Author Archives: abh21

{Art Together} Experimenting With Watercolors

DSC02728{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

I suspect watercolor paints are one of the most common art supplies offered to kids, because they seem fairly tidy. The colors are contained in their little trays, the drips are easily wiped up, everything closes up shut at the end and stores neatly. But I think watercolors have the potential to be one of the most frustrating mediums, especially for kids who are trying to paint something specific but don’t quite know how to control the paint. Watercolors depend on water, and water is so runny! It flows everywhere. How do you get more pigment? Add more water to your brush? But then the color is even runnier on the paper… and if you try to paint with wet paint next to paint that hasn’t dried yet, it’s all going to bleed together into a frustrating, tear-inducing mess.

Now, you know I don’t like to micromanage my kids’ art experiences. We’re not going to sit down and “create” step-by-step to all produce the same thing. I value the individual vision, but I also want them to have the tools necessary to execute that vision, which means we need time and space to experiment with different materials to see what they can do, before we try to use them in a specific project. I was an adult, taking an art class in college, before I realized that watercolor existed outside of those little plastic trays. (Tubes! It comes in tubes!) I vividly remember walking into the art supply store in the city, supply list in hand, feeling like an impostor.  Truly, going into that store knowing nothing and needing so much was an act of bravery. Nowadays, I’d just search it online and know exactly what I was looking for, but back then, the list may as well have been written in Greek. I was so confused. To hopefully save you from similar confusion, I’ve updated the Materials page with more specific information about watercolor options.

Whatever watercolor you choose, before you sit down to try to paint something specific, take time to just play and explore the material. When I get a new-to-me art supply, the first thing I do is play with it. Doodle, draw, scribble, if it’s a marker or pencil; dab, swirl, smear, if it’s a paint. What can it do? Watercolor behaves differently from acrylic. If we—meaning you, me, and our kids—want to be able to execute our idea, we need to know which medium is best for the job. What effect do we want? How do we know, if we haven’t played with a whole bunch of stuff? The more we experiment, the larger art vocabulary we have.

A quick word on paper: I usually use a cold press, thus slightly toothed, watercolor paper. Regular printer paper or drawing paper isn’t heavy enough to support the wetness of paint. Tooth means the paper has a bit of roughness to it. That’s helpful with watercolor, since it absorbs the paint better than a slick surface would.

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Watercolor pads I found hanging around my studio.

For this session, my kids and I browsed through Water, Paper, Paint by Heather Smith Jones and chose some prompts as our starting point. My younger two kids and I liked the idea of painting circles and adding colors to them while wet. My oldest wanted to painted a checkerboard pattern, letting the first color of squares dry before painting next to them with the second color. We used pan watercolors and began to experiment. I can tell you that wet paint on wet paint will bleed together, and you can tell your kids, but it’s better for everybody if you sit down and do it yourself. Then you will know it.

Wet paint on wet paint runs together a bit.

Wet paint on wet paint runs together a bit.

Sometimes that’s exactly the effect you’ll want in your painting. Other times you’ll want more detail and a sharper edge. What happens when you brush wet paint next to dry? What kind of an edge do you get then?

11yo's painting: The blue paint was dry before he began painting with red. He used a set of Van Gogh pan watercolors.

11yo’s painting: The blue paint was dry before he began painting with red. He used a set of Van Gogh pan watercolors.

Which is a better way to mix colors right on the paper—wet on wet or wet on dry? Do they both work? What’s the difference? Only by experimenting in this way and observing what happens yourself will you really begin to understand what you can do with the medium. Plus, it’s just plain fun to make designs on the paper without any real plan in mind. It’s like doodling with paint.

8yo's layers of color, wet on wet. He was using Reeves pan watercolors.

8yo’s layers of color, wet on wet. He was using Reeves pan watercolors.

My 8yo, 4yo, and I played with wet colors into wet colors.

4yo's painting: Purple dots painted onto a wet turquoise circle, using Crayola pan watercolors.

4yo’s painting: Purple dots painted onto a wet turquoise circle, using Crayola pan watercolors.

