Creativity Tool of the Week: Sculpt-a-mold!

Here's a recommendation I mentioned recently in an interview at The Artful Parent, and thought it would be good to share here too:

Sculpt-a-mold is a great material that is available from art supply stores. You just add water and you can make just about anything. It’s the same principle as papier-mâché if you are sculpting something large, but it is just an easy material to pull out and create with. It is really messy, so depending on how many kids are working with, you might consider doing it outside.

Here’s a unicorn horn Zeal made recently out of it (the horn of Dianthus, to be specific).

But there's papier-mâché, sculpt-a-mold can easily be painted (and in fact, it dries much faster than papier-mâché so you can get to painting it pretty quick). Here's a mountain Zeal made and painted from sculpt-a-mold. And this is not just any mountain, but THE actual mountain Hanuman himself carried! (Gotta love the kids!)

He's now planning to use it to create his own version of The Phantom Tollbooth (based on the book), but I believe that will have to be its very own post.

And here's part two of that interview, in case you are interested.

Who knew?

Hello dear readers! It appears Child of Wonder has been named a Finalist in the 2008 Independent Publishers Book Awards in the Parenting category.
Well, isn't that enough to make this girl feel like eating another strawberry shortcake, or maybe just the whip cream. Happy weekend!

Learning to Look: Observing, Critiquing, and Exploring Art

This week, I posted as a guest on The Savvy Source's blog called Being Savvy. You can read the Savvy review of Child of Wonder here (a most touching review), and here's the post that followed:

Learning to Look: Observing, Critiquing, and Exploring Art

Young children move through their days with such passion and fervor that it is often a skill for a child to pause and just observe. Learning to look is the foundation, the first baby step if you will, to being able to develop creative expression through art. Once a child can really look at a piece and articulate what is special and how they feel about it, they can then begin to incorporate some of these techniques into their own experiences and explorations with materials.

What Do I See?: Young Children and Observing Art

We start with simply observing art. Once you begin to look, you will see that art is everywhere in many different forms. And once you begin to experience it with your children, you will also find that they begin to learn this art vocabulary and seamlessly incorporate it into their daily experiences.

Here’s a starter list for getting kids observing the art around them:

· Give children an opportunity to look at all types of art: in print, online (many museums of the world have their collections on the Internet), and of course, experience art in-person at local galleries, in the homes of your artist friends, or on display in your town. Help your children to understand that art isn’t something reserved for a few special people; it is in the everyday and everyway!

· From prehistoric works of art (rock carvings and cave paintings of the Cro-Magnon) to Egyptian hieroglyphs to African and Asian art and modern day marvels, regardless of the age of your children, experience art history together. Talk about how art has changed over time. Look for similarities and differences in time periods and across cultures.

· Ask, “What is unique about this piece?” What do they notice about how it is different from the last one you looked at? From itty-bitty art to large murals, point out differences in size, shape and form.

· What types of materials were used? Together, observe the many different types of materials that artists use: metal, rubber, paint, recycled objects, plaster, canvas, paper, wood, and any other number of different materials used to make art.

· Bring attention to what they know. Especially interesting to children is looking at color, line, animals, nature, transportation, how movement is depicted, and representations of other children. They all lend themselves well to the direct experiences and interests of many young children.

What Do I Feel?: Learning the Art of Critique

To critique is to look carefully and analyze something, and then articulate feelings about it. It is clear that children begin to develop likes and dislikes early on in life. As you expose your child to different styles and observe art together, discuss concepts such as line, color, shape, space, and patterns.

While many art critics spend time finding fault in artwork, when observing and discussing it with your children it does not need to be overtly negative, or negative at all.

When discussing a piece and guiding children in art critique, begin with these questions:

· What did the piece make you feel? Give children a chance to really connect with the myriad of feelings in the human experience.

· What do you like about this piece? To articulate the specific details of a piece of art is a skill that helps children begin to bring awareness to the aspects that lead to an overall feeling a piece of art evokes.

· What does it remind you of? Art is a powerful way to get kids talking and making connections. It can evoke memories about a special trip to the sea, a time they met a new friend, or solved a problem. Or it may remind them of another work by the same artist, a similar style they saw elsewhere, or even a story they’ve heard.

· Keep the experience positive. If your child doesn’t prefer a particular piece, that’s okay and certainly part of the critiquing process. Ask them to tell you what about the piece doesn’t appeal to them. Then, find one they consider more attractive and talk about the pieces’ differences.

