A Few Rodent Tales to Enjoy Together

While away at Grandma's house, the kids are so into whatever projects they have going that there is often very little time to take a breath, much less spend time with television or movies, or other types "screen time" (whew!). But one late night on our trip this last week, we all bundled up on the couch and watched last year's Ratatouille. Despite there being a few scenes I'd rather not see in something claiming to be rated "G", the movie is a precious one filled with tender moments, spot on humor (including the slapstick stuff that gets the kids rolling), and truly wonderful insight. Even the youngest of our bunch commented on the beautiful transformation of the hardened character of Ego.

So we enjoyed the movie together, went to bed in the rat's nests built of blankets and pillows, and woke up and quite coincidentally (or perhaps not) started exploring other rodent tales. Here are just a few of the ones we've rediscovered and uncovered together in the days since.

The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood-
This fabulous little book, available in paperback or board book style was and remains one of my son's favorite all time stories. At one time, he use to just love naming the pictures and laughing at the brilliant illustrations, but now he likes to sneak off an read it to the animals. A great story for any age - I'd love to get the chance to do something with high school age writers and artists with this one!

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Brian O'Brien-
When I was young, I fondly remember the movie The Secret of NIMH, but had never read the original text by Brian O'Brien , until just this week. I highly recommend this wonderful tale. On the surface, it is a story about a mouse and her family, but as you get into the story, a whole complex world opens up. I am a big fan of talking allegory with children as we read, and this one offers so many opportunities for it. Interestingly enough, when I read this with Zeal this week, he was the one doing all the talking, while I got to listen to all he was inferring from the story.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo -
This tale of a unique little mouse name Despereaux is one of our family's favorites. I've spoken of it before here in Wonderwise and on my blog, but I understand we are to expect a movie this holiday season, so my interest is surely piqued, and we will indeed need to be rereading it soon; we've already pulled it out and placed it on the shelf of honor. The story is indeed a dark one, so I am curious how some of the movie's scenes will be handled (and if they will be child-friendly). Be watching for the update on my blog come December.

Mouse Soup and Mouse Tales by Arnold Lobel-
And who can forget Arnold Lobel's wonderful Mouse Soup and its companion Mouse Tales? If you have a beginning reader in your household, get your hands on copies of these wonderful little stories. Mouse Soup, a classic, is reminiscent of 1001 Arabian Nights and much more clever than some of the other "I Can Read" books on the market.

And lest we forget this little colony of stories, the Ralph S. Mouse series by Beverly Cleary. Zeal comes back to these about once a year and discovers something new every time.

Do you have favorite rodent tales in your family? I would love to add them to our list, so please drop me a line if you have recommendations.

Gadgetology: The Science of Creatively Experimenting Around the House

We've been playing and experimenting at Grammy and Papa's house this week, with the help of a few cousins. We've had fun splashing, hiking, dancing, singing, swimming, making a bit of recycled music, blowing corks off of bottles with vinegar and baking soda, laughing, wrestling, building, stick collecting, and even a few moments of quiet contemplation.

What's more? Grammy and Papa are cleaning out cupboards and giving away a few items that no longer have practical use for them. Oh yippee! The kids couldn't be happier with their new gadgets.

Here's a little piece about some creative exploration with the gadgets you might have hanging around...

The Science of Creatively Experimenting Around the House

gadget: \ ˈga-jət\ n. a device or an appliance that has a useful specific practical purpose and function, but is often thought of as a novelty.

Gadgets, the devices we stock our homes and garages with to somehow make our lives easier or simply more fun, may be considered novelties, but they surely have a necessary place in the home and learning environment of a child. From simple exploration and tinkering to inventing and creating anew, gadgets and their intended (or unintended) uses offer an outlet for thinking and expression to emerge and bloom. In fact, in the life of a child, this kind of play can be referred to as its very own science: Gadgetology.

