Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Six Things to Let Go to Encourage Creativity

Maybe it's the thought of beginning Jane's Kindergarten next week and all my hopes and dreams for her education. Or, maybe it's FROZEN and being unable to escape the soundtrack. But I've been thinking lately about creativity and what nurturing it in our children requires. I've decided it mostly requires us to let go of a few things.

1. LET GO OF FINISHED PRODUCTS. If you are giving your child an art project that is supposed to have a specific finished product at the end, it is not an art project, it is a craft. Don't get me wrong, crafts are fun and they're good for teaching children to follow instructions and build fine motor skills and they're good for creativity. But it's like the debate between organized sports and free play. Anything that flows straight from the child is better for creativity. You can still do crafts and specific art projects with your children, but make sure you also allow them the freedom to create their own art. The division should be at least 50/50, if not higher in free-art's favor.

This pillow was so good for Jane. It was creative. But she needs opportunities to create without me giving all the instructions.

2. LET GO OF PERFECTLY CLEAN. Face it. Creativity is messy. You've got to pull out the materials and work with them and mix them. Leave it out. Come back to it. Expect your children to help clean up their mess, but don't flit around them trying to clean up as they go. Your nervousness will rub off and take all the fun away. I can't tell you how many times my table has gone a whole day covered in crayons and paint and paper scraps, to be cleaned that night, and messed up again the next day. Give your kids a creative space and be okay with the mess there.

3. LET GO OF DISORDERED MATERIALS. I know, I know. This seems like a contradiction of number two, but it's not. I've noticed that when the art supply cabinet gets messy and disordered, with everything thrown in haphazardly, the creativity in my house goes way down. Why? Because nobody can find what they need! And if it is too hard to pull out the materials, creativity won't happen. Which leads me to...

4. LET GO OF BEING THE SOLE ARBITER OF CREATIVE SUPPLIES. Sure, one of your kids thinks he's Michaelangelo. I get it. I've got one of those and I can't tell you how much crayon I've scrubbed off the walls. And when this habit is in it's beginning 24/7 stage, maybe put the crayons on the fridge. But allowing your children to pull out their own supplies whenever the need hits them not only allows creativity to blossom, but independence as well. It also gives you one less thing to "find" for someone. Remember, out of sight, out of mind. We don't want that with creativity!

5. LET GO OF A SET IDEA OF WHAT CREATIVITY LOOKS LIKE. Creativity is not always busy. It's not always taken up in art or music. There are many pursuits that are creative, even though we don't usually view them as such. Building with legos, making up songs or games, creating a business, teaching. These are all extremely creative. Reading is a creative process, as is being in nature. Appreciate all of creativities forms in your children and in yourself.

6. LET GO OF BEING TOO BUSY. This last piece of wisdom had been sprouting in my heart for a few days when Jane really brought it to fruition. One night before bed, I asked her why she hadn't been doing as much art lately. She replied, "There's just been so much other stuff to do. Fun stuff. I don't get to think about the art in my head."

I was floored. So much wisdom.

People, a jam-packed busy schedule does not allow creativity to bloom. Creativity takes place in the quiet spaces and margins of our day. It's that idea you get on a walk, or the picture in your head that you see between awake and asleep. It takes down time to look at something from every angle and then put it on paper.

Your children need some time in their day to reflect and then create from that reflection. You do, too. Give it to them.

Friday, April 18, 2014

12 Bunny-Free Easter Ideas

We don't do the Easter Bunny over here. Or Easter baskets. Very little chocolate. Definitely no fake grass, spring chicks, etc. We do dye Easter eggs (I can't be a total grinch). I love to focus on the REASON for Easter, but I find the bunny silly and creepy (although I love Santa, go figure.) And the rest of it just seems like second Christmas.

However, we've been having a very nice Easter week over here, and you can too! I've gathered my favorite ideas. Some of these we've done, others we plan on doing, either this year or in the future.

