A thank you to our teachers

Do you give gifts to teachers at the end of the year? In the years I worked as a teacher, I was always touched by how generous and considerate my students and their parents were with their gifts. I taught mostly high school students, so their gifts were often a bit playful. Like the student who thoughtfully bought me an electric battery-operated pencil sharpener after I had spent the entire year sending students into the classroom next door every time my classroom sharpener broke. Or the student who gave me a magic wand cause he figured, and rightly so, that I had required a bit of witchcraft to keep his rowdy classmates in line that year.

One of my very favorite gifts, though, was a simple handwritten thank you note from the student. (Notes from parents certainly meant a lot as well, but there is nothing quite like reading your student’s own words. )

Those of you who followed my old blog might remember how much I love a good thank you note.

Anyway, it was an easy choice for me when, at the end of last school year, we needed to decide on a gift for the boys’ teachers. Now, I think the end-of-the-year thank you note will be a family tradition.

Teacher thank you 5

Thanks in large part to Evan’s wonderful teachers, he was able to write his thank you notes entirely on his own this year. It took him a few days to write one for each of his three teachers. I have learned to start a good week ahead of any real deadline when we are writing thank you notes. It is just not worth forcing the process and the boys are more than happy to do it as long as they can do a little bit at a time. And Evan loves writing these days so it only took a small suggestion from me for him to jump right into the work.

Clayton and I worked together on his notes, of course, since he is still too young to do them on his own.

Teacher thank you 2

Teacher thank you 1 Teacher thank you 4

I asked Clayton what he liked best about each of his teachers and wrote what he said in the blank notecards that he had chosen. Just one sentence was really enough from a little guy like him.

Then, I asked him to write his name on a sheet of paper. I offered to write out the letters for him to trace, but because of his perfectionism, he got too upset trying to make his letters look exactly like mine. So, he just did them free-form, which really is more fun anyway. Since it takes so much effort (emotional and physical) for Clayton to write his name, I only asked him to write it once. I scanned his writing and sized it to fit on the inside of the card under the note I wrote for him. Then, I just printed enough copies of it and glued one into each card.

Finally, I repurposed a painting that he had made last week and cut out the letters to spell “thank you.” Once I had the letters cut, Clayton glued them in order to the fronts of the cards.

He was quite proud of his work!

Teacher thank you 3

A child’s creative space

Art space 5In our home, Evan and Clayton have always had a creative space of their own. At first, it was only a basket of supplies that they could get out and use at the dining table. As they have grown and as we have discovered what type of space works best for our family, this area has changed and changed again.

I love watching how their creativity and independence can grow when they are provided with the tools they need and the freedom to use them as they wish. They decide what they want to do in this space, what tools they want to use, what they will create. And since this space is theirs, they are also responsible for taking care of it. We teach them how to clean up their tools, but they are expected to do so on their own…or at least of their own initiative. I do help clean up often, particularly after they paint.

In my own studio, I often leave my work-in-progress out for days until I can come back to it. I try to remember this when the boys leave a pile of torn up paper all around the desk and markers strewn about the floor.

But we do have a few basic rules. Every day or two, we work together to make sure their tools are put back where they belong – markers and scissors back in the jars, pricking pins safely stowed away, completed work hung on the pin board or put in the storage boxes. But any unfinished work stays right where it is Then, once every week or two, I help them to clean up a little more thoroughly. We sweep up the glitter, recycle the tiny bits of discarded paper, and make sure everything is put away properly.

Art space 4Last month, we repainted the playroom and decided to make a few small changes to the boys’ art area. We wanted to make the supplies more accessible to them and also easier for them to keep organized by themselves. We also wanted to add a space for them to display their work.

We moved their art and craft supplies from a closed cabinet and tall, deep bookcase to open wall shelves. I have always found that they use most often that which they can see. The doors on the old cabinet and the depth of the old bookcase meant that too much was out of sight. Now, we can keep the supplies they use frequently right in their reach. The upper shelves contain special things we only use occasionally or which require supervision, as well as an archival storage box for each of them.