The Science of Gadget Exploration
Like any science, Gadgetology begins in the home with pure and simple exploration, the foundation for developing a creative thinker. Without the investigation into materials, possibilities, and imagination, it is difficult for that creativity to emerge and then fully develop. In order to encourage that exploratory nature in our children, we must begin with the environment in which our children spend most of their time, the home. Within the home, we find many opportunities for exploring, tinkering, taking things apart, putting them back together in new ways, understanding their functions, and perhaps even making up new functions. From gear functions to exploring what floats and sinks, common “gadgety” household items offer many opportunities for science and scientific experimenting to emerge naturally. How do the items move? Do they float or sink? Can light pass through it?

Let children explore with combs and brushes, recycled materials such as paper towel or toilet paper rolls, and pieces of wire to see what they might invent. Keep magnifying glasses and magnets around and easily accessible for children to peek under the table, Offer mirrors for child to peer at teeth, check out an elbow, or see the back of a knee. And then use mirrors further to see patterns or make your own Fun House. If you have a piano or other musical instruments around, open them up while playing so that children make investigate the inner workings of how the music is made. Walkie-talkies are one of the best childhood gadgets that allow children to keep you close while playing on the other side of the house while you do laundry and cook supper. Do you have an old computer, keyboard, or television, in your attic? Allow your child to explore its insides, take the pieces apart, put it back together, or use the parts for a new invention. Clocks of all types offer a wonderful opportunity for children to exploring the passage of time and incorporate it into their play. Especially fun for children are simple stopwatches that let them time see how long it takes for their ball to roll across the floor, or explore how many times they can jump in a minute.

Kitchen Gadgets
The kitchen is the ultimate gadget friendly space; it offers a wide variety of tools for different purposes, which move in a multitude of ways. Allow children to explore with all types of kitchen gadgets such as funnels, colanders, measuring cups, sifters, or peelers. Let them explore color by using a tea strainer and all different types of loose tea. Easy enough for even young children to operate with guidance, an apple-corer-peeler-slicer is our favorite kitchen gadget. As the crank is turned, it offers lessons unparalleled. Children explore their apple being, just as its name implies, cored, peeled, and sliced, a fascinating process as it happens all simultaneously.

Even things you wouldn’t necessarily think of as gadgets, such as forks or bamboo skewers, can become a wonderful exploration tool for children as they use them to make a grand sculpture. And don’t be afraid to take your kitchen items into your art room or even in the tub. Potato mashers are wonderful tools to explore with out of the kitchen. Dip them in paint and see what kind of interesting patterns you can make. Explore a simple whisk, or a rotary hand blender, and make a bath full of bubbles become even bubblier.

Gadgets on the Go

Being on the go, in the car or in a bike trailer, can sometimes be monotonous for children. Provide a basket, box, or bag with exploratory, gadget-y items to take along on simple outings or long trips. Possible on-the-go gadgets include: a magnifying glass, binoculars, a simple fold out telescope, magnets and magnetic objects, a small jar of dough or modeling clay, a harmonica, and a kaleidoscope. If you can, also consider keeping a tray in your car or bike trailer to provide a usable workspace while you are on the go.

So here you go… Explore your world, your wonder, your home, and the gadgets you find there! Investigate the unknown regions of the mind, creativity, and all the treasures hidden in your closets, bookcases, and cupboards. Have a novel good time!

The Adventure Continues...

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." —Mark Twain

There's nothing like play in a waterfall behind Grandma's house!

And a new camera to celebrate and experiment with:

Oh my, how a picture really shows how the belly is swelling. ;)

We've finally arrived and the road here was long, but filled with wonder. Here are a few little things to get you packin' for your next journey. The funny thing is that many of the things we end up bringing along don't end up getting used, but you never know what thing will strike a fancy when the road gets long. And now we even have a few things to explore on the way home.

Packing with Creativity in Mind
Being required to sit in one spot for hours on end can be a difficult task. Ease that by providing children things to stimulate their brains and bodies. Provide the tools that turn getting to your destination into a creative venture. As you plan your travels, consider packing the following:

Bring along both recorded music and things to make your own music. Stock a harmonica or simple a egg shaker. Bring a scarf or slinky and do the car seat dance.

