Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Two Year Blogiversary and Giveaway!

We have been blogging for two years now! It's hard to believe it has been that long already! But I am so happy to still be blogging and look forward to another wonderful year! I'd like to share a couple of our highlights and share a few of our favorite posts from this past year.

Bean turned 5 over the winter and Munchkin will be 4 this summer. They are getting so big and are learning so much. Our homeschool year has been pretty amazing so far. Bean loves learning to read and write and pretends to be a dog nearly non-stop, and Munchkin is obsessed with Lego's, building (with anything) and learning about vehicles of all shapes and sizes.

I opened an Etsy store after enough readers asked if I sold my felt creations! It makes me so happy to share our creations with you. So many teacher's have ordered our felt board sets and use them in our classrooms! I have so much fun working with customers to create custom orders that are unique and fun to play with. And I always add a little something extra, which I think it pretty awesome. :)

(Don't forget to enter our giveaway at the end of the post!!)

I also became an Independent Consultant for Usborne Books & More. So if you are ever looking for amazing and educational books, stop by our store and check them out! Being a homeschooler, we love using these books for unit studies, casual reading, and projects. Bean loves Usborne's non-fiction fact books, lift-the-flap books and activity books, while Munchkin loves all the vehicle books, activity cards and Farmyard Tales books. If you ever want to earn FREE BOOKS by hosting an Usborne Facebook party, just sign up here or message me and I'll let you know how it works and answer any questions. 

I have continued to make felt crafts and love sharing them on the blog. I love reading the comments and when reader's let us know that our crafts inspired them to create their own felt foods or felt play mats for their kids. That's my main reason for blogging! I also started needle felting, which is so fun, but also painful when you accidentally stab your finger...

finally started our Game of the Month series, which was a long time coming, where we share our favorite kid or family friendly games. We review them, teach you how to play and give you ideas on how to incorporate them into family game night or homeschool lessons. They are some of my favorite posts to write, since we absolutely love playing games. We'll start sharing more game posts throughout the month, primarily focusing on creating Family Game Night.

Our favorite posts:

To celebrate our yearly milestone, I'm offering a giveaway to our readers! It's a $25 credit towards anything in our Etsy Store, which includes custom orders! 

And as an added bonus, for the rest of the month of April, you can use coupon code "BLOGIVERSARY10" to save 10% on your Etsy order! {Ends 4/30}

Saturday, April 18, 2015

ARTistic Pursuits Review

ARTistic Pursuits Review

We were so excited to receive The Way They SEE It from ARTistic Pursuits to review because while arts and crafts are a huge part of our life, we have never used a curriculum to teach it. Some of our curriculum have arts and crafts activities or suggestions to incorporate into history, literacy or science lessons. But thanks to ARTistic Pursuits, we now have a curriculum that is separate from the rest of our lessons and gives us 30 minutes a day that is dedicated to art.

The Way They SEE It is a curriculum for preschool aged children (3-5) that will help them explore art, textures and materials (both natural and store bought). As a parent and homeschool teacher, it was wonderful to read through this book. I learned so much about teaching art to younger children, like how to approach lessons and how to talk about art. This book is also non-consumable, which means I was able to use it with both of my children! Munchkin is 3 and Bean is 5. Both were able to actively participate in all of the art lessons we created.

Check out the Book List for more titles from ARTistic Pursuits (grades - preschool, K-3, 4-5, 6-8, 9-12, plus books on sculptures).

ARTistic Pursuits Review

Before beginning to use The Way They SEE It, I would suggest checking the materials list and seeing what you have on hand before making a trip to the store. Most of the art materials are things you typically buy for preschool aged children, like Crayola crayons, construction paper, blunt scissors, Elmer's glue, etc. So chances are you already have some on hand! Things like drawing paper don't have to be exact, but there is a reason why they suggest using products by Crayola, Elmer's, Fiskars, and Mr. Sketch. And that's quality. Other times they will suggest a product, like Play-Doh, and provide a recipe to make your own, if that's what you prefer.

The Way They SEE it covers 26 lessons and 10 bonus projects. There are over 150 illustrations, some from well known artists and others by children. This book goes over many of our go-to materials, like markers, crayons, paint and play dough, and teaches us how to create interesting works of art with them. We also really loved the "Picture Talk" pages, which features a famous work of art and prompts children to answer questions and really think about the art. But on top of that, it also has a project that goes along with it!