It’s just fun to lay down some color and “see what happens.” When you go into it with the idea that you’re experimenting, there are no mistakes, just unexpected outcomes. When my 8yo layered white on top of a color he thought was dry but the white looked muddy, we talked about it. Was the white paint itself muddied in the tray? Let’s wipe it off and try again. He experimented with having black as the first color—would anything at all show up on it? This is knowledge he’ll take with him the next time he paints. This is how we get to know a material so that we don’t try to make it do something it just can’t do.

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

–Vincent van Gogh

Further Resources:

I often turn to books for adults to use with my kids. Techniques are techniques, and we all use the same materials and try the same things. I really like Water Paper Paint as a resource for techniques and ideas, as well as specific information on materials.

A Waldorf-specific method of wet-on-wet watercolor painting can be found here at The Magic Onions.

Take it Further:

All my previous posts that include watercolors can be found here.

Lori shares a post on watercolor techniques over at the Camp Creek blog, with some specific instructions on guiding your kids and yourself through some experiments with watercolors.

Share Your Work:

Reminder, you can share photos in the {Art Together} Flickr group, and that’s where I’ve posted photos of our finished watercolor paintings.

{Art Together} Scribbling

{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

“That the word scribble is used so often as a term of disparagement is one indication of how we fail our children in their quest for knowledge.”—Susan Striker in Young at Art

8yo's scribble, colored in.

8yo’s scribble, colored in.

If you’ve read my manifesto (and if you haven’t, you should!), you know that I think art should be fun and relaxed and play, for everybody—for kids and for you, too. If anybody is hung up on what “should” be happening or what something is “supposed” to look like or trying to teach proper perspective or mimicking Picasso’s rose period, goodness, that is a lot of pressure. Now, there absolutely is value to learning about things like line, shape, design, and color theory, and I definitely love looking at and being inspired by works of art, both in books and in person whenever possible. But this series isn’t about formal art instruction or art history—although sometimes that comes into what I do with my kids, too. This series is, first and foremost, about sitting down and playing alongside your kids, but instead of using things like blocks or cars, we’re using paint and crayons.

It’s about having fun (and opening up the portals to creativity, but I need to save some stuff for later!).

So this week’s activity is all about loosening up, letting go, getting your head out of it and having fun. Scribbling is the very epitome of mark-making for the sole purpose of making marks, of feeling how the tool of choice slides across the paper. If you have a younger child, he or she won’t need any encouragement to scribble. To an older child, or to you, it may seem awkward at first. We are used to making marks with intention and deliberation. Try to let go. Move your whole arm. Make big, strong marks. Fill a page. How do your scribbles reflect how you’re feeling? If you’re feeling tentative, the marks on the page will probably look tentative, too. What about scribbling when you’re angry? What does that look like?

I sat down with my kids this week and we all did something different, but we all incorporated scribbles. You can try any or all of these (plus a couple others I’ll link to) or make up your own variations. Between us, we used black Sharpies, colored pencils, oil pastels, watercolors, and liquid acrylics, the last being a little heavy for the typical sketchbook, but used in small quantities, they were fine. I began by filling my page with one long line of scribble, overlapping it and closing the line at the end. (Photos taken in our art area, which has daylight bulbs but no natural light, often have shadows. We all work with the space we have!)

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Then I used colored pencils to fill in the shapes. I could have set myself all sorts of rules for this, trying to link the colors in a certain way or only use certain sets of colors…instead I used whatever color I wanted without much thought, my only rule not being to use the same color in adjacent areas.

Coloring in, in progress.

Coloring in, in progress.

My 8yo chose to do the same project (his finished work is at the top of the post). My 11yo wanted to make a free-form scribble and then see what picture he could find in it.

11yo's scribble.

11yo’s scribble.

He sketched in the rest of the picture he saw.

Sketched-in scribble.

Sketched-in scribble.

Then he used acrylics for color.

11yo's finished scribble-inspired painting.

11yo’s finished scribble-inspired painting.

My 4yo wanted to do everything, so she began with making marks with oil pastels and adding watercolor.

4yo working on her scribble/painting.

4yo working on her scribble/painting.

But she tired of that. After a while she decided to do a big scribble like I had, but use liquid acrylics to add color, like her brother did. I’ve added her finished painting to the Flickr group.

