Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Super-Easy DIY Felt Food

Last week, I attended a training all about cooking in the classroom.  You can see our most recent cooking adventure here.

After we were finished in the big kitchen, the children moved immediately to the play kitchen to continue their work creating wonderful goodies to eat.

I've been meaning to add some simple felt food to our kitchen, which was inspired by an exhibit at our local children's museum.  At the museum, they have a pizza parlor area complete with brick ovens, pizza peels, aprons and fabric crusts ready to be filled with toppings made of a wide variety of textured materials.  It's actually called 'Texture Cafe' and it's always jam-packed with little chefs.

Eventually, I'll add some different textures to our kitchen as well, for now, I had a bunch of felt laying around and decided to just start cutting.  At the training, we were given a bag full of kitchen tools, one of which was a pizza pan, so I figured I'd start there.

If you do this at home, you'll want to be sure to use high-quality sewing/fabric scissors so the felt will cut well.  Thinner felt may cut with regular scissors, but thick or 100% wool felt will not.

I used red felt for sauce and then darker red for pepperoni, small yellow pieces for cheese and green for some sort of veggie - green peppers, maybe?  My husband has challenged me to make a crust like the ones at the museum, so that might be in my future, but in the meantime, the kiddos have been using the wooden bread slices that came with our Melissa and Doug toaster.

Since I was feeling in the mood for Italian, I tackled some spaghetti and meatballs next.  Just some longer strips of yellow, some brown circles for meatballs and the remnants of red left from cutting the pizza sauce and voila!  An Italian favorite!

Of course, we can't forget fruits and veggies.  I just cut the shapes freehand to sort of resemble common fruits and veggies, but I also included a variety of ovals, circles and rectangles to allow the children to bring the foods to life.

Finally, I decided that the food needed some dimension, so I decided to make some felted woolen fruits/veggies.  I made a small ball of each color.  It's up to the kiddos to figure out what they are exactly.

Making felted fruit - or felted balls of any kind is ridiculously simple.  All you need is some wool roving, a pair of old stockings and a washing machine and dryer.

- Roll the wool roving into a tight ball and stuff into the toe of the stockings. 

- Tie a knot in the stockings so they are stretched tightly around the ball and it will not be able to move.

- Repeat with other colors being sure to tie a knot between each ball or they'll felt together.

- Wash on hot with a teeny bit of detergent and then dry thoroughly in the dryer.  I never have an exact formula for this, I take them out of the stocking and check them and if they look as though they'll hold together, I'm done, if not, I tie them all back up and wash/dry again.

I'm currently working on a half-dozen felted eggs - more on that to come!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Our Daily Rhythm: 21 Days to Make a Habit

I'm not sure the '21 days to make or break a habit' theory is actually scientifically proven anywhere, but I thought it was time for an update.

We started our journey here during Screen-Free Week.  We've established some new rules about eating and I gave a brief update at the end of our first week.

Time for some truth: rhythm is exhausting!!

I've spent a large majority of the past 21 days giving reminders, setting and enforcing boundaries, planning and preparing meals, enforcing rules at the meal table, etc.  There were a few instances over the past few weeks that it took every fiber of my being not to throw up my hands and say, "Fine, you don't want breakfast/lunch/dinner/bath/bed/clean-up time?  Do whatever you want!  I'm done!"  and then go take a nap.

I was able to set my frustrations aside for the most part and come up with clever, concise replies for whatever was thrown my way.  In most cases, this reply was a simple statement of a rule we've already established and have been following for three weeks.

Despite the fact that these few weeks have been unbelievably difficult, I'm not giving up on the new rhythm anytime soon because, as is life, where there are negatives, there are also positives.

With the regulation of meals, I've been paying closer attention to not only what everyone is eating, but how it is affecting them.  I've discovered, after some tummy/digestive trouble, grains don't seem to be that great of a choice for Monkey (of course, after I plan a menu entirely around grains).  I'm hoping it's just a temporary issue caused by his previous diet made up of not-so-great stuff and will repair itself with a grain-free diet.  He has been *almost* grain-free for a few days now and the past two days, he has eaten a huge breakfast, including scrambled eggs, bacon, fruit and a super-yummy vanilla chia seed pudding.

Breakfast has been a huge hit, but he's also increased the amount of food he's eating throughout the day.  He tries pretty much everything without being asked now.  He just says, "I'm going to try my (insert food here)."  Along with better food choices comes a better attitude, more energy and easier regulation of emotions.  In addition, both kiddos are sleeping better and are sleeping through the night in their own beds almost every night, though the baby goes back and forth depending on how the day went.