Usually, I'd read the "Grown-up Talk" page before sitting down with my kids. This part is for parents and teachers and talks about art, motivators, understanding children's art, and ideas to use for lessons, among other useful topics. Then the kids would come over and look at the art on the "Picture Talk" page. After that, I'd gather up materials and see what they create. Sometimes it goes along with what we talked about, other times they do their own thing. Some of Bean's favorite lessons were "Inventing a Language of Symbols," "Telling a Story Project," "Impressions project," and "Art to Retell an Event." Munchkin stuck to drawing cars, monster trucks, boats and planes. There really was no helping it.

Below you will find some examples of Munchkin and Bean's art that came from lessons throughout The Way They SEE It.

Drawing Animals.

Sometimes art is painting all over your body or clothes. (Don't worry, it's washable Crayola paint, it all came out! And yes, that is Bean with a painted-on beard.)

Painting with toys became a fun activity. I highly suggest using washable paint when you're using toys, so it washes off more easily. Boulder, from Rescue Bots, loves art and painting in the show and his toy figure happens to be able to hold a paint brush!

Texture painting with cars and trucks.

Using liquid glue for the first time led to Munchkin discovering he could glue his Lincoln Logs together so he can play with them (usually we kept them together with elastic bands). This is his train.

Studying art also led to Bean discovering that letters can turn into pictures. Her A morphed into an alien UFO. A for alien!

We worked on "Cutting Shapes" (page 81), which meant Bean had to create exactly the pictures in the book.

Other times we used stickers to work on fine motor skills and to learn about figures and placement.

Here is Bean's drawing of her brother. Notice his mass of curly hair?

And here is Bean's "family portrait."

Munchkin usually draws lots of scribbles and vehicles. Can you see the car in the red river? There are two people inside. (The river is red because he happened to see one that was red in a book at the library.)

Below you can find a collage of some of their paintings. They really liked painting objects they were looking at (first four - tractor, turtle, sea urchin, tooth with a smiley face). The last four are from the "mark-making project" which can be found on page 15.

And here is a lovely collage of their many drawings and doodles that came from the amazing lessons from The Way They SEE It. Bean's people figures evolved!

As part of the "Identifying Colors Project" (page 21) we learned about colors by creating a large color wheel. We went around the house collecting art materials (and sometimes toys) to match the colors. Or opening a book of famous art paintings and comparing and matching the colors to our palette before recreating the painting. We also stopped by a paint store and collected new paint chips to learn about different shades of colors (similar to our matching paint chips activity) and used them to mix paint colors together. This time we put all shades of one color on one ring, and all the rings on a much bigger ring, so if they want to work with just shades of red, they can just remove the red ring.

Something that became very common around our house was that we now talk about art all the time. Talk about nature. Talk about creativity and inspiration. Talk about imagination. When you sit down to look at art, ask what they are thinking about, ask what it makes them feel, ask if it inspires them to create something of their own. And then let them create it using whatever materials they want. When you sit down to create art, give them space and only step in when they request it. Hovering and pestering distracts and frustrates most artists, but especially children who already have a short attention span.

Also, don't make art a chore, just encourage it. Art should be fun and inspired. For younger children, art should be about exploring textures and materials, techniques, and discovering their style. Don't worry about scribbles. Scribbles are part of the process.

Pros and Cons of using this book:
- The Way They SEE It is 90 pages long, but they are one sided pages, which I view as kind of wasteful. However, due to the way the book is set up, I can understand why they printed it this way.
- Teaches parents how to understand the art their children create.
- Engages both parents and children.
- Is non-consumable, which means the book can be used by the whole family.
- Plastic comb bound, which makes reading it so much easier.
- Teaches art appreciation, about artists, skills, and techniques that young children can understand.
- It's affordable, only $47.95 for the book, which all your children can use.
- It grows with your child. If they work through it, go ahead and work through it again the next year. Compare what they learned and see how far their art has come. If they are ready, move on to the Early Elementary books (Book 1 - Introduction to the Visual Arts, Book 2 - Stories of Artists and Their Art, Book 3 - Modern Painting and Sculpture).
- No structured lessons. Children can learn and express their art at their own pace.