So here you go, Ways to Celebrate Easter without the Bunny

1. Easter in Eggs - This set of 12 eggs tells the story of Easter. Its very easy to put together and kids love to do it over and over again.

2. Learn about Passover and make Matzoh bread. My kids enjoyed pretending we were the Israelites as we made the breat and then Moses came to tell us to leave Egypt and we had to run around the backyard, and through the pool. I hope that's not sacreligious, because my kids now know all about Passover and Moses and keep talking about it.

3.Talk about Christ in the Garden and then plant your own garden. You can even make this a faith garden and talk about how we get our faith to grow.

4.Learn about the Last Supper by washing each other's feet at dinner. Then go out and do service for someone.

5. Dye eggs with natural materials. Carrots, beets, spinach, etc.

6. Make this three crosses artwork.
Easter crosses at Golgotha

7. Make these palm Sunday crafts and talk about the Triumphal entry.

8. Go on this Good Friday nature walk.

9. Make Resurrection Cookies.
Easter Story Cookies Recipe

10. Make Resurrection Rolls.

11. Do these Seven Days of Easter Devotionals

12. Watch this video. Or this. Or this. Or this.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Make your own fairy garden - A gift for kids, by kids!

I'm always on the lookout for gifts and toys that really bring out a child's creativity.

When I found this idea today, I knew I had found something wonderful! Not only that, this gift is eco-friendly, budget-friendly, and imagination-friendly!

Make Your Own Fairy Garden Kit

For us, this gift is two parts. The first half is a homemade flower pot. We took a bulk-size cottage cheese container and decorated it with construction paper, stickers and mod-podge. My daughter loved decorating this special flower pot for her cousin. She will also give her a couple packets of wild flower seeds to plant.

The second part of the gift is the fairy house kit. I put this kit in those fancy-looking spaghetti sauce jars. Here are a few ideas of how to make your own fairy house. Using these ideas, I filled the jar with "supplies." Here's my list:

Bundles of short twigs
Cotton Balls
Paper Clips
Small wood letters

You can add anything small and pretty from nature, or old toys, craft odds and ends, etc. I also suggest printing off an idea or two from the internet just to get them started. Also...maybe lots of glue.

The idea is to fill the "flower pot" with dirt, make a fairy house, put it in the dirt, plant the flowers around it, and Ta-Da! Fairy garden.

Also, here is a little poem to put on the card...if you feel so inclined.

Everybody needs a fairy,
To help their flowers bloom.
So build a tiny, cozy house,
And one will move in soon!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Preschool/Kindergarten Music Appreciation: C is for Conduct

Sing Your Gathering Song

Introduce the New Word: Conduct

Coducting is harder than it looks! At its most basic, conducting is keeping the beat so that everyone in the band or choir stays together. Conductors do this by waving their hand, or a stick, in the air along to a beat. There are a few easy, beginning conducting patterns. These are the ones we’re going to learn today.

The first conducting pattern simply has the hand/stick hit “bottom” with every beat. If there were something for the stick to click against, it would sound like a metronome.
The second conducting pattern is in an up/down fashion, with each beat on the highest and lowest points. Kind of
like the leader of a marching band with their baton. I demonstrate both below.

Now that you know how to help your orchestra keep the beat, what else do conductors do? They also let the orchestra know when to get loud, or when to get quiet. When to speed up or slow down. How would you direct to make an orchestra louder or quieter?

Here’s your conduct card. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1e2MgEqxZ0D0suRtFVjHxsxfIsps5gOPnWp5NHPp7qgQ/pub

Activity: Conduct your children in singing a song they know well. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star works well because every word takes place on a beat. Show them how when you conduct faster, they sing faster, and the same with slower conducting. Then let each of them try.
My kids love conducting, although when they want us to go fast they just wave their hands in crazy circles. That means sing as fast as humanly possible. But now, my daughter has realized that the real control comes with slow conducting. So be ready!