Rest time has been a bit tricky, but just this week, Monkey came out of his room after about 20 minutes (rest time is an hour long) and asked if he could come downstairs.  When I told him rest time wasn't over yet, he just said "ok" and went back to play in his room.  Even if he's not sleeping, that alone time helps him get centered and he's a joy to be around for the rest of the day.  And of course, rest time gives me time to breathe as well.

And speaking of me....I feel like I'm actually accomplishing things.  I still have a laundry list of things to get done, but menu planning has allowed me to prepare for each day the night before, which makes everything run more smoothly and I find I'm able to keep up on housework and laundry and everything else I manage to squeeze into a day.

As an added and unexpected bonus, my husband has mentioned that he feels like he gets things done on his days off as well.  Knowing when grocery/errands day is and what we're having for meals each day has freed everyone up to spend time together, working, playing, just being.

Shortly, my husband's work schedule will change and my schedule will also shift just a bit to allow even more down-time for everyone, which means more time together as a family.

I'm looking forward to the upcoming summer months full of rhythm and the joy that comes from just BEING.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Birds All Around Us!

I mentioned in a previous post that we had spent some time building a new, sturdy and comfy enclosure for our chickens, who I introduced in this post.  There have been a few changes since I first posted about the girls.

We originally had two Buff Orpingtons and a Rhode Island Red named Sophia, Dorothy and Blanche, respectively, but Sophia and Dorothy picked on Blanche so much that they removed most of her back feathers and left her bleeding and hiding to get away from them.  We decided to re-home Sophia and Dorothy and do some research about which breeds would be better for us.

After research was completed and Blanche had healed up nicely, we found a few new chickens to join our flock:

 Saffron - an Easter Egger and Pepper - a Barred Rock

 Coriander aka Cori - who I'm fairly sure is a Star Sexlink

all joined good old Blanche, our RI Red, who was being finicky and running about so I couldn't get a good picture.

We moved our coop to the side of our yard, added some tall chicken wire to enclose the area and then went a few steps further with shade cloth and a mister - that my husband picked up on a whim because he's a sweetie and wanted the girls to be cool and comfortable.

After a few anxious days of adjustment, the girls figured out the pecking order and began laying regularly, though it took a couple of them some time to figure out that they should lay the eggs in the nesting boxes and NOT on the ground.

We're getting 2-3 eggs per day, which is perfect as all of these breeds are expected to lay 4-5 times per week.


A few weeks ago, I noticed that there was a mourning dove nesting in the tree just next to our front door.  I was a bit surprised since I always have people coming and going and passing right under her nest, but there she was, happily warming her little egg.

I noticed the egg a few days after seeing the nest and was hoping to get a photo of it when Mama was away, but I waited a bit too long to ask my husband to go out there and get the shot.  When we finally got around to it, this is what he found.

A sweet little baby mourning dove!  We've been watching Mama and haven't gotten another glimpse of baby, but the kiddos know they're up there and we're hoping to meet the little one soon.

We see Mama frequently popping into the back yard to grab some of the chicken feed or the birdseed we keep in our sensory table, so we know she's taking good care of her baby.


So now we have chickens and many bird visitors in the backyard and we have a mourning dove family in the front yard, so when our Kiwi Crate arrived and we opened it to reveal a box full of bird-themed projects, we were beyond excited!!

I'm not a Kiwi Crate spokesperson or anything, I just think they're totally awesome, so I'm going to share this month's crafts with you and if you'd like to get in on the fun, you can click on my link and save $10 and then I'll save $10 and everyone will be saving and also making cool crafts!

Our first craft was making a nest with eggs.  In our crate was everything we needed to make the craft, glue, yarn, cardboard eggs, paint, paintbrush, etc.  My favorite thing about Kiwi Crate - any supplies you don't use for the included projects, you get to keep and use again and again.  In a past crate, we got one of those soft ice cube trays shaped like penguins - can't you just see all the projects you could make with penguin-shaped ice???  I can!!

Ok, back to the eggs and nest.

Put yarn into included paper bowl.
 Empty entire bottle of glue into bowl and stir with included wooden spoon until yarn is all coated.
 Spread glue-covered yarn onto included plastic bowl and spread out into nest shape, leave to dry.
Yes, that's an actual kid-sized plastic bowl that I will now have forever to use for snacks, craft supplies, whatever.  Oh, Kiwi Crate, I love you!
 Moving on, these eggs were great, they came in two parts that fit together, but can be opened and closed as needed - I see an extension craft in our future - baby birds, anyone?
Decorate with included white crayon (if desired).
 And paint with included paint and brush.  Let dry.
 My only complaint here is that the nest is too small to fit both eggs, but the eggs are really the perfect size for little hands, so I'm not complaining much.  And, it's adorable!
 Here's a better shot of the nest portion, which peels right off the plastic bowl when dry.  I've done yarn nests in the past, but this one came out better than any I've ever done.....most likely because it is all one long strand of yarn and a TON of glue - two things I've never done in my previous attempts.

