best and am happy to watch her work.

Birthday Bolero

I promised myself (and Steve) that I wouldn't buy any more knitting books. I rarely use them anyway as Ravelry is such an easy and useful resource. But this one called to me from the shelves of the resale shop at our library. Filled with such cuteness! I actually passed it over once, but then decided to purchase it (for a whole $2) on another visit after I realized that Theda needed a little cardi to keep her shoulders warm while wearing her birthday dress. I may not be able to sew in sleeves yet, but I can knit them!

The pattern is Debbie Bliss' Baby Bolero (Ravelry notes here) and I used a skein of MadelineTosh that I had purchased with the intent of making a Valentine's Day sweater that never made it on the needles. I've not used MT before (because, good heaven's it's expensive), but it is so dreamy to knit with and so very soft to wear. Theda and I are both fans. I shortened the sleeves because I was shy on yarn, but it worked out perfectly to wear during this very warm spring.

This patch of gravel, by the way, is her new favorite place to play. It's right outside our front door and she practically dives out of my arms, trying to get down to the coolness of the stones, whenever we are coming or going. She can sit there and kick her feet and pick up and put down rocks for as long as we're outside...usually watching Big Brother ride his bike on the sidewalk in front of the house. She's pretty good about not putting them in her mouth and whenever she tries to she does so very slowly and deliberately with a sideways glance in my direction, anticipating the "no, no, no" that is to come and laughing hysterically when it does. 

Joining Ginny.

A Little Party Dress (or two)

I sewed up a couple little party dresses for Theda (because for her, every day is a party). The parade fabric was the inspiration for it all and my intent was to sew her a first birthday dress. I asked in my local sewing group for pattern suggestions with the parameters that the pattern had to be beginner-friendly, have a gathered waist with a sash, and no sleeves (eek! sleeves!). Because the ladies there are awesome, in no time I was directed towards the party dress by Mummykins and Me (which is free if you follow her FB page) and it was perfect. The instructions walked me through each step so it was super easy to sew and it's fully lined with finished seams, so it's comfy to wear.

I did a test run of the pattern using an old bed sheet (so soft!) for the main fabric and something from my stash for the accent. No joke, I bought this fabric six years ago in my very first fabric order ever. I have no idea what I intended to make with it, but I'm guessing I was thinking it would make a good skirt as I bought three yards. Who knows?

I think she is in dire need of some bonnets to go with them.

One (Plus a couple months)

Dear, sweet, Theda,

You truly are a second-born child. There was no costume for your first Halloween, there are far fewer photos of your first year on Earth, your mama-made birthday crown came weeks after we celebrated your first birthday, and this post to celebrate your birth comes two months late. We are just lucky that you are so sweet and good-natured. I'm sure you're too busy laughing to even notice.

You have said "mama" for a very long time, but "mom" has recently emerged and you say it almost constantly, which is about how often you would like to be in my arms. How could I resist, though, when you say "mom" with an exaggerated lip smack and then lay your head on my shoulder and squeeze me with the entirety of your being?

The list of things that you adore is long, but the top of the list, without a doubt, is your Big Brother. The two of you screech at each other in a language shared by the two of you alone and that is barely tolerable by your parents, but that has you both in fits of laughter. The adoration is returned...your brother is quite certain that the sun rises and sets with you. He treats you with such gentleness and kindness, reads you your favorite books over and over, and explains the ways of the world to you.

You love to make people laugh and are very good at it. Just before doing something silly you make sure to pause and cast a sideways glance to make sure that everyone is watching. You have an explosive temper and try to bite anyone who displeases you. Luckily, your anger burns out just as quickly as it flares up and you return to smiles quite easily.

I never worry, as I did with your brother, whether you are getting enough to eat. You attack your food with as much zeal as you do everything else. Your favorites are eggs, chicken, Parmesan cheese, pasta, and sausage. Notice there are no fruits or vegetables on that list. Despite all of my efforts, you have no time for them, with the exception of an occasional roasted sweet potato.

My dear Theda, you have helped me to heal wounds that I didn't even know I had, teaching me again that I am strong, I am capable, and I well-equipped to mother my children.

Happy Birthday my sweet little girl. I can't wait to continue to learn about the person you are becoming and to be in on the joke with you.


A Reggio Exploration of Space

I mentioned before that Silas has begun an investigation of space. I thought I'd do just a quick recap of some of what he's been up to in addition to reading lots and lots of books (because there are always lots and lots of books).

There have been galaxies made out of loose parts on the light table.

He and daddy took a rare after-dinner trip out of the house to go to the public viewing night at our local observatory. It was a very cold night, but he got to see Jupiter, which he said was blue.

I set up this invitation for him and it was a big hit. I made a translucent sand tray out of a picture frame, filled it with black aquarium sand and included some space miniatures and planet rocks that I painted for him. All was set up on the light table, with a galaxy print out as a back drop. 

He got the most enjoyment out of burying everything in the sand. 

Later that week in a hectic moment when he very much needed something to keep him occupied, I handed him the galaxy printout and some metallic markers and he drew in planets and characters from the "Planetron" books he was reading at the time (and which he loved): Adventures in the Solar System and Adventures Beyond the Solar System, both by Williams.

There was also some play with galaxy dough and a variety of loose parts. The space miniatures and planet rocks made a repeat appearance and were joined by some star cookie cutters, gemstones, sequins, acrylic discs, and small mirrors.

For the galaxy dough I used our regular play dough recipe, but added black food coloring and paint. I wanted it to be a really rich black color and all the tutorials I found online used black gel food coloring, so that's what I used. But, even with a full tube, it was definitely more of a purple than black. I threw in quite a bit of black tempera paint as well to deepen the color and it still ended up more of a really dark gray. Then I tossed in a half a tube of silver and a half tube of gold glitter and called it good.

I don't know if it was the added paint, but my dough was really quite sticky. I kept adding flour (I stopped counting after the third cup) until it was more workable. It was already a double batch, so the result was just an enormous amount of dough. We've broken it out several times since then to play.