Observation and critique are truly significant ways for children to explore the art around them. Learning to really look at a piece of art, be it sculpture, painting, embroidery, or mixed-media, goes beyond the simple craft experience that is often associated with childhood art. To Learn to Look is to bring the world of art closer to the human experience, to connect with it on a deeper level. In turn, children bring this vocabulary for observing and critiquing the art around them to the very real art they themselves create. From this place, they develop a deeper understanding of the potential and power of art. Because it is true that Life is Art and Art is Life.

Treasures From the Sea

Our first really warm day in Oregon since maybe last August and we were rejoicing in the day from the moment we woke. Finally! The change to my very favorite season, and we decided that we would pack up the dog, lunch, and the whole family and head to the coast.

Almost there, and we realized we’d forgotten the camera. A good thing, we decided because the truth of the matter is that it is fairly easy to be the one waiting for the Kodak moments and then missing out on the real connection and fun.

There were in fact oh-so-many of those capture-able moments that I’m sure we would have certainly treasured for years to come – building forts from large pieces of driftwood, eventually hiding from the hot sun in them, constructing sea fairy houses from the smaller bits, jumping waves, playing catch, digging holes that are so quickly filled again, and gathering shells and even a very perfect sand dollar that seemed to be a gift straight from the sea.
But instead of capturing them on film and holding on, we just lived them together.

It was pretty much a yes day, not because we planned or intended it to be, but because it is so easy to have one when you are playing on the beach, the sand tickling your toes.

We were getting in the car to leave and Zeal said, “We didn’t do any of the things on our list today, Mom.”

“We played hookie,” I said with a smile. “And we did everything we needed to do for today!”

“What do you call a pirate who skips school?” he asked, finding the perfect place for a little joke.

“Hmmm….What do you call a pirate who skips school?”

“Captain HOOKIE!” he shouted from the back with a hooked finger and a good ol’ arrrgh!

The weekend followed as weekends do, and we were still renewed and revived by the sea and its treasures. We were as efficient as ever in all those “listed” items, and added some fun ones to go along with them. Here’s a few of the many things I/we managed to do:
-get the garden completely in (except the pumpkins – they’ll come later)
-mow the lawn
-weed the beds
-clean the house
-play chess and Labrynth
-fly the remote control plane in the park and manage to not fly it into the top of the trees this time
-do our sick week’s laundry
-attend two festivals (one music festival, one wildflower festival - yeah! It's festival time again!)
-finish the book for book club, that has taken me all month to trod through
-go to book club and thoroughly enjoy the women in my life, the conversations we have, and the true unique beings we all are
-chat at length with and learn all kinds of new and interesting things about my wonderful neighbors
-attend a political rally (get out there and vote, Oregonians!)
-write two magazine articles and one guest post for The Savvy Source
-play in the river
-get going on our bird watching project for Cornell Ornithology Department
-have a picnic in the park
-randomly plant every sunflower seed we have (Zeal) and hope that they don't make too much shade for the tomatoes (Ginger)
-get some glazing in
-do some scouting planning for the next few months
-eat tons of fresh raw food because (yeah!) summer really is coming!

And here it is Monday again, and the treasures from the sea are still with us, like the salty residue of the sea air that stays on your skin. That’s what happens with Yes Days – they stick around even when they’re "over".

And that all said, here’s a little treasure for you. One free signed copy of Child of Wonder being given away. So go get in on the deal!

It's about that time again...

Oh my, oh my... summer is almost here, and with that comes the inevitable and lovely emergence of children in trees.

How to Climb a Tree

It is has been said that those who dwell in the beauty of the trees, will never grow weary to the mysteries of life.

In the book Little Bear’s Friend by Else Homelund Minarek, the story begins with Little Bear climbing a tree. During Little Bear’s journey to the top of that tree, he encounters a few challenges, a little bit of fear, unsurpassable views, perspective, confidence, and eventually, as the title suggests, a new friend.

Many adults hold onto a memory about climbing trees, either with childhood friends or on solo retreats into the sky to look down on the world. As Richard Louv points out in Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder, many children today are not getting this valuable motor skill and confidence building opportunity. A recent study conducted in Sweden showed that children who not only played outside, but played in natural settings (not just outdoors on play equipment) played more creatively.

Climbing trees offers many opportunities for children to not just develop physically, but also mentally. With every step, children who climb are playing a game of vertical chess, if you will, that has them strategizing, developing mental agility as they make spilt second decisions, and learning psychological balance.
As you begin your tree climbing adventures, keep the following in mind.