4yo's unfinished scribble/painting, #2.

4yo’s unfinished scribble/painting, #2.

Take it Further:

Oil pastel/watercolor scribble resist.

Oil pastel/watercolor scribble resist.

In the past, we’ve made oil pastel/watercolor resists, using the pastels to scribble first. The full post on that is here. My son got the idea of turning scribbles to pictures, I think, from this activity that begins with watercolor scribbles and finishes with drawn images.

Watercolor blot animal drawings.

Watercolor blot animal drawings.

Further Resources:

Young at Art, by Susan Striker, which I quoted above, is an excellent resource for exploring open-ended art with toddlers and preschoolers. I particularly like her progression for introducing paint colors to encourage authentic color mixing discovery. She also includes good advice on how to talk to children about art.

Speaking of which, Let’s Talk About Art by art therapist Jen Berlingo has more guidelines for how to talk to kids about their artwork.

Share Your Work:

Reminder, if you want to post pictures in the Flickr group just click the join request button. Meanwhile, I’m still posting additional photos there of our work.

Next week we’ll be talking about–and playing with, of course–watercolors. See you then!

{Art Together} Looking Closely

{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

“’The teaching of drawing is the teaching of looking.’ A lot of people don’t look very hard.” –David Hockney.

Looking closely at a pussy willow, by V, age 11.

Looking closely at a pussy willow, by V, age 11.

Before we go any further, you need to promise me you’re not going to start comparing. Don’t compare your artwork to mine, your kids’ artwork to my kids’ artwork, or your work to your kids’ or your kids’ work to each other. Remember to start where you are. Also remember that I’ve been doing this with my kids for a while now. We’re all comfortable with the process. Brand new things often feel uncomfortable, so if you or your kids are feeling awkward, it’s okay to acknowledge that. Like anything else new, it’ll feel less awkward the more you do it.

Okay, then! Let’s get started. We’re going to start not by trying to draw but by trying to look closely, with a pen or pencil in our hand. Because I find natural objects so interesting to draw and because I am craving spring, I suggest finding a Growing Thing to serve as the focus of your observation. If you can head outside, wherever you happen to live, and find a dry patch of ground on which to sit, and it’s not so cold or windy as to be distracting, do that. If you have houseplants, pick one. I am death to houseplants, so I bought some tulips and pussy willows at the supermarket. We have so many collected natural treasures on our table that some of those found their way into the drawings as well.

As for art materials, we used sketchbooks, but loose drawing paper and even regular old printer paper will work just fine. I gathered a selection of sketching pencils and markers.  I love my Pitt DSC02670Artist Pens, but a fine-point black Sharpie is a good alternative, and it’s cheap and easy to find. (Also, I don’t share the Pitt pens with my youngest, since she still presses down too hard on the tips for my liking. She uses Sharpies.) If you don’t have sketching/drawing pencils, there’s nothing wrong with using a regular #2 pencil, but I suggest taping over the eraser. If you have it as an option, you’ll want to use it. You’ll get hung up on getting everything “perfect,” which will just interrupt the whole process of looking at what you are drawing. My kids decided they wanted to use colored pencils too, so we added those to our pile later.

Start out by looking at your drawing item together. What do you notice about it? Here are some of the observations my kids and I made as we drew:

8yo, drawing pussy willows: I’m shading the puffy things in to make them look furry. Do you notice these have a furry texture?

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4yo, drawing a tulip: Is the green the flower too or just the yellow and red? [Answer: The green she was looking at was the leaf; the stem was green too.]

Me: The edge of this tulip looks like a clam shell the way it comes together in the middle.

11yo: This [the hardest pencil in the group] is horrible for shading. (For more information on soft/hard pencils, see this post; I’ve updated it with more pictures.)

Me, to 8yo, as he struggled to draw a junebug’s wing: Look at the shape of it; it’s not symmetrical. The bottom is a smoother line but the top goes up and then tapers down. Start with the overall shape and then fill in the details.