We used this tutorial to make a giant room-length pin board with foam insulation board and some inexpensive seersucker fabric. (Note: I love the look of the seersucker, but a slightly thicker fabric might have been a better choice. The lines of duct tape where the foam boards were pieced together are somewhat visible through the light material.)

We bought this drawer unit from Ikea to store paper. Paper, in fact, has always been the biggest organizational struggle for the kids’ craft area. When I stored it on a shelf, it always ended up knocked on the floor as they were trying to pull a specific sheet from the bottom of the pile. When I stored it in a wall magazine rack, they always pulled multiple sheets when they just wanted one and then ended up crumpling the whole stack into the bottom of the rack when they tried to put the extras back. I chose this chest because the drawers are big enough to fit even oversized paper and they are narrow enough so that we will not be tempted to cram too much into them. And with nine drawers total, we can store a single kind of paper in each one.

Art space 2We all love the new changes, but my very favorite part of their creative space is still something we already had. We bought this very inexpensive and surprisingly sturdy table from Ikea last year. It is big enough for Evan and Clayton to work side-by-side, at least now while they are still small. And because it was cheap, because it is not used for anything else, and because it is unfinished wood, nobody has to worry about it getting messed up. In fact, we chose it with the intention of letting its beauty grow over time, because we know that creativity is messy stuff.

Art space 3

Sick day or a summer bucket list

Yesterday morning started with a rock concert,

Sick day 1

a big box of Legos,

Sick day 2

Sick day 5

a few chores,

Sick day 4

some composing in Garage Band.

Sick day 3

It is our first week of summer vacation and we were full of plans.

Instead, Evan has been running a fever on and off all week. When he woke up with a normal temperature yesterday morning, I thought he might be at the end of whatever this is. We planned a slow morning and hoped to take a trip to the library after nap time.

Sick day 6

By the afternoon, however, Evan’s fever was creeping back and Frozen was once again the soundtrack of my day. (Boy, do I miss the days when Mary Poppins was the only movie we watched…)

All this time to sit and rest. Instead of doing the summery things I had planned, I sat down yesterday and made a list of things I would like to do with the boys before school starts back up in August. (Here are the beginnings of my Summer Bucket List pinboard.)

1. Build a mud kitchen in the boys’ secret garden.

2. Go to a water park.

3. Make a solar system mobile. (The boys have been asking to learn more about space.)

4. Do an embroidery project together. (Star Wars?)

5. Lots of science experiments!

6. Go to the beach.

7. Do body tracing paintings.

8. Work on a carpentry project with Evan. Maybe start teaching Clayton to hammer nails.

9. Build a simple Rube Goldberg machine together.

10. Make flip books and learn about animation.

What are your plans for the summer? I would love to hear your ideas!

Preserving your child’s school work – a collage poster

kids work 2

We are full into early summer over here. The weather is too hot, too humid, and too stormy to be much outside. Evan and Clayton both had their last day of school last week and are looking forward to the freedom of summer days spent together. Already today, Evan spent Clayton’s entire nap asking why his brother was sleeping so long…

I was going through the last bits of school work that made their way home and remembered something I had pinned forever ago. I loved the idea of displaying the progression of a child’s work over time as a collage. After all, they do change so much during a year.

Kids work 3

So, I thought I would make my own art collage to preserve Evan’s kindergarten work.

I gathered Evan’s art storage box and started pulling out papers. I made sure to get the diversity of his work from this year – math, writing, composition, art, handwork – and tried to make sure I picked some of his favorites. I photographed each piece on top of a white sheet of paper. Then I cropped them square and tried to adjust the colors as well as I could to match one another. I had to take the photos over the course of two days so the changes in lighting made for very different colors from one image to the next. I concentrated mostly on getting the background whites as close to one another as possible.

Then, I used the collage poster template in Shutterfly and simply added and arranged the images. The 20 x 30 poster fit well in an old Ikea frame we were not using anymore. I did have to cut down the border of the poster by about an inch or so, but I had guessed that this might happen, so I had made sure to choose a template with enough white around the edges that I would not be cutting into any of the photos.

I love how it turned out! It hangs next to Evan’s chair at the dining table and it has produced so many wonderful conversations – stories about how he had to redo a particular math problem several times before he got it right or about how a joke with his friends inspired a certain drawing.