Learn the Song: Camptown Races

This is not the whole song. It’s quite long. But this should be enough for your little ones.
The Campptown ladies sing this song,
Doo-da, Doo-da
The Camptown racetrack's five miles long
Oh, de doo-da day

Goin' to run all night
Goin' to run all day
I bet my money on a bob-tailed nag
Somebody bet on the gray

As I was looking up information about this song, I learned that originally started out as a song making fun of black people and was written in a form of southern dialect. The song has been scrubbed clean of its racial overtones and we still sing it, but it definitely has a not-so-nice history. This isn’t something you really need to bring up with your young ones, but it is a nice rabbit trail for your older children to learn more about if they want!
Have your kids direct the new song, being sure to add in louds, softs, accelerandos and ritardandos.

Introduce the Composer: The composer for this week is Aaron Copland, one of the most beloved American composers. You’ll recognize his music instantly! Copland deliberately wrote music that would be accessible. The style was called populist. The harmonies in his music are what everyone automatically consider “American” music.
His most famous pieces are Fanfare for the Common Man, Rodeo, and Appalachian Spring. Pick one of the songs below. Have your children close their eyes. First talk about what the music makes you picture. Than have your children do the same. Once that has run it’s course, turn on Rodeo (below). Tell your children the name of the song (and explain a rodeo if you need to) then have your children act it out along to the music!

Sing any Requests

Pull out your flashcards and make sure everyone follows the instructions!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Yosemite Scavenger Hunt for Non-Readers

It's that time of year again! Time for us to head back to our favorite National Park. Yosemite!

Now that we have the hang of what there is to see and do up there with kids, we are busy making plans.

One thing we're doing is a scavenger hunt. My kids can't read yet, so this is a scavenger hunt using pictures.

Are you heading to Yosemite this summer with young children? Feel free to print off a couple copies and take them with you!

Pre-reader Yosemite Scavenger Hunt

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dreaming: The first step

This weekend I am going to a writing conference. The thought both excites and terrifies me. I think that's the way most things are in life. At least, the things that are worth doing. Writing is something I never thought I would do. Something I never thought I would like. And here I am, and Saturday feels like a huge, gigantic, big step.

You see, I've been writing for almost two years now. I've had several small successes. Enough to energize me and keep me going. I've received enough positive feedback to make me feel like I'm not absolutely horrible. I've received enough rejection to let me know I'm not great and to encourage me to keep working and learning.

But this conference is scary.

Why is it so scary?

Because even though I've been writing almost daily for the last two years, and submitting and critiquing, and getting rejected, and revising, over and over and over again...I could always view it as a hobby. Something I just did for fun. A nice outlet, I would call it. A fun adventure, something new. That way I could blow it off.

Rejected? Not a big deal. I don't take this writing thing too seriously. It's like crocheting or cooking a new recipe. Just something new to try.

But I just spent two hundred dollars. I've submitted for critique a novel I've been working on for the last 18 months. Suddenly this is not just a hobby.

It's a dream.

I admitted to myself that I had this dream a while ago. But going to this conference is like admitting it to the world. Sometimes, when I admit it to other people, I still feel a little silly.

And yet, admitting it makes it real. Talking about it is like lifting a burden.

Yes, I'm a dreamer. I work hard at a goal that might never be realized. I take that risk every day. The risk that I will put in countless hours for what may seem like "nothing" to the world.

But even if that impossible dream never comes true. At least I have it. I don't need to be ashamed of it. And even if I don't "make it," I've learned so much, not just about writing, but about learning, and setting goals, and networking, and just plain, flat trying something new.

The truth of it is, allowing myself to have a dream, admitting it to the world, is the first step in getting there.

Hi, my name's Amanda, and I have what oftentimes feels like an impossible dream.

And it's exhilirating.

And suffocating.

It's freeing.

And it's hard work.

Now it's your turn. Do you have a dream?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Preschool/Kindergarten Music Appreciation: B is for Beat

B – Beat, My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, Beethoven

If you missed the music appreciation lesson, "A is for Accelerando" you can find it here.