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In Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, author Betty Edwards explains that we have built up a shorthand of sorts—what a hand should look like, a flower, a tree, a house—and when we sit to draw, our brain supplies these symbols, and we end up drawing what we think we see rather than what is truly there. I remember my first drawing class that included a live model; the professor pointed out how the proportions of the human body are not at all what we think. For example, a hand is much larger than we usually draw it; in fact, a hand is extremely odd looking if you really investigate it.

4yo drawing a sand dollar; she counted the "petals" in order to draw it accurately.

4yo drawing a sand dollar; she counted the “petals” in order to draw it accurately.

I’ve come to think that the true value in drawing isn’t the image itself, it’s that a drawing practice teaches you to really look at something. Of course the ability to recreate what you see can be extremely useful. You can use this skill to make notes on a nature walk so you can compare what you see (a flower? a leaf? an insect?) to a field guide later on. You can use it to sketch out the idea in your head to help you get it across to someone else—or even to help you figure out exactly what you’re thinking. But the sketch on the paper is only a small part of what you’re doing. The first part of drawing is looking—looking closely.

If you feel yourself becoming discouraged by your perceived inability to draw, try to reframe it: You are learning to really see. And remember that as with anything else, if you practice, it will begin to get easier. You will learn to truly look closely. You will begin to see what is actually there rather than what you think is there, and that is a valuable skill to have in life whether you become an accomplished sketcher or not.

Further Resources:

Drawing Lab For Mixed Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun: My kids and I (together and separately) have enjoyed many activities from this book; flip through and pick out something that interests you.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: Presents an approach to drawing designed to trick the brain to leave those preconceived notions behind.

Take it Further:

Blind Contour Drawing: This post at the Camp Creek Blog describes a method of drawing that involves only looking at the object, not at all at the paper.

Share Your Work:

I’ve created a Flickr group, where I’ve added more photos from our drawing session, and where you can share photos too, if you want to, or ask questions in the discussion section…whatever seems useful and helpful to you. If you have any questions please leave a comment or email me at amyhood AT amyhoodarts DOT com, and I will see you again in a week. Happy drawing!

Animal Classification: Reptiles

Reptile page, all filled in.

Reptile page, all filled in.

{Previous posts in this series: Animal Classification BookletAnimal Classification: Mammals + FishAnimal Classification: Birds; Animal Classification: Amphibians.}

Phew, the last post in this series. We finished up our five-part animal classification class for ages 5-8 at co-op this past week. Because this was the last class, it included some review of all five groups.

Resources:
Reptile poster from Verterbrate Teaching Poster Set
Various books on reptiles, including ID guide
Snake shed (not necessary, but I happened to have one)
Large (18×24″) chart to fill in with the kids. List the five types of vertebrates down the left side and create five columns with the following headings: How it breathes; Body covering; Eggs or born alive; Warm- or cold-blooded; Distinctive characteristic.

Activity:
Sniffers activity at Reptiles Alive
(Note: I used citronella as one of my essential oils and I do not recommend it! It sort of overpowered all the other scents.)

Handout:
Reptile word search found via Google
Completed Animal Classification booklets

We began by listing the groups we’ve already talked about, and the kids identified which group (reptiles) was left. As a group, we listed what we knew about reptiles, and then I hung the poster for discussion. Since we have snakes that live in our yard and I happened to have a complete snake shed we found in the yard several years ago, I brought it in to share. We tried the sniffing activity–it worked well enough but would have worked better if I’d avoided the citronella–and then we discussed how snakes use their tongues to pick up scents and why animals might need a good sense of smell.

After the kids filled in the reptile page in their booklets, I hung up the large chart and we filled it in together. The best part of class for me, I think, occurred when one child was working on the matching activity on the back page of the booklet and was stumped by kangaroo. Instead of telling him the answer, another child helped him figure it out on his own: “Kangaroos have fur. There’s only one group with fur, do you remember which one?” Witnessing the point at which someone feels confident enough in what they’ve learned to help teach it to somebody else–that’s just awesome.

We were limited by time (50-minute sessions) and space (no field trips, just a classroom experience), but I think we managed some great learning-together sessions. I hope you find these posts a useful starting point if you decide to plan something similar at home or in a co-op.