Find the Right Tree
The right climbing tree is certainly a treasure when you find it. The perfect climbing tree for a young child is one they can get up into all by themselves, without a parental boost. It would likely have many wide natural Y’s that branch out from a short base. It will also be free of tree damaging pests or other signs of decay. For people under four feet, this can be a real challenge, and may mean that you are only playing around the base of a large tree or on fallen trees for a while to get a feel for the experience of playing in natural settings. Once you do find the right tree, keep coming back to it. Every time you climb it, know that you will be developing the independence and confidence to climb to the top of any challenge. Then, as you grow and when you are ready, move on and find a new favorite tree.

Step by Step
Trees, like people and all that we encounter in life, are living, growing, organic experiences that provide many opportunities for trial and error. Can this branch hold my weight? Can I take that step without slipping? Are those branches close enough for me to step from one to the next?
The perfect climbing tree might have its own knobbly pieces spaced naturally apart, but if yours does not, consider using a strong rope to assist your climb or nailing in pieces of wood to make a modified stepladder. A nail into the bark of a mature tree is not thought to be fatally damaging. A larger structure such as a hammock, treehouse or garden art, however, can put too much stress on the tree that can leave it vulnerable.
Professional tree climbers say that excessive climbing could damage a tree, but they also admit that climbing provides an opportunity to develop appreciation for nature, and that far outweighs any potential damage.

Gain Perspective
Whether or not you have reached the top of the tree you are climbing, take some time to look out on the world from a new perspective. With a view from the treetops, take a deep breath of all that freshness that being up off the ground can give you. Take in the view as a whole, or bring along a collapsible telescope or binoculars to see the views beyond.

Being up in a tree can provide children a respite from daily hustle and bustle, so if it works for you, consider allowing your child to just hang out in the tree. As they grow, that might be the place they go to enjoy a friend, read a book, or just plain rejuvenate themselves.

Fly Down
“I’ll fly down,” says Little Bear as he plans his exit from the tree. Well, anyone who has every shimmied up to the top of what seems like the perfect climbing tree, and then turned around to come down, realizes the going up can be the easy part. As a parent, the hardest part can be the witnessing. Support children verbally as they begin their descent. Coach them in facing the tree and stepping down as if coming down a ladder, using some of the same foot and handholds they found along the way up. Provide encouragement that communicates your confidence in them as they learn to solve a new kind of problem.
At some point, they are ready to make that final leap onto the ground, and you may just see the wings sprout.

So go on, climb a tree. Experience the joy of reaching new heights and hold onto the mysteries that a life among the trees can offer.

Holes in Feet, Other Calamities of the Week, and Something to Still Look Forward to

I apologize for the brief absence of the week. We've been dealing with sickness on so many levels, including but certainly not limited to a tragic search for a single dose of tetanus when Zeal was running through a field and stepped on a board embedded with a looong rusty screw that not-so-lovingly pierced his foot. Yippee.

But despite the illness, I managed to have this little chat with Angela Kellner on Northwest Passage at KLCC.

I hope you'll all be able to join us for the show this Saturday night. Here's the info one more time for anyone who might have missed it:

A Wonder Celebration!
Come dance to the music of The Sugar Beets and celebrate the release of the new book Child of Wonder!
Where: Cozmic Pizza/The Strand, 8th and Charnelton, Eugene, Oregon
When: Saturday, May 10th, 7PM
Who: This is a family show in honor of wonder! Bring your kids, your friends, and your mama (the next day is Mother's day!)
Need more info about the book? Go to
Cost: FREE! Books will be for sale (and signed) for anyone who wants them.
The first forty children to arrive will receive this Child of Wonder t-shirt!

The Wonder of a Read-Aloud Book

Excerpted from the May issue of Wonderwise

The Wonder of a Read-Aloud Book

Cuddling up for a good read is one of the most special times in the lives of a parent and child Yet, as our children grow as readers, and become more independent in their reading, it becomes easier and easier for us to give up our read-alouds. But, we mustn’t. If there is one single thing that we can do to continue to help our children grow as readers and learners (even when they are already reading Chaucer’s Tales independently) it is continuing to read aloud.

The poet Julius Lester says, “literature is a way to link our souls like pearls on a string, bringing us together in a shared and luminous humanity.”
What better way to use literature to "link our souls" than through the family read aloud.

