Saturday, December 18, 2010

Water-Only Christmas Paintings and a Fancy Snowflake Curtain!

Found a cute and easy-peasy way to bless my kiddos with mommy-made "Just Add Water Mini-Paintings" they get to complete thanks to Ucreate.  Picasso, I am not, but practical I can do!  This fits the bill.  The goods include: watercolor paper, watercolor pencils, and a permenant marker.  The watercolor paper and pencils are available on the cheap from Tesco!  I used a black CD/DVD pen for a Sharpie as they're just as permanent.  I'm thinking these could make nice little over-sized Christmas gift tags that double as a little bonus gift for some nieces and nephews of mine.
While the authors over at Ucreate ran their watercolor paper through a printer to get their pics, I decided to just draw my pictures with the permanent marker and then used the watercolor pencils to heavily color just the inner edges of the black lines.  The kids then go over portions of the painting with a wet paint brush to spread the color around and fill in the painting.  I'm thinking this will also make for good on-the-airplane creativity, as you just add a bit o' water to make the magic happen!
For those of us who aren't the greatest of drawers, it's the abstract stuff that really makes one feel accomplished!  Before the sick season started, I found this post over at Poppytalk and dreamed of giving it a whirl.  This represents the start of a very grand snowflake curtain to hang at our kitchen window! These aren't the 6-pointed snowflakes, mind you, but who's really counting?!  My kiddos enjoyed cutting, and it isn't much to tape the edges together to create this delightful Christmas curtain.  

I'm off to join the hubs in making some delicious Czech Christmas cookies!  He makes them every year, and it's his signal that the Christmas season is finally really here at home.  Now that the kids are taken care of, it's the grown-ups' turn for some Christmas-making!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Have Been Forced to Receive!

My kids are basically (what's a bitty cold to me) healthy!  Ah, just in time for Christmas!  I, on the other hand, am very much still in recovery mode.  Let's just say I'm getting to know my way around my local Czech hospital quite well.  In the midst of the drama, I've had to submit to a whole lot of loving from friends and family who have given their encouragement, time, and food (get a load of all that tupperware)! It's not always easy being on the receiving end at a time when I have nothing to give in return. But, I know this is what's at the heart of the Christmas season and I just need to let it be and welcome it with a very thankful heart.
My hubby's been doing a whole lot of giving lately - taking up much of my slack and stepping in Dad-style with the kids!  Happy children spending time with Dad: priceless.  Sawdust all over the floor in the kids' room: ehh, I can deal with that.
Good, homemade carrot soup from friends (with homemade bread to boot).  Of course my 3-year old didn't want to eat the free, hearty, healthy fare that I (very thankfully) didn't have to slave over - until she got to sip it with a straw.  At this point in time, I contemplated blending all her meals and just serving them in liquefied form with a choice of straws.  Yeah, it was that easy.
My oldest takes showers independently now. Yay for the both of us!  We let the shower time stretch a bit with some shaving cream play on the shower doors.  He loves it.  I get a few more minutes of rest.  And the doors get pretty clean after a quick rinse down!
Spending quality time with the Bear that doesn't require burning a lot of calories has been eye-opening.  Found out the little guy likes Let's Go Fishin'.  I'm thinking there has got to be some kind of hand-eye coordination skill he's learning here - these fish move around pretty fast while he tries to grab them!  Join me on this one!
More tactile love for the little guy.  A mini-sensory box with hidden animals in some dyed pasta the kids and I made a while back.  The bear enjoyed the sound and feel of the pasta and sat with his bin for about 20 minutes.  Low-key fun that brought big smiles to my little guy's face and blessed my heart.  

For all the presents that don't go under a tree - I'm thanking God for these gifts given and those not yet received.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Great Re-Readable Books for All Ages!

Still at home sick, we're reading more than usual!  As I live in a foreign country with a limited choice of books in English (that are scary expensive), I make sure to pick wisely when I do buy abroad or off Amazon.  I love books and (joy!) all my children love them too.  Trust the list - these are books worth owning!

The 20th-Century Children's Book Treasury: Picture Books and Stories to Read Aloud by Janet Schulman.  A great book to own for you, the kids, and grandkids to come!  It includes a variety of classics along with a guide to which books to read for a given age.

Beatrix Potter The Complete Tales by Beatrix Potter, preferrably in the little boxed set that will oneday lead to someone's blindness!  My kids are motivated to read more of Potter when the collection is divided into individual books and laid out before them!  We read my childhood treasury boxed set.