I really didn't have many issues with this art curriculum. We love it and look forward to using ARTistic Pursuits in future years for our art education! I highly recommend this curriculum for first-time and experienced homeschoolers. The lessons are detailed and informative, and educated both myself and my children.

Be Social! Check out ARTistic Pursuits on Facebook!

Be sure to check out the other reviews of ARTistic Pursuits amazing art curriculums from the TOS Crew!

ARTistic Pursuits Review

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

First Start Reading Review

Memoria Press Review

First Start Reading from Memoria Press is one of our favorite homeschool curriculums that we've had the pleasure of reviewing. Memoria Press provides homeschoolers with a classical Christian education. One thing I like about First Start Reading is that secular homeschoolers (like us) can use it too! This reading and writing curriculum focuses solely on phonics lessons, with built in writing, drawing and coloring activities. Teachers will put an emphasis on correct pencil grip and letter sounds during instructions.

My daughter has been doing so well with First Start Reading! She loves that she can easily access the books and use them independently, even without a teacher (me). She is still on Book A, but she's already finished several lessons from it. Each lesson is only one page in the student book, not including the coloring page that faces it. She loves that the writing lessons are paired with a coloring page. The coloring pages and drawing prompts are themed to match the letter or word for the lesson. I would suggest keeping a couple pencils and either crayons or colored pencils available to use with the student workbooks.

Typically she traces the letters, and then uses a white board to practice writing them on her own.

For this lesson, it asked to answer her name and to draw a self-portrait. I provided a mirror for her to look into while working on this page. She wrote her name on her own and proceeded to draw a jellyfish, since at the time, she had been pretending to be a jellyfish.

Here's how I taught lessons using First Start Reading: I started by reading the lesson plan in the teacher's book, then modified it to our teaching methods. I used a white board and sat next to my daughter (who used the student workbook), so she could see how I wrote letters and words (since she's a visual learner). My son sat on my other side and practiced writing letters in his salt tray (since he's a kinesthetic learner). Even though he did not follow this curriculum with us using a workbook, he still enjoyed participating in some of the lessons.

Because First Start Reading focused on phonics, the step-by-step instructions were great for teaching how to understand and recognize letter sounds. This product also blends phonics reading lessons with writing lessons, and we find that dual lessons like this work best for our family. We work on phonics by reading the letters and words out loud, sounding them out, and quizzing each other on sounds.

First Start Reading is different from other phonics curriculums because it uses the more traditional vowel-consonant approach and combines it with word families. We typically learn word families by using homemade sight word cards (which we also use for phonics). I find coloring and drawing exercises to be really relaxing when combined with worksheets, so I was happy to see some offered in these books. There are also games and activity suggestions in the teacher guide to help with lessons.

First Start Reading teaches:
- consonant, short vowels, and long vowels
- 45 common words (we created flash cards for them)
- manuscript printing
- coloring and drawing activities

If you have the complete set, your child or student will work through four student workbooks, which covers thirty-one phonetic stories. We've been reading a lot of phonics books lately, so my daughter immediately recognized what the stories were teaching her. I find that rhymes, phonetic books and word building flash cards help with our lessons. I will always suggest reading Dr. Seuss books before or after literacy lessons (or at least at some point during the day), because they are not only fun to read, but you'll learn a lot from listening to them.

Memoria Press Review

The First Start Reading set is available from Memoria Press for $42.95 or you can purchase the student set for $28.00. The student workbooks and the teacher's guide can also be purchased individually. I personally really like the whole set and would see it as a good investment.

You may be interested in these articles: Why First Start Reading and What is the Classical Approach to Phonics? by Cheryl Lowe. Both of these articles are informative and helped me to learn more about this curriculum choice!

Be Social!

Memoria Press Review

Crew Disclaimer

Monday, April 13, 2015

Growing Apple Seeds

Back in December, we picked up a package of organic apples. On a whim, we saved some of the seeds. We wanted to experiment and see if we could get them to germinate over the winter. We cleaned the seeds and let them dry overnight, then we took a couple napkins and let them soak in water. We put the seeds in between two layers of napkins and them put them inside a ziploc and sealed it. Then we put it in the fridge and forgot about it. Three days ago we pulled them out and the kids were amazed to see that the seeds had sprouted! 

