Perfect quick playdough

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I will readily admit that, though slime seems to be all the rage now, I find plain old playdough much more appealing. Its texture is more gratifying, in my opinion, and you can do much more with it than just stretch and squish.

This playdough recipe popped up on my Pinterest feed and I knew I just had to try it as it was so simple and quick.

I was not disappointed – the playdough came out delightfully squishy, soft and pliable. Even the older kids (and their mom!) had a blast rolling, shaping and punching it.

The recipe is really the simplest you’ll ever find:

1 part hair conditioner (you had better use the cheapest kind)

2 parts corn or potato starch

Optional: a few drops of food coloring.

In a bowl, mix the starch and hair conditioner until you get a nice soft lump of playdough. Israel loved the squishing and mixing with his hands.

Add a little more cornstarch or conditioner as needed. Knead in the food coloring. That’s it! 

There’s always a mess factor when doing a playdough activity, but in this case it’s really minor. Any stray bits of playdough will dry out and can be easily swept or vacuumed. It doesn’t stick and it smells great!

I hope you enjoy this simple and creative activity with the children in your life.

Cloud in a jar science experiment

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I’m always on the lookout for interesting, educational stuff I can do with my kids, preferably something that doesn’t involve a lot of mess. This cloud in a jar experiment is easy peasy and pretty cool!

You will need:

A jar

A balloon

Very hot water

A match

A flashlight

Cut off the narrow part of the balloon and make sure it can fit over the mouth of the jar.

Pour about 1/2 an inch of hot water into the jar. Light the match and, tilting the jar, capture some of the smoke. Discard the match and quickly cover the jar by stretching the balloon over the top.

Put pressure on the balloon with your fingers (make sure to secure it in place so it doesn’t slip off). Release. Do it several times to watch the cloud form and condense!

For a more impressive display, dim the lights and shine through the jar with a flashlight to see the swirling mist inside.

Explanation: putting pressure on the balloon increases pressure inside the jar, which in turn increases heat. Releasing the pressure makes the vapor from the hot water cool down and condense on the smoke particles – that’s how real clouds form, by condensing over particles floating in the air.

When you are done playing, take the balloon off and watch your cloud gently float upward out of the jar.

Activities for kids: structure vs. freeform

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In today’s post, I would like to elaborate a bit on Lisa’s question:

I was wondering how you structure indoor activities. I don’t know if I should expect my children to do quiet or individual activities for longer periods of time, they are 10, 8 and 5 (one girl and two boys). I find they want to be with me or doing things with me all day which I love but I would like them to find settled indoor activities they can do alone. I appreciate any thoughts you may have! 

Like you, I love to sit and do all sorts of interesting and creative stuff with my kids. I can easily lose myself in watercolors, a game of monopoly, a puzzle, or a good book. But how much is enough, and how do I strike the balance between a helicopter mama and the lazy parent who can’t be bothered by anything?

I homeschool and work from home, so the boundaries of work, school and play tend to become kind of blurred. It’s easy to assume that if you’re at home, you must be at leisure, but if I let people (including my own kids) get away with it, I would never be able to get anything done. Therefore, I try to foster independence and individual activities from an early age.

My older girls love to read, draw and paint, which they can do for hours on end. Sticker collections, slime, and modeling clay are popular with the 4-year-old too. Often the older girls will read to or entertain their little brother. Israel also loves construction toys such as Lego or blocks. The kids also do spontaneous dress-up plays together, which is adorable.

I don’t really structure indoor activities beyond making all the equipment – books, art supplies, board games, etc – readily available and keeping them in good order. I just sit back and let things happen. I have taught my children that, although I might be home all day, I’m not always available to play (well, the baby does still have some learning to do on this!). I do not, however, disappear on them – whatever I’m doing, whether it’s in the kitchen or on my laptop, my kids can see me and talk to me if necessary. Hope this helps!

Children and chores

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“One day another mom told me that the only reason I have time to teach my children how to do chores is because we homeschool. She explained why her children were not required to help around the house. ‘With soccer, the tutor and dance after school each day, I couldn’t possibly ask them to do chores.’ 
 

I explained that I am completely certain that with our genes, our children will likely not be professional soccer players or dancers. They will need to wear clothes and eat, though, so it seems appropriate to train them to do laundry and cook.”
 

– Rose Godfrey, The Pig in the Pantry.

I fully believe in pursuing one’s dreams and developing one’s talents, but not at the cost of shedding all responsibility for the basics without which a family can’t function. An individual, no matter how talented, will not likely grow into a pleasant, hardworking adult if he is never asked to lift a finger around the house or be a productive part of family life. Entitlement isn’t a good attitude.