Sing your gathering song

Introduce the Words for the Day
Beat – The steady rhythmic units that dictate the speed (tempo of a piece). When you clap along to a song, you are clapping the beat. This is probably more easily demonstrated than explained.
Rhythm – The rhythm is the way the music moves through the beat. Think of My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean. When you sing this song, your body starts swaying almost involuntarily along to the beat. However, the words/notes do not follow the swaying, they move through it. The way the notes go is the rhythm.

Do a “military cheer” to illustrate the differences between rhythm and beat. Have the kids march in place. Their feet are stomping the beat. Now you call out a cheer that your kids can repeat. This one is easy.
I don’t know what I been told,
(I don’t know what I been told)
That tuna fish is smelling old!
(That tuna fish is smelling old!)
I don’t want to eat it! No!
(I don’t want to eat it! No!)
That tuna fish has got to go!
(That tuna fish has got to go!)

Now say the rhyme again, with children still stomping, but change the rhythm of the words. I give a few different examples in the movie below. Explain that the rhythm is changing, even though the beat always stays the same.

 Excuse my laughing at the end. Jane called from her bedroom, "Why are you talking to yourself?" Ah, kids.

Another activity your kids might like is to have a body percussion “concert.” Have everyone march in place. One person “conducts” a rhythm by clapping it and then everyone else copies it. Continue until everyone gets a chance to clap a short rhythm. I demonstrate a few easy rhythms

Learn the New Song

My Bonnie lies Over the Ocean
In the chorus, which words fall on the beat? Which don’t?
Some people think this song was written after a “prince” (Charles Stuart, known as Bonny Prince Charlie) was defeated and exiled from Scotland. His supporters would still sing it. However, Bonnie could mean either a girl or a boy and so they could pretend it was a love song. What if you changed the word Bonnie to “Bunny?” Would the song have a totally different meaning? Try singing the song with a different word. Bunny, Mommy, Tummy. How silly can you make it? This is called a parody.  To hear the song, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Io9MPyXE2K0
My Bonnie lies over the ocean
My Bonnie lies over the sea
My Bonnie lies over the ocean
Oh bring back my Bonnie to me 

Bring back, bring back
Bring back my Bonnie to me, to me
Bring back, bring back
Bring back my Bonnie to me 

This song is fun to sing while you hold hands and sway back and forth. Lean your head back and belt it out!

Sing the song through a couple more times, but have someone hold up one of the "flashcards." The ones for this lesson can be found here. Be sure to use the cards from A is for Accelerando, too. While singing, obey the command on the card. This is built in review!

Introduce the Composer

Beethoven – I’ll be honest, it was hard to choose a composer for the letter B. How do you choose between Beethoven, Bernstein and Bach? (You move Bach to J and Bernstein to L.)
When Beethoven wrote his music, it was considered strange and pushing the boundaries of music, even though today it sounds very classical. His music was full of emotion, indeed, Beethoven was often known as very impassioned. He would frequently get angry and later apologize. All was excused because of his great talent.
Just before he wrote his first symphony, Beethoven began to go deaf. The last ten years of his life he was completely deaf. And yet, he wrote some of the most beautiful and famous pieces of music in the world. Beethoven knew music so well, that he could probably hear the music in his head as he wrote it. But he also composed, by sawing the legs of his (four) pianos and sitting on the floor while he played so he could feel the vibrations. Often he wrote music only in his underwear!
Beethoven’s music reflects the wide range of emotions that Beethoven himself felt so deeply. Listen to excerpts from two of his pieces, “Symphony No. 5” and “Ode to Joy.”  How does the music make you feel? Which one is happy? Which is anxious or angry? Have the children act out the emotions of the music. Can they dance angry? Sad? Happy?
Ode to Joy - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdWyYn0E4Ys  (Skip to 7:00)

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. If your child thinks “Ode to Joy” sounds angry, don’t correct them.

Sing Requests

You can use the flashcards while singing requests, too!