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience.

I carefully peeled the napkins away from the seeds. Usually you would take them out of the fridge as soon as they started to sprout, but it's fine that they were in there an extra month.. or two. I read somewhere that only 30% of seeds germinate. I think we got lucky, because all but three of the seeds germinated! (You can see them on the left near the bottom.)

Originally I was going to use a longer container, but then I realized it might be too shallow for some of the roots. So instead I used this deeper container and regular organic potting soil (no fertilizer needed). Once they begin to outgrow this container we will put them in individual pots. It's just to hold them over for a couple months until they are strong enough to survive outside. At which point, we will probably plant them in our kiddie pool garden, which survived the winter, but needs some new life!

Bean loved planting the sprouts and was so careful with them! She also compared them to her Safari Ltd Life Cycle of a Green Bean Plant figures, which look similar enough. I think it would be really cool if Safari Ltd expanded their Life Cycle series and made a tree and flower set. Tomorrow we will be drawing the sprouts in our nature journal and begin working on our Forest for the Trees workbook (look out for our TOS Crew review in a few weeks). We are very excited to learn about how trees grow!

Our sprouts are so cute and we really hope we are able to watch them all grow up! We will be bringing them outside with us on really sunny days, but otherwise they will sit in our sunniest window, where they can be easily observed.

We still have a lot to learn about raising apple trees, but we are excited about this living project and can't wait to share our experiences with you!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Needle Felted Play Mat

My best friend's daughter's birthday is coming up in a few days and I wanted to make her a very special birthday present. She loves fantasy realms with fairies and mermaids and she loves farm life. She also happens to live in Maine, surrounded by a wonderful forest. So I tried to combine all these into one play mat. A simple forest setting with a small garden and open spaces for fairies to play! 

I'm planning to pair this needle felted play mat with a Safari Ltd Fairy Fantasies TOOB, but I haven't quite decided which other TOOB I want to go with it... Safari Ltd has so many that sometimes it's difficult to choose just one! I'm thinking either the Farm TOOB or the North American Wildlife TOOB. I suppose it will also depend on which one Michael's has when I go shopping! :)

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience.

I started with Dimensions Needle Spruce Feltworks Felt and a large cup of tea. I also had my collection of Dimensions wool roving (Multi Color, Earth Tones, and Pastels), Single Needle Felting Tool, Multi-Needle Felting Tool, and my Large Foam Pad. I actually hope to pick up a larger foam pad that fits a 12" by 12" piece of felt, but the 8" by 10" worked fine. I love that the WoolPets foam pad is thick and sturdy, and that really made a difference. And just a side note, I did have to iron the piece of felt, since it came rolled up and had to be smoothed out. It's super easy to iron out the wrinkles though and only took about 5 minutes. Also, a pair of super sharp scissors are absolutely essential when cutting felt and I suggest using Fiskars. I use the 8 inch and 5" Micro-Tip, and they make a world of a difference! I haven't tried Fiskars non-stick scissors yet, but they probably work just as well, if not better, on felt!

I'm a design-as-I-go kind of crafter. I essentially knew what I wanted, but just placed things one at a time until I was satisfied with the design. I would have loved to add a larger river, perhaps even opening into a lake, but I wanted to be sure there was enough room for figures to play!

I used baby blue for the river, then added a slim sandy beach on one side of the river (cream or tan works), a few rocks (dark grey) and a couple bushes (light green, some with hand-rolled berries or flowers). To make the rocks, I rolled the wool roving (kind of like how you roll a yarn ball), and then needle felted the sides down. I angled the edges in for some and needle felted some straight down, for realistic rock appearances. For the bushes, some are somewhat flat, to look like short-growing plants. While others are fluffed up like bushes and only needle felted around the base. I personally love the 3D look of the bushes!

Once the river was finished, I started working on a cave. I used some earthy tones of tans, browns and greens mixed together and layered them onto a half-circle of dark brown felt (the middle layer of the cave - which gives the wool roving something to latch onto and makes it sturdier). I'd have loved to make a completely needle felted play mat, but I'm honestly new to this and still have a lot to learn!

top layer

bottom layer

Once the wool was in place, I needle felted the cave onto the base. I held it open while I pinned the edges down, to make sure the opening was large enough. It's a shallow cave, but plenty big enough for small animal figures. You can even add tan or light brown wool roving to the bottom of the cave, to make it look like dirt. I didn't add any yet, but now I think I will!