Art Supplies
Sculpting opportunities give the mind and hands a workout. Bring along wire, aluminum foil, string, modeling clay (not playdough because it’s just too crumbly when it begins to dry out), and a few good carving tools. And being on the road is a perfect time to try our window markers!

Writing Supplies
With all those bumps and curves, writing in the car can sometimes be frustrating for beginning writers. Pack writing materials that are easy to erase like white boards and dry erase pens. For pre-writers, bring along maze books, dot-to-dots and items for children to trace. Be sure to bring along an empty notebook to write family stories or take dictation from your kids. Consider attaching a pencil on a string to the hook in your car so you will always have your writing utensil when you need it.

Bring a variety of books: old favorites that your child will can read on their own, a new title your child has never seen, audio books, and of course your own personal stories to tell aloud.

When you are on the road, you are looking at the world through different eyes. Make sure you pack the tools that help you do that best. Binoculars help you check out the trees, hilltops, and the tallest, most unique buildings. Use a collapsible telescope to check out the view from the backseat. Or try stocking a magnifying glass to give your child hours of fun just exploring the back seat.

Exploratory Materials
And when you are in need of a fresh activity try blowing bubbles, playing with magnets, using silly putty on your newspaper, and exploring with prisms.

Wonder Hits the Road!

We're on the road, and its one of the reasons I have had less than stellar attendance here on the blog. Today, while on our drive from there to here, we stopped in the woods to observe the monarchs migration up close (a much better view than the inside on a car as they try to avoid our windshield) and were reminded yet again of the wonders of life.

Here's a little piece to get your creativity traveling:

Wonder Hits the Road! Creative Thinking When Traveling

Wherever you go, there you are. It’s a saying that can be traced back to the late 15th century, and still over half a millennium later, we find truth and meaning in it. As we explore ways to nurture creative thinking in our selves and our children, we realize that it is not just in our homes and places of learning. Creative thinking is always available to us, present wherever we go. So whether you are going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, taking a train across country, or traveling overseas, know that your wonder is right there with you.

The Journey
Learning to travel is a lifelong skill. For anyone who has ever walked on a plane with a young child, and then gathered up the looks of dread from nearby passengers as they sum up what their flight will be like, it is easy to surmise that children have a reputation as being ones who cannot travel well. But when children learn to do it early—navigating airports, utilizing rest stops, learning new customs, meeting new people, tolerating and even enjoying long car rides—they become at ease with their world. And when you are at ease with your world, true exploration and thinking are able to unfold. Then, traveling is no longer a stress inducing risk. It is the journey too that is joyful, not just the destination.

Ways of Seeing
No matter what your mode of transportation, the views along the journey can be breathtaking and awe inspiring. From the frame of an airplane, car, or train window, you can experience landscapes, patterns, and the lay of the land that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. While on the journey, point out the different shapes you see, the rows in fields or orchards, the curve of the hills, the formations of the clouds at sunset, or the lights and dark spots of the nighttime. Count animals, vehicles, and types of signs. Observe billboards and bumper stickers. Speculate on what you see.

People You Meet
What we know about creative thinking and problem solving is that we must test our limits and step outside our personal comfort zones. We must surround our children and ourselves with people who do things differently than we do. And we must ask questions and listen to the answers. Travel offers all of this, and because they are often great conversation starters, sometimes it is even easier to meet new people with children in tow. While in restaurants, ask about the best local place to hike or explore the local outdoor treasures. Take walks through the local farmers market and learn about the foods grown where you are visiting. Be curious about the locals.

Places You Sit
Traveling is often synonymous with being on the go. The pace can feel hectic, so much so that travelers often report that they need a vacation to recover from their vacation. It is all too easy to become over stimulated in the course of a site-seeing laden day. When traveling with children, it is finding the balance between planned activities and leisure time that can make all the difference. Take time each day to be without a plan. Find quiet places to sit. Challenge your family to find a special rock, log, tree, brook side, or bench where they can take a quiet moment and listen to the unique sounds of the area, revive themselves, reflect on the new experiences, or simply watch passersby.