We are planning on making a poster like this for each school year…or at least while the boys’ work comes home for us to see. How long will that last, I wonder.

Want some more ideas? Here are a few that I found around the web…

Simply Create Kids will make a collage poster for you.

I love this photo book that Liz at Paislee Press made for her daughter.

And here is another collage idea that is a bit more abstract and so beautiful.

Or how about turning your child’s work into another form of art?

How about you? What do you do to preserve your child’s work?

May gratitude and a few links

May 2 This month I am grateful for:

:: spending some extra time with my husband

:: this school that is such a perfect fit for our family

:: our first fancy dinner and boys who behaved so well

:: a visit from my mom, who has given me so much help and encouragement

:: projects completed…and even more to which I can look forward

May 3

And here are a few of my favorite finds this month:

-this blog post, which might just be the push I needed

-I decided to “reread” Jane Austen’s novels this year and am laughing out loud as I listen to Sense and Sensibility. Did you know you can get free audio versions of all of her novels on LibriVox?

-I wish we had seen this project when our wildflower season was still in full force

-I cannot get over how cool this is. Definitely check out the video!

-my favorite Etsy find - so much sweetness in this shop

May 1

Learning to paint

painting 1

Here is what we did this weekend.

Evan and Clayton really wanted to help. I decided they could help with the priming. The walls and trim were being painted anyway, so mess-ups would not be as problematic. And I do love to get them involved when they show an interest…

In the end, only Evan helped since we ended up priming right in the middle of Clayton’s nap time, but I think Clayton, at age three and a half, could have done it just as well.

I put a very small amount of paint in an old plastic container. (I love saving these in the kids’ craft area.) I taught Evan how to put a little paint on the brush and wipe off the extras on the sides of the container. Then I made him an outline with my brush and asked him to fill it in. I told him that we were painting a first coat with our brushes and we would have to go over everything with a roller. (I did not want to hurt his feelings when I rolled right over his work.)

This was just the right amount of work for him. It took him long enough to fill the entire shape that I was mostly finished edging by the time he was done. And when he finished, he was perfectly satisfied and ran off to wash his hands and play in the other room.

Have your little ones ever helped with projects like this?

Five years, eleven months

Evan 5.11.3

Evan 5.11.4

You graduated from kindergarten last week. You were so proud to wear that cap and gown, even though the gown billowed and the cap kept falling off of your head. There was so much joy in your face as you danced with your school at the end of the ceremony.

You told me that, of everything you learned in kindergarten, you are most proud of your writing work. We looked back at the writing journal you started when you joined the school last year and you thought your Ms were the funniest. Daddy liked your astronomy word lists the best. I liked hearing you read your stories, especially the spooky ones.

You rode your bike over eight miles on Saturday. It was your first long bike ride. You are still constantly learning new bike tricks. I could not believe it when I saw you and Clayton standing on your center bars in the middle of our ride to school last week. You and Clayton laughed when Uncle Jimmy told you that trick is called the surfer. I am glad you at least kept your hands on the handlebars.

Giveaway Day winner and a sale reminder

Congratulations to Caroline who won a custom children’s bag from my shop! Caroline, I sent you an email with the details. So looking forward to making a bag for your little one!

And to those of you who did not win, do not forget my Custom Orders Sale, which is still running. I am offering a 10% discount to the first ten custom orders from my shop during the month of May – there are still a handful of orders left. Just enter the code CUSTOM at checkout when purchasing a custom bag (either through on of my custom listings or through convo).

Giveaway Day

Well, I have been loving my custom work so much lately that I have decided to offer some to you.

Want to win a custom children’s bag? Enter this giveaway to win your choice of one custom children’s bag. You can choose from the three designs shown here. Choose your bag, choose your fabrics and the bag will be made just for the little one in your life.

SQ for giveaway

AR for giveawayGB for giveaway

How to enter?

1. Leave a comment on this post telling how your child will use his or her new bag!

2. Follow me on Facebook or here on my blog.

This giveaway is open to international readers. Comments will be kept open until 5 pm CST on Friday, May 16 and the winner will be announced on Sunday. Custom bags will ship in 1-2 weeks, depending on your fabric selection. 