{Art Together} Getting Started

I’ve talked about why the opportunity for process-based art is so important for kids (part 1, part 2, part 3) and about how making time and space for a family art habit was so valuable for not just my children, but for myself. Unsurprisingly, process-based creativity is important for adults, too. But I hear, and read, a lot of adults who just don’t know where to begin. What kind of paper? What kind of paints? What do we do with them? And most of all, “I can’t draw. I can’t paint. I can’t teach my kids art.”

Family sketching at deCordova Sculpture Park.

Family sketching at deCordova Sculpture Park.

If you have endured the typical education that marginalized the arts; if you were discouraged early on from pursuing anything creative; if you internalized the idea that art “wasn’t for you;” or if you’ve simply never had an interest…if any of these reasons, or others, have left you lacking in confidence that you can start an art habit with your children as an adult, I’m going to argue that you can. I received no encouragement in art from any teacher from kindergarten through high school, at which point I was told not to take anything more than the one semester of art required to graduate, because the Bs I received in art would lower my GPA. Somehow, despite that, I persevered in thinking of myself as a creative person, and when I found myself pursuing a second Bachelor’s degree, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was already paying tuition and take an art class too.

In retrospect, I was pretty brave to sign up for that class. I think I even recognized that at the time. I felt kind of inadequate, but determined. And that class’s professor encouraged me to the extent that I ended up minoring in art. In my drawing classes, I often had to work for three or four times longer than the other students to get the results I wanted, but I loved sinking into the activity, even though it was hard work for me. I remember spending the better part of an entire Saturday drawing a skeleton. It felt like minutes. I believe this was the first time in my life I experienced flow, finding such joy and meaningful concentration in hard work.

Drawing and painting irises in the yard.

Drawing and painting irises in the yard.

I’m telling you: You are capable enough right now to sit down and make art alongside your kids (even if you think you can’t). If it only takes one person’s encouragement and that person hasn’t shown up in your life yet, I will be that person for you, if you’ll let me. Make some space, make some time, because we’re going to make this a habit. I’ll be here every Wednesday. You can join in at any point—just remember to start where you are.

This week’s task is simple. Think about joining me and spread the word, if you feel moved to do so. Check out my (new) materials page, where I’ve shared some of my favorite art supplies to have on hand. These are not necessary to begin, so please don’t feel overwhelmed. I’ll be back next week with a simple activity to get us started (and I promise it uses at-hand, everyday materials). I hope to see you here again next week.

Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is, it will be well worth while, and it will do you a world of good.
Cennino Cennini

{PBL} Scattering

There have been some seemingly one-off random things going on this week, but you never know where things will lead. My 4yo has been interested in bones for a while now, although I’m not sure I even posted anything about that interest here. Recently she’s developed an interest in coyotes, too, but that’s not necessarily a separate interest. We visited the local NWR visitor’s center a week or two ago to look at the bones they have on display–they have many, out and available to touch, and among them are many skulls.

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Coyotes have skulls too, you know. And skeletons. She was delighted to make this connection between her projects. (Yes, she identifies them as such. As a never-schooled preschooler, she signed on to this style of learning with full joy, quickly realizing the gravity the word “project” bestows upon her interests.)

Here she is drawing and then painting a picture of a coyote, using some reference pictures.

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This is such authentic work she is doing. She is working hard there, choosing to try to draw a coyote, noticing its colors and how many ears and legs it has, and where they are. She asked me where its nose was, and I showed her the snout and we talked about how the shape of the snout is one of the ways a coyote is distinguished from other dogs, and she worked at getting it right, at the same time understanding that she could make as many paintings as she wanted to try and get the coyote to look the way she wanted to.

This all makes me happy, not because my child is doing this but because I have created the space in which my child knows she can do this. She is not being kept distracted with “age-appropriate” busywork but instead allowed to choose her own work.

Also this week, all three of the kids made light straws.

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Someone on Twitter–I can’t remember who, unfortunately–posted a link to an article about diy.org. I checked out the site and sent the link to my 11yo because I thought he might find it interesting. He decided he wanted to make Light Straws, so he bookmarked the video instructions and wrote a supply list. All of us went to Radio Shack and tried to figure out which LEDs were super bright if none of them said super bright, and realized he’d spelled “ohm” incorrectly, but we managed to find everything we needed. I helped the 4yo but he and his brother made their own while we watched the video. Don’t they look super cool? And once they were made, they tinkered with the design, deciding they’d like the switch to work differently.