The Complete Adventures of Curious George: 70th Anniversary Edition by H.A. Rey along with any other Curious George book you can get your hands on!  These books really reflect the curious spirit of a preschooler.  And are somehow exciting over and over again! And for kids not reading yet, the illustrations are many and engaging enough for them to follow the stories visually when "reading" alone.

HarperCollins Treasury of Picture Book Classics: A Child's First Collection by Tegen Katherine.  Another great collection in a large-format book that would impress any kid!

Make Way for McCloskey: A Robert McCloskey Treasury by Robert McCloskey.  I've been falling in love with this classic writer more and more.  McCloskey's pace is slower, but stick with it and you will be won over.  His engaging illustrations coupled with an easy, yet richly descriptive writing style is quite endearing.

The Word and Song Bible by Stephen Elkins. Many of the Bible stories are coupled with fun illustrations that capture my 3-year old's imagination.  The CD that accompanies the Bible is a good one too!

A Family Treasury of Little Golden Books. A solid collection with a variety of stories - some with many illustrations and simple stories for the wee ones, and others with fewer illustrations and more complex stories for your older ones.

By now you must have recognized the theme here -  treasuries!! The right treasury (good stories with a fair amount of illustrations) is a great deal.  Treasuries are also good for travel, good for the pre-reader browsing on his or her own, and very good for the parent who needs the read-aloud variety!

Which books do you consider "re-readables"? 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Accessible Abstract Art - Mondrian Collage

One week of bed rest for almost an entire family at home has definitely inspired me to search (hunt down like there's no tomorrow) for ideas that are fresh, creative and thought-provoking for the kids and me!  This Mondrian Collage inspired by a fantastic art teacher and her blog is a fresh approach to some of the common materials we have in our home.  We used black construction paper cut in various-sized strips, white construction paper for our canvas, glue sticks, and crayons (didn't have the oil pastels) in primary colors and grays.
And, oh what loveliness was made!  My eldest child - ever the organized one - created a star and colored right on the black strips.  Normally I have a plethora of art supplies at the ready, but I think he appreciated the limitations of this project, continuing to slowly add to it for some time.
My younger kid on the other hand, prefers to get things done.  She enjoys the process, but doesn't want it to be too, too long.  Hence the three long strips because she's "thwee" years old.  Despite basically having only four colors to work with, she  was still inspired by the "rainbow" pallette.
Here's the Bear baby creating his own composition on clear adhesive contact paper.  I never used to be one of those "but the baby will feel sad if he doesn't get to do it too" moms, but it's actually true with this little guy.  He cried for me to put him in his high chair so he could create a little bit of loveliness of his own!
The kids were so proud of their artwork, they immediately ran to the fridge to "frame" it.  After displaying his piece, my son exclaimed, "That was a lot of work. This was a good project, Mommy!"  Music to a sick mama's ears!
I had a little fun with Mondrian myself!  One of the interesting aspects of this project was how the bold construction strips and limited palette inspired them (us!) to design and color.  Here's to simple, thoughtful, accessible, abstract art!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sick Week and Artful Opportunities

It's going to be a stay-at-home sick week for us.  Bronchitis for me and my two eldest.  Thankful the babe is healthy though.  Thankful too for all that good paper, a chalkboard and lots of art supplies can bring us during a wintry week indoors.
We have three hot spots in the house for inviting the little guys to make some art.  Above, our (archa paper) wall in the kitchen.  Over 6 feet of the stuff is sandwiched between the natural kitchen boundaries of the fridge and the dining table.  This wall is very good to us!  And very worth moving the small buffet we once kept there.
The hall - every old Czech flat has this huge entry hall from which one reaches all the other rooms.  I'm telling you, we could make two bedrooms from this one hall!  For now though, it's made for running and adventures in chalk!  My little girl has recently exited the love-of-all-things-purple stage and discovered rainbows
Finally, there's the best kid's desk ever in the children's room.  Supplies are stocked and ready at the window sill.  Tonight, my little ones calmly enjoyed a bit of just-before-bed art making.  I must say, this is some of my favorite kind!  They always seem to enter this really peaceful zone of creativity right before going to bed (that or they are running around the house as a cheetah and a rainbow princess).  I plan on giving them more opportunities for this kind of quiet time before the lights go out at night.
Wishing you health and the little bit of happiness a rainbow brings just when you need it!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reverse Bathroom Breaks for Mums and Dads!

