Making soap with kids

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This week, we had some fun with making soap. I used to be very wary of using lye near small children, but decided to give it a shot with very, very careful supervision. The older girls had a blast and learned loads.

Making soap is a great way to work in some math and science. We talked about the chemical reaction that heats up the water when it’s mixed with lye, and also about the process of saponification.

I used a mix of coconut and palm oil, so the soap bars were ready to unmold pretty soon and popped right out of the cute little silicone molds the kids chose.

Those who don’t feel like using lye at all: you might want to try making soap jellies. It’s quick, easy, and super fun.

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Recipe:

1/2 cup clear liquid soap

3/4 cup boiling water

1 packet of gelatin (about 1 tbsp)

A few drops of food coloring (optional)

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water, add soap and food coloring, and pour into molds. Allow about an hour to set. You will get squiggly jiggly bits of soap jelly that are very fun to use in bath. This activity will leave even the most stubborn bath refusers squeaky clean!

School at home is pointless

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Starting from today, the Israeli ministry of education has come up with a model of long-distance lessons that will start in the morning and last into the afternoon, with obligatory participation for each student from kindergarten and up. There is also supposed to be homework, after-school activities, and parent meetings via Zoom.

Predictably, many parents revolted against such a rigid plan, pointing out that 1. In most families except the more privileged ones, the ratio of children per computer/tablet isn’t 1:1 but more like 1:3; 2. The parents themselves often need the computer for work; 3. The heavy one-on-one tutoring the program assumes will take place is impossible with several children of different ages involved; and 4. Perhaps the most obvious one – it’s not realistic or even desirable to get children to sit in front of screens for 5-6 hours a day and actually retain anything they learn.

To me, the major flaw in this plan is pretty obvious: the ministry of education is essentially attempting to recreate school at home, with a set schedule, plenty of busywork, and a strict division between classes. There’s no doubt at all this is going to fail, and fast.

For someone who had homeschooled for a long time (our older girls are currently enrolled in a small private school that does not, thank goodness, insist on turning our living room into a fully equipped classroom), it was easy enough to fall back on our old homeschooling/unschooling tactics. I can tell you that we never have, and probably never will, start or end lessons at the same time of the day. I am sure countless parents all over the country are now making the same discovery as well.

Furthermore, as my two eldest are close in age, the only subject I have ever taught separately was math, and that with considerable overlaps. Everything else – reading comprehension, writing, science, English, etc, was taught together, but with slightly different expectations. In millions of homes, siblings with 1-2 years of difference are required to stay separate for lessons they could both learn with equal profit.

Third, and this is the key point here, our ministry of education and all the experts that advise it are focused on filling the children’s time – free time is seen as the enemy. It is not – it is an opportunity.

I can assure you that throughout elementary school at least, all the essentials can be safely covered in two hours daily, possibly split between morning and afternoon, and the rest of the time can be divided between free creative play and studying subjects that the children themselves are interested in (self-induced learning that requires very little effort on the parent’s part).

Take screens away (with the exception of some educational YouTube channels) and give children books, craft materials, dress-up play, and a patch of dirt to dig in, and you can accomplish great things.

Yes, I hear you. “Easy for you to say. You live in a house with a large yard and chickens. But most of Israel is urbanized. People are languishing, quarantined in tiny apartments.”

I get it. I do. But sticking children for 5-6 hours a day in front of Zoom still won’t work.

What the ministry of education should try, in my opinion, is a lot more hands-off approach. Give children flexible assignments they can complete at their leisure, and condense what can be condensed into programs siblings of various ages can do together. Then provide suggestions for elective classes/activities for children to do if they so choose – and put more trust in their creativity, flexibility and resilience.

This is an opportunity for all to try a whole new approach, one that may well serve us even after the pandemic is over. It would be a pity to miss it.

Lots of sunshine

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November days are short, but sunny and breezy – perfect for picking, sorting, washing and drying dates that grow on some palm trees that apparently have been planted for purely decorative purposes. Well, we’re definitely not wasting these. Separate post about it coming soon.

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Look what a great find – a practically ready made deck path which is going to come in handy soon when we have lots of rain and mud. My husband found it discarded in the industrial zone, and we are going to sand and stain it.

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This handsome fellow belongs to our neighbors. It’s a Black Orpington and they have recently acquired a hen too. I will see about getting some hatching eggs in the spring (right now it’s not a very good chick season).

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Six days of creation art!

An oasis of mindfulness

Not long ago, a mom of little ones complained to me that her children never agree to settle down for a meal without her showing them some movie or video on the ipad or TV. They would watch, hardly aware of what they were eating, while she spooned food into their mouths.