Now, chores and the running of a home are the primary responsibility of the parents, and no more than is appropriate should be heaped on the shoulders of a child. A child can do much, but the childhood years, and even the adult years lived at home, are supposed to be a time of training, not endless drudgery.

Having said that, the inclusion of children in basic chores – and in the whole process of life – is not only important in the way of teaching how to run a household, but can be a tremendous learning opportunity in many other ways. Every day, I see more and more how kindergartens and early grades of elementary school must artificially create that learning environment which is so naturally and readily present at home. Reading, counting, measuring, matching, dividing, shaping and so much more are all a part, if one doesn’t rush and presents things in the right way, of laundry, cooking, dishes, and other such basic chores (“good, now give me three eggs. No, that is two. I want another one”). Of course it’s easier to just grab those eggs myself, but there’s an opportunity to learn!

It is important that a child has time and space to develop his inclinations. I believe it is one of the most important things, and the most easily accomplished ones too, in learning at home vs. regular schooling. But it shouldn’t be an all-exhausting effort. I don’t think any of us is “too important” to participate in the daily mill of  life. For children, it is especially important. Children need a lot of seemingly empty time, time to just be; a very rigorous schedule of school and extracurricular activities leaves no chance for that. So what is the result? Talents may be pursued, and later paraded and made much of, but at what price?

Irritable, tired, restless, cranky children; children with enormous learning difficulties; listless, idle, or on the other hand, unnaturally ambitious, test-results-obsessed children; much of this, I feel, finds its roots in the abolition of calm, orderly, nourishing (physically and mentally) home life. Working alongside each other – not in an artificially created environment, but really doing those simple chores that can be shared by a 3-year-old and a 33-year-old, such as watering the plants or sweeping the porch – can be a time of bonding, shared conversation, and an opportunity for a child to feel like an important member of the family, contributing in real ways. It makes them so proud, and really isn’t that difficult to achieve. And of course, lending a hand means that time is freed up to do something fun, like reading a story or taking a walk together.

So what do we need? Primarily time. A life that is always lived in a hurry is no fit environment for little children; for any of us, as a matter of fact. We just weren’t created to live at a crazy pace. It stresses us out and makes us sick. To be healthy and happy, we must slow down and make time for all that counts – nurturing real relationships, building real homes, cooking real food, living real life that is happening all around us.

It was not the Real World

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I was one of those kids who love to learn (I still do), but hate school. I loved my friends, I loved some of my teachers, but I hated school as an institution. I was a bookworm so I’ve always read my schoolbooks from cover to cover before the school year even began, and I was generally meek and eager to please, so my grades were good. But whenever there was a teachers’ strike, I would have this awesome feeling in my chest, like the swelling of a golden balloon. A couple of times I found an opening in the fence and ran off, just wandered in the streets and parks until it was time to go home, and all the while I was terrified of having the police on my tail. :o)

Of course, it didn’t help that I was the scapegoat/punching bag of school bullies, and/or those who wanted to be on good terms with them. I was ridiculed, I was ostracized, I was picked on, I was reduced to tears, I had monstrous cockroaches shoved under my nose… I still shudder when I remember that. And when I do, I wonder – are those the kind of experiences that are supposed to prepare kids for the “real world”? Because somehow, at least in my case, that Real World was left behind in Junior High, (thankfully) never to be encountered again.

I believe there is just something about a large number of children being cooped up together for many hours in a day that brings out the worst in them. You can take 30 children, 27 of which are basically good, and 3 of whom have bullying tendencies which would never be brought out without a sidekick. But together with his two friends, the bully forms a gang; then they find several more kids who are desperate for approval and the feeling of importance, to be their cronies. That’s 1\3 of the class already. Another 10 tag along, and the rest is divided between scapegoats and children who are either immune to peer pressure, or just by a stroke of luck find themselves left out. Together, the gang of bullies may commit acts of cruelty none of the individual children would do on their own.

Teachers may try to stop it, or at least keep it at bay, at least when direct bullying is involved. No one, however, can stop children from quietly making fun of someone’s glasses or clothes or the way someone speaks, and no one can make a singled-out child feel any more accepted. Overall this is something children grow out of (but many carry the pain that was inflicted well into adulthood). Although I’ve had my disagreements with people in university, at work, etc, somehow I never found dead cockroaches in my desk again. In “real life”, you won’t often find yourself spending all day long with 30 other people who were all born in the same year as you, either. You meet people of all ages, which gives a multi-dimensional perspective and discourages unhealthy competition.