This is quite obviously a pic of our WC.  I now truly understand what is meant by the term "water closet" (this photo was literally taken in the doorway).  It is a tiny room - a place where you come in, do your business, and get out.  Unless, it is filled with magical books, magazines, and comics for the kiddies.  Then this little bathroom becomes an oasis of sorts - offering interesting reads for the youngest in the family and a good 5 - 15 minute break for the parents working (resting!) about the rest of the house.
The magazine holders are from IKEA - white for adults, red for the kids (we really should be modeling good reading habits!).  I used double-sided sticky tape between them to attach them and placed a clear sheet of contact paper across the bottom of both to keep the holder clean(er).  I try to keep a good selection of materials rotating on at least a weekly basis.  And I place the most interesting covers in the front in hopes of enticing my little ones.  Truly, my 3-year old has gone to use the bathroom and stayed there reading for more than 10 minutes!  I'm not encouraging random trips to the bathroom for reading - just the necessary ones.  Still, between two potty-trained kids, it gives me some nice breaks throughout the day!  I wipe the books down with wet wipes before they make it back to the shelves.  I'm thinking this makes the whole practice technically OK!  What do you do to give yourself little coffee breaks throughout the day?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Magic Mud - A Sensory Experience for All Ages!

What you see here is more than just muck - it is the most mesmerizing bit of goop your kiddos and you will ever get your hands on, in, and through!  It's Magic Mud - a common bit of sensory science that is accessible to preschoolers on up (way up - I dig this stuff too)! 
The intriguing aspect of Magic Mud is that it acts as a liquid and a solid at the same time.  It is hard when picked up or hit, but acts like a liquid when poured slowly through your fingers.  You can find the full recipe and the science behind Magic Mud here . We double it for an extra messy experience! 
A plop of food coloring was all it took to bring it up to the next level.  This was the first of many requests for different colors.  You can order food coloring or gelova barva in CR here. Their food coloring gel is supposed to last a long time and has great color.
Sensory love...
One of the little guys was not about messiness at all - requesting we clean his chair of the dusty particles of cornstarch before we added the water.  I think the Magic Mud broke him!  He was into it, as you can see!
My daughter's request for pink and purple.  Minus the flash, it's not a bad little composition!
A good time was had by our group of little scientists and mums alike! I bring this project around every  4 - 5 months or so, and it's always a crowd pleaser.  Next time, I'm thinking I'll also put some glitter into the mix for even more sensory fun with Glittery Goop!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Eating Out With Kids - Beyond the Restaurant Coloring Books and Crayons

We have some busy little kids in our family.  Having two preschoolers means we are constantly looking for ways to keep their brains stimulated and (at least) their little fingers moving.  The often leisurely wait at a restaurant for seating and food is probably one of the most difficult places to be with lovely, squirmy, hungry, fidgety young ones (who are hopefully) sitting in their chairs.  So we've come up with a few strategies to keep them (us!) entertained with more than the standard coloring books and crayons.

Memory/Concentration or Pexeso as it is called in the CR.  It's easy to find small memory card games made out of cardstock at any local papirnictvi store.  They're sold in sheets, ready for you to cut up, and pack away. We keep ours in a tiny square ziploc we found about the house and cut down the number of pairs for restaurant play.

Miniature puzzles with 20 - 50 pieces or so.  Pack them up and break them out at the table.  And then enjoy adult conversation!

A little bag of Legos.  If you are willing to lose a little Lego here or there, I think it's worth it!

Finger puppets courtesy of IKEA - good for the babe and imaginary play with the preschoolers.

Charades at the table using kid-friendly picture action cards. Get your hands on some printable charades cards here and here, scan some from a charades game you have at home (our source), or draw some up of your own.  This makes for a great little game of bonding around the table.

These slotted building discs are available to download courtesy of MadebyJoel.

Color Sudoku courtesy of The Teaching Palette.  Wonderful printable sudoku games made for 3 years of age and up!

And, the ultimate in keeping children happy just about anywhere - reading books!

All of this is packed up in a ziploc bag, ready for any adventure in restaurant eating that awaits us!  What tricks do you use for eating out with children?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Blown-Ink Munshters!

With the weather turning rainy outdoors, we brought our art group inside for some more Blown Ink creations!  This time we used a variety of colors and some black permanent markers to create Blown Ink Monsters - or creatures, depending on your parenting style.  We had a range of kids from 3 - 6.5 which meant a wide range of interpretations for what a monster looks like!!!!
We used the same method I wrote about in a previous post on Blown-Ink Fall Trees.  This time we used a variety of colors of drawing ink or tus, blew the ink out in all directions, and used the blown ink as inspiration for creating our monsters!!!