Our next activity was a bird costume.  Monkey decorated a mask with feathers and then got to chose which beak he wanted to wear.  Each beak represents a different bird - I love the variety and creativity!
 He wanted to be a kiwi for a while, then he was a woodpecker and then he decided he didn't want a beak at all.
He also got wings as part of the costume, which I didn't get a picture of, but my little guy thinks they are wonderful!

The Kiwi Crate also comes with loads of information about the monthly theme and this was the first month Monkey was genuinely interested in it.  He wanted to hear everything about the different birds, he asked questions, he wondered, he pretended, he played and he LEARNED.

Children will naturally gravitate towards things that are relevant to their own lives and I couldn't have asked for a better set of circumstances over the past few weeks.

I wonder what next month's adventures will be!!

Baby Sensory Play: Bugs in "Grass"

Time for another edition of our Baby Sensory Play adventures!  Last time, my little guy got to explore some wax paper and shapes and this time, we're getting messy with a fun bug-themed sensory tub.

Here is my usual preschool bug-themed sensory tub:

Not so good for Mr. Everything-is-food, so shredded paper was out and green spaghetti noodles were in!

I just boiled the noodles as I normally would, but added green food coloring to the cooking water.  When they were done - I strained, rinsed and cooled.  I did add a teeny speck of olive oil, just to keep them pliable and prevent clumping.

Little Bear dug right in!

He was definitely more interested in the bugs at first and worked hard to get each one out so he could give it a taste.  Working on that pincer grasp!

The texture of the noodles didn't seem to bother him at all and he was happy to get in there and find those bugs.

Monkey, my 3 1/2 yr old, was in sensory heaven!  He picked up handfuls just to squeeze them and hear the SQQQUUUUIIIIISSSSHHHH!

He also loved the noise the noodles made as he dropped them back into the tub.

And Bear was still tasting.

After a while watching big brother, he started really getting in there and actually playing with the noodles, sliding them all around.

And also tasting.

Eventually, Bear lost interest, but Monkey couldn't get enough, he wanted his feet in there and added a spatula, measuring spoon and colander from our play kitchen as well.  He spent nearly an hour playing in our 'grass' and I'll definitely be sure to cook up some colorful noodles for my students very soon!

Preschool Cooking: Zucchini Bread

I attended another wonderful training session this week all about cooking with children.  I've been cooking in my classrooms for the entirety of my career as an early childhood teacher, but of course, after meeting with my amazing group of fellow providers and hearing from a master teacher who cooks with her preschoolers weekly, I was feeling inspired.

One of my stellar preschool parents passed along quite a few zucchini from her garden and I looked high and low for a new zucchini bread recipe to replace the one I've been using for years, which always comes out a tad dry in my current oven (which runs hot and cooks unevenly) and doesn't seem to hold up well after a few days in the dry Arizona heat.

I finally settled on this recipe that I found at Allrecipes.com.


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 eggs          
1 cup vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups white sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts


1. Grease and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
2. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.
3. Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well. Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.
4. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and completely cool.

Just a few notes about this recipe:

- I would never advocate this much sugar in ANYTHING and I normally would replace the white sugar with honey or maple syrup, but since I'm screen-free during my school day, I had no way of checking the honey to sugar replacement ratio.  It's about 3/4c. honey for every 1c. sugar, and you also have to reduce the liquid ingredients in the recipe by a few tablespoons, in case you were wondering.  Anyway, I cut the sugar down to about 1 1/2c. and it was still more like zucchini cake than bread - so less would have been fine.

- Vegetable oil never goes in anything I bake, I replace with applesauce, banana, melted coconut oil, or a combination of those things, BUT, since it was grocery day, I had none of the above and had to use vegetable oil.

- I never put nuts in breads like this - I usually have at least one nut-free kiddo, so why risk it?

- I used white whole wheat flour from Trader Joe's in place of AP

Ok, now that we've gotten logistics out of the way, let's move on to the kids having a ball doing all the parts of this recipe themselves!!

We gathered our ingredients and started grating zucchini!  I don't have a very child-friendly grater, but I plan to purchase something like this that might work better.

I am fortunate to have two learning towers at my kitchen island, so I can have the kids up with me safely and I can easily reach everything to help.  I've tried cooking in the classroom, but being in the kitchen keeps it relevant for the kids and lends itself to fast cleanup.

Leveling the baking soda.  I've never had the kiddos do this part, so it was a new experience for everyone.  Next time, I'll give him a butter knife so we don't have too many fingers exploring the ingredients.