Reading aloud is perhaps the single most important thing we can do to help create proficient and avid readers who devour their books and really enter the world created for them on the page.
Reading aloud:
• helps our children know what it is to lose themselves in the drama of a story
• develops a positive attitude toward books as a source of pleasure and information
• increases vocabulary
• expands the child's knowledge base
• satisfies and heightens curiosity
• stimulates imagination
• stimulates understanding of language patterns
• sharpens observation skills
• enhances listening skills
• promotes self-confidence and self-esteem
• offers many new friends since book characters can become quite real
• helps develop problem solving skills and critical thinking
• encourages positive social interaction
• helps them to become successful readers who love books and learning!

So how can we “link our souls” to help along all these wondrous happenings? Reading aloud can happen in many ways, at many times, for many different purposes.

*Take a few moments in the morning to read a shared few lines of poetry. Lay in bed in the morning with the same chapter book you fell asleep reading together the night before. Use it as a point of connection as you begin your day.

*Revisit books that your kids have loved or even just kind of liked in the past. Find new magic in them together. Let the stories be re-experienced and see what comes up. Revisiting books again and again can offer your readers new ways to look at a story they already know. They will see new richness in the piece when given the opportunity to hear it time and again, and may grow to have a deeper understanding of messages that lie within the text.

*Support your child’s interests by reading aloud non-fiction books about what really lights your kids’ fires. Start with simple texts that introduce the subject they are interested in and move to more complex text. By starting simple, you will poise your children to learn more so that they can get more out of the more complex texts. Once you do move to the more complex texts (often being something they wouldn’t be able to comfortably tackle on their own) you will help them increase their vocabulary and their understanding.

*And lastly, MODEL! MODEL! MODEL! Model engagement in text and love of literature. ‘Go there’ with your kids as you are reading. It can be the single most important habit we help them develop in their reading. And may even help you re-learn how to really get into a book yourself

Need some ideas for your next read aloud? Here's a small list to get you started:

Read Aloud Poems for Young People, An Introduction to the Magic and Excitement of Poetry Edited by Glorya Hale
Where the Sidewalk Ends; and A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People, by Kate Farrel and Kenneth Koch

Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer (Yiddish Folk tales)
The People Could Fly, American Black Folktales told by Virginia Hamilton
The Juniper Tree and other Tales from Grimm translated by Segal, Lore
Even A Little is Something (Short Stories from Thailand) by Tom Glass
A Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon
The D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths retold by Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire.
The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron
American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborne
Aesop’s Fables

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
Elmer and the Dragons by Ruth Stiles Gannett
The Dragons of Blueland by Ruth Stiles Gannett
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Flat Stanley (Series) by Jeff Brown
Mr. Putter and Tabby
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
The Magician’s Boy by Susan Cooper
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
The Iron Giant by Ted Hughes
The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osbourne
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik

Taking Flight by Vicki Van Meter (Memoir of a 12 year old girl who piloted a plane over the Atlantic)
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
The Cricket in Times Square by E.B. White
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse by Ursula Moray Williams
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Soup and Me by Robert Newton Peck
The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
The Dream Stealer by Gregory Maguire
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konisburg
Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
The Bat Poet by Randall Jarrell
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Because of Winn Dixie By Kate DiCamillo
The Tale of Desperaux. By Kate DiCamillo (My son has now had two mice named Desperaux- We LOVE this book, but beware of some intensity in storyline)
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
The Wish Giver by Bill Brittain
Ida Early Comes Over the Mountain by Robert Burch
Eragon by Christopher Paolini (who wrote it when he was 15!)
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater
Thundercake by Patricia Polacco (Anything by Patricia Polacco makes a great read aloud for older kids)
Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor
The Table Where Rich People Sit by Byrd Baylor
I’m in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor
The Empty Pot By Demi
The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau
Raven by Gerald McDermott (and a series of other trickster tales beautifully told and illustrated by Gerald McDermott)
King Arthur series written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott
O'Sullivan Stew written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott

So, if I can, I would like to leave you with this, written by Strickland W. Gillian from the poem The Reading Mother:

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold,
Richer than I you can never be-
I had a mother who read to me.

So grab your choice and make read aloud time special again. Turn off the lights. Get that cozy lamp going. Flop on pillows in the living room or curl up in bed together. And don’t forget to try to do it every day. Even as your children become older and seemingly don’t need you for that bedtime story anymore, revive your read alouds. They can, once again, be the most special time of your day.