As usual, with preschoolers, one must always make room for deviation!!! I just don't fight it anymore!!!  My 5 year-old (scientist) was memorized with how the colors blend together to form new colors! Yep, that's art too!
 One mum did a fine job creating a (hacking, but still) cute reindeer!
My daughter was quite excited to point out all the family "munshters" (monsters) to Dad.  We're all in there somewhere!  
A great process for the younger ones and a lot of potential for the older little Picassos too!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Contact Paper Collage for Toddlers

Ah, the wondrous projects a mom can do with just clear contact paper and not much more!  It's like a huge piece of tape, and kids love it.  And, therefore, I love it! This project was for the 1-year old - the one who is always watching the other kids do projects!  It's big, sticky and has a lovely touch of exploration to it - perfect for curious little ones!  I found the inspiration from a fellow mom's blog that I cannot for the life of me find the name of now.  Props to that mom out there for such a thoughtful idea for her toddler!
I found clear contact paper at the local papirnictvi store/paper store and taped it to the refrigerator with packing tape (I'll work on getting the Czech translation for "contact paper" - really doubting my Czech hubby knows the name of this stuff ;).  I stuck a few pieces of masking tape above the contact sheet for added fun.
My older kids really got into preparing odds and ends for their little brother to explore and add to the contact paper.  It was really heartwarming (yep, that cheesy word is the one I'm lookin' for) to have us all come together to bless the youngest of the bunch with something all his own!
The finished box looked a bit Halloween-y in the end!  It included what I could round up in about five minutes (plus cutting): furry balls, feathers, cardboard, ribbon, foam sheet pieces and cut paper in different shapes and colors. I would have loved to have added more sensory items in there, but by this time my kids were running on fumes - and I had to get movin' to get something on the table for dinner!  Our little Bear seemed quite pleased with the selection.  He knew this was his to explore without the "no-no-no's" he usually gets about interesting little things about the house!
His big brother got into it too!  It ended up being quite an artful adventure for the kids.  In the end, I ordered pizza.  I'm thinking this might be a tradition - an art night with pizza and creative fun for everyone, including the babe!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

More Than Just Jam Jars - Rewarding Positive Behavior

Meet our new friends - the happy face and sad face jars.  I know we could have come up with more clever names - but we keep it simple around here.  Isn't simplicity the latest fad anyway?!
We use these jars the same way a teacher would in a classroom.  Each jar starts out half-way full.  When the kids are cooperating well together, we pour some beads from the sad face jar into the happy face jar.  And, of course, when the kids are fighting or speaking inappropriately to one another, we pour some beads from the happy face jar into the sad face jar.  I like that the kids have to work together to be rewarded!
When the happy face jar gets filled up, the kids get a special reward such as a bonus cartoon (cartoon time is earned by doing age-appropriate responsibilities), a special treat or a special trip somewhere.  A teacher friend of mine bequeathed these jars to me on her way out of Prague.  She used them to reward her two kids when they cooperated well with each other.  We use these almost daily and at least once a week the kids earn their reward (or not, if the sad face jar is filled - then the kids get a talkin').
I keep this clay heart my son made in front of the jars to remind the kids what cooperating is all about! These little jam jars are so simple, but they work.  This would also be good for just one child.  It could be used to work on a certain character lesson you really want to teach - like communicating appropriately, being patient, helping without being asked, etc.

You should hear the screams of joy (I can deal with that kind of screaming) when that happy face jar gets filled up!  Does a mommy's heart good!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Blown-Ink Fall Trees

Oh, but this one is a beauty!  Courtesy of our Czech skolka (preschool)!  They never cease to amaze me with creative ideas for lovely art-making!

Each of the children had his or her own take on just how to make that tree look "right".  And there ain't no tellin' preschoolers how something is "supposed" to be done - especially when they outnumber you!
All you need is... this great drawing ink or tus (which comes in many colors), a straw, some glue, paper, and free leaves (dried and crushed - or not :)! The drawing ink is available at Tesco stores and local art stores.
A dollop at the bottom and give the kiddie the straw to start blowing up and out to form the trunk and branches.  Now that's a great beginning to a great process-oriented project!
Add some glue spread across the top where the leaves are and around the bottom where the leaves have fallen.  I must say, I think I would be happy with just the trunk and branches alone...Simple beauty.
Each tree was an original and the beauty of this project really came to life when the kids viewed all their creations together outside.  And outside is really where this project should be done - as it's a fantastic recreation of the landscape around them!  More projects with Blown-Ink to come!