Later that day, my 4yo looked up at one of our light bulbs and excitedly announced that inside, it had wires that looked like the ones that connected to the LED in her light straw. My 8yo, who is building a pretend machine out of various block-type toys, is explaining how the “wires” should connect. All these scattering activities and interests…they connect in such interesting ways.

Animal Classification: Amphibians

{Previous posts in this series: Animal Classification Booklet; Animal Classification: Mammals + Fish; Animal Classification: Birds.}

amphibian page, filled in

amphibian page, filled in

I find the common practice of discussing reptiles and amphibians together both annoying and mystifying. They are wholly separate groups of vertebrates. There is perhaps a superficial resemblance, in that some salamanders (amphibians) remind people of lizards (reptiles). That’s my best guess. They are nothing alike. Lumping them together only leads people to confuse the two groups. So of course I am addressing them separately for my co-op class.

Resources:
Amphibian/Reptile poster from Vertebrate Teaching Poster set, folded over so only amphibian portion is visible
Assorted books on amphibians
Life cycle of a frog sheets

Activity:
From Polliwog to Frog: Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Frog sounds, using an Identiflyer; you could probably also search for an app that would supply amphibian sounds

Handouts:
Word searches, found through Google

We began by talking about what we knew of amphibians, making sure to discuss the most important characteristic, their metamorphosis from aquatic creatures with gills as juveniles to adults that breathe with lungs and live on land. The session’s activity was craft-oriented, with coloring, cutting, and assembling; this is part of my desire to offer various types of activities. As with other classes, we discussed the information on the poster and wrote the group characteristics in the animal classification book.

In our final session (coming up), we’ll discuss reptiles and compare the characteristics of all five groups as a whole.

Animal Classification: Birds

Bird page from booklet with characteristics filled in.

Bird page from booklet with characteristics filled in.

(This is the third in a series of sorts…the PDF of the animal classification booklet can be found here. Teaching plan for Mammals and Fish can be found here.)

Resources:
Bird poster from Vertebrate Teaching Poster set
Assorted books on birds–the kids really enjoyed DK Eyewitness Books: Bird

Activity:
Birds, Beaks, and Adaptation: PDF activity found at the teacher resources page of the National Park Service’s Mississippi (Minnesota) National River and Recreation Area.

Handout:
Bird word search–Googling will bring up many choices. One of my students asked for a word search to bring home each week so I am trying to accommodate!

For our third session, I began by asking the kids what they knew about birds. I realized after the fish class that I need to do lots less talking with this group. They are so eager to share what they know, and they know plenty. We went around the group and everyone shared something about birds–they lay eggs, they have feathers, they fly, they have beaks, etc–and we compared those things to mammals and fish. This was a great way to review the previous two groups we’ve covered, especially since it had been two weeks (instead of one) since we last met. I only put up the poster after we’d discussed what we knew of bird characteristics, and we checked if we’d missed anything, and we had! We’d all forgotten about warm-blooded or cold-blooded, so we reviewed that too and then talked about the groups of birds shown on the poster.

While the kids wrote in their booklets, I set up for the beak adaptation activity. Early finishers looked through the selection of bird books I’d brought. Some of the youngest kids aren’t reading yet, but I noticed older kids explaining and reading the information–I love these opportunities that naturally arise in a mixed-age group.

We had eight kids in class, so I separated them into four pairs for the beak adaptation activity. Each group was given one tool and a recording sheet, and they went around the room trying their “beak” at the different “habitats.” More than one tool will work for some items, so I told them this and asked them to find the beak that worked best. When they’d finished, they traded tools with other groups so they could try more out.

It’s impossible in an hour to cover everything about a group of animals! But focusing on one area (beaks) through a hands-on activity worked really well.

This is Why

Heads, by N, age 8.

Heads, by N, age 8.