More leveling - look at that concentration!

Pouring the oil.  We talked about the measuring cup and what all the lines mean and we read the recipe to discover that we needed one cup of oil - which we'll definitely be adjusting next time we make this recipe. 

"I can fill it up to the 1, I will pour it carefully, don't help me!" 

And guess what? He did pour carefully and he did stop exactly at the 1 cup line.

"What does it smell like?"

"Hmmmm.....I wonder....."

"Cinnamon!  I LOOOOOVVVEEEE cinnamon!"

Time to whip out (no pun intended) the old-fashioned egg beater!!  I seriously love this thing.  Not only does it provide an opportunity for real work for the kids, but it makes a strong connection between that work and the changes being made in the bowl. 

"Look, I'm mixing it up!"  "I'm catching the egg yolks!"

I didn't get pictures of the kiddos mixing the wet and dry ingredients, because I was 'bowl-holder' while they stirred with both hands - it was a bit stiff, but loosened up perfectly when we added the zucchini.

And of course, after the bread went into the oven, the children retired to the play kitchen to cook some more!

Cinnamon on your pizza?? Sure!

I heard a lot of cooking terms being thrown around during the play session: sift, measure, fill, sprinkle, pour, etc.

They were so involved, they didn't even notice the 45 minutes it took for our bread to be ready.

And the best part?  We got to eat it!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wet on Wet Watercolor: Winging it with Style

Every month or so, we do wet on wet watercolor painting, a technique used in Waldorf schools from preschool up through the oldest students.  We usually start the year off using one color at a time, moving through the primaries and then begin trying the primaries as couples, creating secondaries.

Although in traditional Waldorf schools, using all three primaries at once is usually something reserved for kindergarten-aged children, at the end of the year, I like to give all of my students a chance to try it out. 

The usual method of wet on wet watercolor painting we use in the classroom is similar to what is described here.  This method is also very time consuming, and only allows for one to two children to paint at one time so they can share the jars of paint.  This time, we tried something a little bit different.

I gave each child their own place mat, watercolor paper, and pipette.  I also set out bowls of red, yellow and blue liquid watercolor.  Before the children began, I spritzed their papers with a spray bottle, so we'd be keeping with our wet on wet technique (though usually we soak it, which probably would have been a good idea here).

Of course, there was a huge oversight on my part - the kids aren't going to pause to watch the paint seep into their papers, mixing and blending into a rainbow of colors.  I'd forgotten the fundamental principle of process art - all the kids care about is the process!  And what do kids love?  Pipettes and puddles!  And this project just happened to combine both!
I heard a lot of 'this is awesome' and 'this project is fun' and lots of colors being named and children generally having a blast, but.....
Eventually, all of their papers began to look like this.

Quick, Miss Lindsey, come up with something and pretend it was part of the original plan all along!!

"Dear friends, let me know when you are finished drip dropping your paint, we have one more thing to do at the end!"

 "Mama, I'm finished!"  

"I wonder what would happen if we put this paper towel over the top of your picture."
"WOW!  That is so coooooool!  Let's take it off."  

Oh, ok, that sounds like a great idea.
Crisis averted, painting saved and even some secondaries to show for it all!


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sawdust Clay: Reprise

Last month, we tried out a new recipe: Sawdust Clay.  After the project was completed, my kiddo's dried flower sat around for quite some time, waiting to be sanded and painted.  We finally finished it today!!  We gathered up our acrylic paint, a brush and some sandpaper and got started.
I was a bit nervous about the sanding portion, having nightmarish visions of the flower falling to bits the minute the sandpaper touched it.  I was pleasantly surprised by the results.

I love his face, he was a bit nervous too, he asked why pieces of his flower were falling off and then when he decided to sand his 'haystack' and assigned me to his flower, he accused me of breaking it.  After a few minutes, though, he realized what was happening and then summarily assigned me the remainder of the sanding work.  Delegating already - manager material for sure!

Once sanded, the flower was ready to paint.  I know we could have gotten it even smoother, but the results will vary depending on the age, dexterity and patience level of the child.  I think this material would be great for projects for elementary school kiddos.

We used some leftover acrylic paint we got in a craft kit.  No directions given here, he just painted away and then worked a bit on his 'haystack'.
Once he declared it complete, we left it to dry. 
Monkey was a bit confused about what exactly he had just made.  "Can we eat it now?"  Hmmmm, no, that wouldn't be too tasty.  "Is it a decoration?"  Well, kind of, it IS made of wood, but that's just like our blocks and cars and other toys, so I guess you could really use it any way you like.  "Oh, I'm going to use my haystack when I build a farm for my animals."  Sounds like a plan, little man!!

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