Then there is the element of simply being cooped up for too many hours, every day. But then, if you have 30 children in a classroom it only makes sense you’ll need 30 minutes of enforced discipline to have 15 minutes to explain something, answer questions, and give homework. No wonder so many children, especially boys, are on Ritalin.

You may say I am biased because of my own school experience. Many children are popular and happy at school, have many friends, and thrive in a classroom setting. Sounds good, right? They pay a different price, however, for fitting so well into the system.

But that would be a story for another day.

The Great Replacement

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“No matter how hard you try,” a well-meaning person told me some time ago, with the air of delivering an eye-opening statement, “you will never be able to replace a kindergarten teacher for your children.”

I was rather short-tempered, but I wanted to be kind. I also knew that a long explanation would be futile, and would lead to yet another argument. What I said was simply, “it is the kindergarten teacher who will never be able to replace a mother.”

But going back to the original statement… two things are implied here:

1. Small children need preschool/kindergarten, and the preschool/kindergarten program is without doubt the absolute ministry-of-education-regulated best.

2. If you teach/keep your children at home, you must be trying to imitate the preschool/kindergarten/school setting, with yourself acting as the teacher.

Even people who are prepared – very cautiously – to admit that maybe learning at home isn’t a very crazy idea, are most reassured by the sight of children with workbooks, working with timetables and being graded for their work. Because of course, without daily drills and grading, there is no learning… right?

Once, a mother confided in me that she is going to put her 18-months-old child (her only child, so far) in daycare, even though she doesn’t work outside the home, because several family members insist that the boy needs more “stimulation” and “socialization”; since she looked so obviously dejected when she spoke of it, and since I was certain she knows my opinion already, I allowed myself to gently say that as far as I can see, a 6-hour-long daily period in a daycare center would be overstimulating, tiring, and overall pointless for her son.When we are talking of a baby who can’t even speak properly yet, all the needed “socialization” is covered by a daily walk to the playground where he can see and interact with other people.

Since women entered the work force en masse, the question of what to do with the young children became highly relevant in almost every family. A home can be left alone, but not a child – and so day care centers, preschools and kindergartens became a widespread solution. This is now so normal that a mother who is raising her children at home is allegedly “replacing” a preschool teacher. Let us not forget it is the other way around.

The period of having small children at home is very intense, physically and emotionally demanding; it is also finite. It may a few years if you have just one child, or a couple of decades if you have many, but either way it will come to an end some day. Some day, I will not have anyone barging into my room shouting, “Peepee!” – nor will I need to interrupt an adult conversation in order to say, “please get your finger out of your nose”. Life will be calmer, perhaps, and more rational – and a little duller as well.

So let us, mothers, savor this time with our children, and know that we are exactly where we are needed at the moment, and that no one – no one – can replace us.

The photo above is from our old home, taken when our two eldest were little. We lived in an isolated little corner with a beautiful view and raised goats, chickens and a dog. The demands of such a lifestyle were many, but there was much joy in the journey, and the memories are sweet.

The Great Curriculum

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If there is one recommendation I feel qualified to give regarding teaching young children (especially – but also older children, and adults, too), it would be spending as much time as possible, weather permitting, out of doors.

No matter where you live, there is always something to do, learn and observe outside – tending to your own garden and animals, foraging, taking notes on the various plants, insects, birds and animals in your area, etc.

The outdoors are particularly suited to little ones, in not having the limitations we almost unconsciously enforce at home. There young children can shout and laugh loudly, run without fear of bumping into furniture, jump, climb, and in general let out their energy without bothering anyone.

Too many children suffer from severe shortage of unscheduled and free outdoor time – and by ‘outdoor’, I mean not so much neat and orderly playgrounds without a stray blade of grass to be seen anywhere, but wild-ish old parks with ancient trees, open fields, orchards and groves, the sea shore or the river side – whatever humble bit of nature you have in your area.

What about learning? It comes organically when children come back to you from a romp with a collection of leaves and questions; when they squat to observe an anthill for a whole hour together; when they measure the depth of a puddle with a stick, or take notice of the change of weather and seasons.

Here are some more ideas for nature-based activities:

– Drawings or playdough sculptures of interesting objects;

– Collections of leaves, stones, pinecones, seashells, etc, and crafts based on those;

– For slightly older children: nature diaries and photographs that can be made into beautiful collages;

And the best part of it is, you’ll likely have as much fun as your kids!

In the photo: Israel, 3 yrs, is trying to coax a tortoise to peek out of its shell.