Best of luck to you and hope to see you back on Wednesday. Oh, and don’t forget my customs sale is still going on until the end of May. See this link for details!

Little boy, big perfectionist

Perfection 1

I had a really bad parenting moment last week. I will start with the ending…because that was certainly the worst part. Just before nine in the morning last Wednesday, I stood in front of my house, watching Clayton run away from me down the road, a car driving in the opposite direction, and me knowing I would not be able to catch him before the car did if he were to swerve out into the car’s path…

Here is how it started. On Wednesday, Evan and Clayton were ready earlier than normal and I told them they could play for ten minutes before we had to leave to take Evan to school. They decided to do some drawing. We had taken a new Ed Emberley book out of the library that week and, though he is not really old enough for it, Clayton decided that he wanted to draw a vampire he saw on one of the pages. I photocopied the page for him so he would not draw in the library book. Then, I quickly showed him how to trace over the lines to practice and then try to draw the same shape on his own paper. (He absolutely wanted the drawing on his own paper.)

I left to finish the breakfast dishes and within a minute or two, Clayton was yelling and throwing markers all over the room. His marker line would not stay straight. He was drawing outside of the lines and it was making him very, very unhappy. As usual, he wanted his drawing to be perfect, just like what he saw in the book.

Clayton was born a perfectionist. I guess our boys did not exactly have much hope, considering who their parents are. So these battles are certainly nothing new for us. Even so, I cannot say we really have figured out how to deal with it. We let Clayton work out his anger, we praise his efforts, we look for his successes, we ask him to try again if he seems ready, we quietly put the task out of sight if he is not. But he has a good memory, especially for those things he perceives to be his failures. He will remember that vampire and talk about it for days. He will want to try again and will still find himself not good enough. His anger will escalate. He is so very hard on himself.

So, perhaps my mistake that morning was letting Clayton draw beyond his abilities in the minutes before we had to leave for school. But here we were in the middle of a tantrum and there was no time left to let it play itself out. So we got packed up and walked out the door.

If I had been lucky, the walk would have calmed him, the movement distracting him from his anger. That could have happened, right?

Instead it had just the opposite effect. His temper flared, his adrenaline spiked, and he pulled away from me and took off down the road. Seriously, I have never seen him run so fast. Part of me, I must admit, felt a bit of pleasure watching him run. I really did not know he could run like that. But mostly, as I watched him run and watched the car drive toward him from the opposite direction, I just concentrated all of my will to keep him on the curb, to will the driver to notice him and to slow down. The driver did not catch on, but the little bit of Clayton that was aware of his surroundings kept him up on that curb. He made it safely to the path, away from the road, and he kept on running.

He did not stop running until he got to school. He had calmed enough by that time, though, that he was standing waiting for us when we finally caught up to him there. After I dropped Evan off, Clayton and I sat in the field across the pathway until he stopped crying. Then we slowly made our way home.

Everything turned out okay that morning, but I know it was luck and not my efforts to keep my son safe. I am sure I could have done a million things differently. I could have thrown him in the car and driven to school that day. I could have waited out the storm and let Evan be a few minutes late to school. I could have known better and not even given Clayton that photocopy in the first place. I could have tried to steer him toward more age-appropriate work.

But of course, I could have done just what I did and it could have turned out completely differently. I cannot always control my children’s environment. I cannot always know what their reactions will be. They will always take us off guard sometimes. They are human and humans are never entirely predictable.

So, what can one do with a little perfectionist? Well, keep them away from busy roads, for one thing. Obviously, I am still learning that one.

I think this is probably going to be one of those lessons that only shows that it has stuck sometime way down the road. But here are a few of the things I think might get us there eventually…

1. Let my children see me fail with grace.

2. Let them see me try again.

3. Point out their successes. Focus on the things they have learned to do well.

4. Talk to them about how mistakes help us to learn. Tell them stories from my own life and from theirs.

5. Teach them to break new skills into small steps. Help them to celebrate themselves for small successes.

6. Let them try again, but help them back off of the things for which they truly are not ready.

7. Encourage them when they do seem ready.

8. Let them voice their frustrations and anger in safe surroundings.

Any other ideas?