Coming Home
Travel is a wonderful way to broaden our creative thinking horizons, but no matter how wonder-filled the trip, there really is no place like home. It is in coming home after a trip that children and adults alike appreciate the comfort of their own beds, the convenience of the pantry, and the familiarity of routines. Coming home also offers a renewal of creative sides. Children often find new joy in their toys and creation items after a trip. Make sure to build in a stay-at-home days when you return to give children space to reconnect with home. Make a list, scrapbook, or picture book of your family’s memories of the trip.

So in these last few days of summer, wherever you go, there you are. Discover personal meaning, creative expression, and mindful reflection on the road. Then bring it back home so it can spill into the rest of your life.

Fabulous Creatures: Association and Creativity

Over a late evening snack together, Zeal asks, "Hey Mom, did you know that one fabulous being attracts another?"
To which I responded, "Of course, that's why we're sitting here together; we're fabulous."
To which he rolls his eyes and says, "Mooooooommmm!"

But seriously, it's true. It's Law of Attraction, something the book The Secret has brought more into the mainstream in the last year or two. And when it comes to creativity, association is where it's at.

Just like other personality traits that can “rub off” on a child, creativity can be enhanced through association. Surround yourself and your kids with other creative people you know. Let them experience the varied ways other people in their lives use ideas and solve problems. From the neighbor mechanic figuring out how to make the old lemon run again to making cookies with only a few ingredients, talk to your children about how solutions are found to everyday problems. Help children witness examples of creative thinking by experiencing local artists, filmmakers, musicians, scientists, writers, storytellers, or other creative people who would otherwise not be in your social or professional circles.

Because it's true, Fabulous creatures attract each other. Say "YES" to all the Fabulous Energy!

Art and the Vineyard signing

Just wanted to let everyone know that I will be at Art and the Vineyard on Sunday July 6th, from 11:30-3:30 signing copies of Child of Wonder.

The weather should be grand, as well the art, so I hope you can come out and wonder with me!

Happy July!

Here's a tidbit from the July issue of Wonderwise:

Summertime Strewing

Strewing is the very fine art of placing items in seemingly random locations. It provides the opportunity for creativity by allowing a child to stumble upon materials in a natural way, thereby encouraging their exploration, without the child feeling watched, expected to perform, or otherwise pressured.

Summertime is a wonderfully natural time of year for parents and teachers to practice the art of strewing. With the weather, shall we say, cooperating, your creativity canvas instantly widens and everyone’s natural curiosities and unique ways of learning begin to show themselves in extraordinary ways.

High Traffic
The important thing to remember about strewing is that it is vital to place items in high traffic areas for your children to discover without you ever saying a word. This means tables near chairs they often sit in, in cracks of the couch, or even near the toilet. Outdoors in the summer that could also mean on your patio table, on porch steps they might linger on, under a shady tree, or near the front door where they might be waiting for others to get ready to go.

Interesting Items
Outdoors in the summer, there is great opportunity to place new and interesting items for kids to stumble upon. Try placing seed packets, buckets, shovels, magnifying glasses, muffin tins, binoculars, chopsticks, bird books, plastic crates, harvested corn, collapsible telescopes, nets, baskets of sticks, recycled containers, small brushes, chalk, pieces of wire, boxes, a globe, and forgotten toys that can handle outdoor use. If you have a patio table or some other workable space, try laying out art supplies, paper and staplers (always a favorite around here), a nice set of watercolor or sketching pencils, and even a few coffee table books that might spark some imagination. Place a set of binoculars next to your collection of strewn items and see what happens.

Rotation, Rotation, Rotation
There is nothing like movement to cause little eyes to take notice, become interested again, or perhaps discover it for the first time. As the summer progresses, don’t forget to rotate your strewn items around the yard or throughout the house. And with each rotation, add a few new items and take a few things away. You’ll soon find that a little bit of outdoor strewing can go a long way; Enjoy those summertime discoveries!