Then I worked on creating a garden. I laid down strips of dark brown roving and folded over the ends underneath. The garden is purposely somewhat lumpy to give the look of soil. Originally I was going to add one row of carrots, one row of lettuce... but I couldn't decide what to make for the third row. So I moved on to something else. I created a "fire pit" by swirling a brown piece of wool roving into a round shape and needle felted it down. Then I added a few large rocks around it. I actually added a few more rocks to the fire pit later on.

Then I moved on to the hard part... the hollow tree. It was the most challenging part, but became easier as I figured out how I wanted to do it. I started with a piece of construction paper and cut out a tree pattern. I had to keep in mind that the tree would be in the corner, so the roots had to be a certain size to be stable and still fit. I also cut out a "door" in the front of the tree, so fairies can easily walk inside. Though I didn't add a door, I had thought about it.

For the tree, I layered two pieces of felt. One walnut brown and the other sandstone. I cut the sandstone (inner layer) slightly smaller, because when you stitch the seams, the inner layer would lump up otherwise. And I kind of made the mistake of gluing the two pieces of felt together first. Note to self: Never glue anything about to be needle felted! It actually wasn't that bad, but I'd never do it again. On the upside, the glue happens to be flexible, so while it's stiffer, it's barely effected. I needle felted some dark brown and mixed green roving to the outside of the tree, and cream roving to the inside, which masked some of the brown roving that poked through. The roving also covers up all of the stitching, so you can't even tell it was sewn!

The hollow tree is hopefully wide enough for a small hand to reach into. My daughter tested it out and it fit her hand, so I'm hoping my friend's daughter has a similar size hand. :)

I added some more roving to the top of the tree to mask the inner layer of felt. It's fuzzy, but awesome!

Once the sides were down, I started working on the roots. I needle felted the edges down first, then once it was secure, I started adding wool roving and working into the rest of the roots. It's perfect to create meaningful lumps to make it look more like roots!

Then I moved on to creating the fire for the fire pit. I layered red on the outside, orange in the middle, and yellow in the center. I balled up the bottom and held the top in while I needle felted around the bottom at an angle pointed in. I also poked down into the middle to make sure that was secure too.

And by then I had finally figured out what to do with the third row of vegetables... I created a sort of tomato plant. It didn't come out quite the way I wanted, but it's fine enough. I rolled light green felt into a short column and before the last covering I added small red rolled-up felt balls for tomatoes, then covered it up and needle felted it all in. Next was a large lettuce plant, then an eggplant, and then a spinach plant. Oh, and the row of lettuce turned into a row of zucchini and squash plants.

I really like the fire pit! It was my favorite part to make!

And I really like the garden, though I'll admit that I absolutely need to work on my vegetable making skills. :) I'm pretty sure that before I gift this, I'll "fix" that tomato plant somehow.

I'm hoping the cave and hollow tree create wonderful homes for animals and fairies.

Cute little flower bushes! The flowers are all made using colors she likes.

I also like this rock with little green spots of moss on it!

The ends of the river fold over and in, which gives it the appearance of being a solid part of the play mat.

Then I worked on some logs for the fire pit.

I rolled two shades of brown roving into a log shape, with the darker brown on the outside, and needle felted it together. Then I snipped off the ends!

They also look adorable stacked up! (Am I the only weirdo who thinks felt logs are cute?)

I wanted to show my friend how the play mat came out, so I used a few of our own Safari Ltd figures to pose in some pictures, so she can see what the general size of the play mat is compared to the figures. And just a note, that fox is much bigger than the TOOB figures, since it's part of a different line, but I also wanted to show her how some of the bigger figures compare.

Most of the things look quite big compared to the people figures, but that won't matter with fairies, since they can be any size they want. ;)

So what do you think of my first needle felted play mat? I definitely enjoyed making it and I really look forward to making more of them. I'm hoping to make my next one soon and will stick solely to needle felting (no felt sheets, thread or anything else). Although I really don't mind adding felt sheets, since it's all felt anyway. :)
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