We began today with me reading Act III of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar out loud while I drank my morning coffee. We’ve been doing an act a day. Why Julius Caesar? Because we’re up to Ancient Rome in our history reading, we read about Caesar being assassinated, and I thought, Oh, we should read Julius Caesar. So I am. I have to explain some parts, of course, and make sure I’m clear on who’s talking, but the kids are getting it, and I really love reading it out loud. My oldest was home sick on Friday when we read Act II and he was pretty disappointed to realize he’d miss Act III today. And of course, I had to remind myself of the five-act dramatic arc so we could talk about it.

Later we took my daughter to her preschool gymnastics class, and after my son finished his math chapter, we spent the rest of our waiting time playing Uno. Back at home, I made lunch while my son worked on another page in his monster book, and after lunch we went downstairs so my daughter could work with model magic to make some bones (she’s been studying skeletons). I suggested my son might want to make some monsters out of model magic–why not?!

So we sat down there together, my daughter making bones, my son making monsters, and me making some sketches for an embroidery project. When I’d gotten as far as I could right then, I switched to doing some planning for a class I’m offering in the next co-op session. We were down there for about two hours–time just flew right by. My son began with a group of monster heads (you can see those above), then made a monster with such personality that we are talking about working together to make a stuffed version. I think we need a trip to the big fabric store so he can find just the material he has in mind.

At dinner, he filled his older brother in on what he’d missed in Act III, explaining with glee how Antony turned the crowd against the conspirators and how that crowd just agreed with whoever was speaking at the time, and Antony got to speak after Brutus (foolish Brutus!), and he kept on calling the conspirators “honorable men” but he didn’t really mean it.

What struck me most about this day (which is not at all how all our days go, by the way) was how consistently my younger son–the one I’m homeschooling–was the child I remembered from several years ago. The interesting, interested kid who looks at things from unlikely angles. Smiling. Relaxed. Agreeable. Out of respect for my kids, I don’t go into details when it comes to the challenging bits, but it’s been hard, this child’s unhappiness. It sucked all the air out of the family at times, leaving me gasping with anxiety. Is everything perfect now? Nope. Still have challenging bits. But mixed in with the challenging are more and more glimpses of this child. An afternoon like this reminds me how much I’ve missed him.

This is why I homeschool.

Animal Classification: Mammals + Fish

As promised, to go along with the Animal Classification Booklet download, here are my plans and resources for the first two groups we talked about in co-op, mammals and fish. Again, this class is for ages 5-8.

mammals copy

Mammals page from the booklet, with characteristics filled in

In our first class, we covered mammals but began with the idea of classification itself, discussing the two big groups of animals (vertebrates and invertebrates) and how scientists make that first divide (by whether they have a backbone). We found our own backbones.

Resources:
Vertebrate Teaching Poster Set; I’m using the appropriate poster for each class, starting off our discussion of the group by talking about the information and animals on the poster.
What is a Vertebrate? by Bobbie Kalman, to have on hand for pictures and to refer to.

Activities:
Dichotomous key: We did this together, keying out most of the included animals, to show how scientists use differing characteristics to place animals in smaller and smaller groups until the species has been identified.
Mammal matching: Each student had a copy, but we did it together as a group. This demonstrates how mammals are divided into smaller groups.

We also filled in the pages of their books as a group, with each student writing in their own booklet.

Take-Home:
Mammal word search

Fish page from booklet with characteristics filled in

Fish page from booklet with characteristics filled in

We began our second session by reviewing the characteristics of mammals before moving onto fish. In this way we could compare the groups (which are very different!). Again, we discussed the poster and wrote in the booklets.

Resources:
What is a Fish? by Bobbie Kalman
Various field guides/books of fish

Activity:
Fashion a Fish from Aquatic Project Wild: I received my copy many, many years ago by going through the Project Wild and Aquatic Project Wild training; this remains the only way to obtain this curriculum. Google tells me some folks have scanned in this activity and posted it online, but you’ll have to search yourself, because I’d feel uncomfortable linking. However, that link above includes a link to the state coordinator page for this program. Training is, as far as I know, still free, and you get an entire book of resources for free, too.

Birds, reptiles, and amphibians will be upcoming as we cover them!