Appalled by such a portrayal of family dinner, I asked whether she sits down to eat with them. It turned out the idea has not even occurred to her. She, too, would eat at odd moments here and there, fiddling with her phone.

I suggested that the first step should be setting aside all electronic devices and prohibiting all unrelated activities during dinner, to which the whole family should sit together. I told her I don’t allow reading under the table, drawing, or playing during a meal.

“It would never work for me,” she said with a little smile. I could tell she thought I was clueless.

Please note I’m not telling this to be condescending or to give myself a pat on the backj. This mom is wonderful and devoted and loves her children very much. The fact, however, is that we are now on the second generation of children who have been constantly bombarded by screens all their lives. I grew up with the TV constantly blaring in the background, and I hated it. Now, with the explosion of Internet access, touchscreens, and an incessant flow of information, is it any wonder we are getting lost in all that?

Don’t get me wrong, I love my laptop and phone. I love the fact that I can work from any device on Google Drive. I love being able to get on YouTube and find a quick tutorial for just about anything… But too much of a good thing, you know?..

No matter how educational a video is, I still maintain that it’s better for a toddler to play in a mud puddle. I firmly adhere to the belief that once you turn screens off, wonderful things begin to happen. Children pick up paper, paint, crayons; books, board games, puzzles; they climb trees, build forts, ride bikes; they learn to work with fiber, textile, wood; they dig in the garden, pick tomatoes off the vine, observe insects. You need proper space for that kind of good old-fashioned messy fun, and you won’t get that space until the siren song of screens of all kinds is turned off. Unfortunately, some children never get that space, not even when they go places.

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This afternoon: cool grass, bare feet, ball of yarn.

Don’t be afraid to be a little old-fashioned. Don’t be taken aback if your children seem to be constantly bored. Some boredom is a good and healthy medium conductive to peace of mind. So come… Let’s get bored together. Then we’ll think of things to make, grow, write, paint. And then life will get pretty exciting!

Wholesome entertainment for toddlers and tots

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The long, hot days of summer leave us with many hours – virtually most of the day – when being outside is uncomfortable and even dangerous. During those hours, children will get bored, and the lure of computers, TV, and any screen imaginable calls out to them like a siren song.

I admit it calls out to me as well. It’s so, so easy to sit kids in front of a movie or a computer game and have some blissful peace and quiet. And so much of the content out there is educational and cute and does have its place.

Yet overindulgence in passive entertainment comes with a heavy price – restless, cranky, dissatisfied kids who are always bored; have lost their taste for the outdoors, books, and simple games; can never get enough screen time and are always whining and negotiating for more, becoming insufferable, insolent and aggressive if their parents won’t allow it.

So how would you entertain children on a hot (or rainy) day when being out of doors isn’t an option? Board games and Legos are fantastic, but all kids inevitably get bored with their toys and games, no matter how many they have. This doesn’t mean you have to buy more stuff! Here are some tips on getting through a long day of being cooped up indoors:

1. Try to go out anyway. If your kids are bouncing off walls, check the option of a short trip to the library or a play center, or get together with a friend. I don’t recommend malls, because the lure of buy, buy, buy is just too strong.

2. Crafts. I stock up on craft supplies whenever I can! Paper, paint, scissors, glue, modeling clay, glitter, beads, fabric and yarn, as well as natural materials you might want to collect beforehand, can provide the whole family with several happy hours. I’m teaching the girls to crochet, and all the kids love to draw and paint.

3. Science. If you have the option of keeping an aquarium, it can be great for kids who love to observe (and maybe even take notes!). You can set up a worm farm, sprout seeds, or transform your kitchen into a lab with some fun and simple experiments.

4. Reading. It’s kind of an obvious choice… For those who read! That’s why it’s only number 4 on my list, though I could read all day. Younger children will enjoy being read to, but you will need to commit your full attention and have reasonable expectations as to attention span.

5. Cooking. Though sometimes it’s too hot for cooking or baking, there are always many fun things to do in the kitchen. Salads, vegetable or fruit platters with dips, no-bake cookies and bars, smoothies, lemonade, iced tea and popsicles can all make a kitchen-centered activity.

6. Water play. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a full-blown swimming pool, either. A cool or tepid bath or a wading pool are refreshing and fun for younger children. A baby bath with toys placed on the front porch, balcony, or even in the bathtub can entertain toddlers for hours. ALWAYS supervise water play of any kind!

7. Dress-up. In our house, we have a dress-up container that only comes out when all else has failed. The children love it, which is why I insist on keeping it a special treat, and they are responsible for putting all the things back in when they’re done.

Ultimately, each family has their own strategies on dealing with a time of being housebound. I’d love to know what works for you.

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!