Books We Are Using This Year
  • The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    The Story of the World: Ancient Times (Vol. 1)
    by Jeff West,S. Wise Bauer,Jeff (ILT) West, Susan Wise Bauer
  • Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2
    by Bernard J Nebel PhD
  • Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    Math-U-See Epsilon Student Kit (Complete Kit)
    by Steven P. Demme
  • First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 4 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) By Jessie Wise, Sara Buffington
    by -Author-
  • Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    Drawing With Children: A Creative Method for Adult Beginners, Too
    by Mona Brookes
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Entries in crafts (22)


A very Wizard of Oz birthday

When I picked up The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the original book by L. Frank Baum, last fall I did so in the process of looking for good read aloud books to share with Calvin. I had no idea at the time how far that one book would take us. Now, about eight months later, we've read all fourteen of Baum's Oz books, our love for them has become a hobby—for both of us—and Calvin is starting to re-read the series to himself. 

About a month ago Calvin asked to have a Wizard of Oz birthday party this year, and so that's what we did. Before I explain our steps I need to mention that this was not based on the movie, but on the original stories by Baum and artwork of John R. Neill. I should also mention that we're not into hosting big parties with, prizes, gift bags, etc. just yet. This was a low key, enjoyable family affair. Calvin was part of every step of the planning process except for the cake, which was my gift to him, as you'll see below. Calvin's planning included a lot of great ideas that were just not feasible, as it should be in a (now) five year old mind, but we did make a lot of things happen.

Follow the yellow brick road! We used a water and cornstarch mixture (a one to one ratio) with a lot of food coloring to make our front walkway into the yellow brick road. Calvin made signs for the front, the first reading "welcome to Oz" and the second reading "welcome to the Emrald City" (his spelling).

Once inside the house you were in the Emerald City, and all the decorations were green. Calvin chose green balloons, table cloth, napkins, plates, cups, and streamers.

Guests (grandparents, and two aunts) had been asked to wear yellow, red, blue, or purple, as all the citizens of Oz live in one of the four countries of that land and always dress in the color of their country. On entering they were given party hats to match their color of choice, since pointed hats just happen to be the costume of all in Oz. They were also given green glasses (which we'd ordered from an online party store) because in the original book the Emerald City isn't actually all green, visitors were instead made to wear glasses with green lenses to make it appear so. Calvin and I were the only standouts—he was the Wizard, and I got to be Princess Ozma.

I think Calvin got the greatest kick out of these last two details, although he had a great time decorating with balloons and streamers, too.

The cake was also designed by Calvin, although he did not know it. It is really a map of Oz as described in the books and as drawn by Calvin on many occasions. The Emerald City in the middle, the yellow brick road, and the poppy field I made of fondant, but I frosted the rest of the cake in homemade organic cream cheese frosting, colored with standard food coloring (usually a no-no in my book, but sometimes it just has to be done).

The cake is based on the original books, and obviously I'm not a professional cake decorator, but the concept is a good one and I'm sure someone can improve on it. The things surrounding it are actually handmade dolls of the characters from the books. They were part of our birthday gift to Calvin, a part that I'm glad to say he truly loved. The wood dolls were hand painted by Fancie Fannies (and are delightful and beautifully done). I ordered them over a month ago and it was hard not to give them to him early! The Cowardly Lion and Hungry Tiger are Schleich, and the blue Woozy and the Wooden Sawhorse I made myself (and am very proud of).

We had a wonderful time at the party, but as with most of these events, much of the fun was in the planning and preparation. I'm calling this art because a lot of imagination, planning, and creating definitely went into it. I loved thinking through the creation of the day with Calvin, and taking the necessary steps to make it happen, too.



Construction paper mosaics

We've been wending our way through ancient Rome these past many weeks, and with all the rain clouding our days recently we've taken to the craft room more than we usually do during spring and summer. Or actually, this week's mosaic making found us on the kitchen floor where it was not only flat, but also more naturally lit right next to the sliding door (and these were very dark days indeed).

I had asked Calvin to go through our library books on Ancient Rome and pick out some fun activities. Mosaics were one of the things that had caught his eye. The book directions were for using clay, and some day we'd like to try that, but this time we created a fish mosaic of construction paper, cut into relatively equal squares with a paper cutter, adhered to poster board by glue stick. Calvin penciled in the design first while I started cutting squares. He found that it was easier to apply the glue to the poster board than to the small squares (less glue on the fingers that way, he says, although not by much). He glued small areas, then affixed as many squares as needed to cover that glue, then moved on to the next small area. I did most, but not all, of the cutting, and his favorite part was using the tiny scraps from specifically cut shapes to fill in gaps.

This was a three day project, mostly because all that cutting and gluing gets very tedious, and it was a great way to spend a few really crummy days.


Ancient Rome—clay face pots

Okay, ours weren't clay. When Calvin brought me the book that he'd been reading about ancient Rome and said that he wanted to make "these face pots" all we had in the house was playdough, both homemade and store bought, so that's what we used. It's a matter of making it up as we go along, isn't it?

Clay face pots have been found mostly in British Roman ruins and are believed to have had a religious purpose. Many have been found with ashes in them. That's about all I can tell you about them right now, except that Calvin found them interesting and wanted to give them a try.

Obviously play dough was not the best choice for this, and we'll probably give this another try in the future with real honest-to-goodness clay, but the upside to starting with play dough was getting to do it over, and over, and over again by squishing and rebuilding, squishing and rebuilding.

The big pot was made with mostly homemade play dough, which wasn't as firm and didn't keep its shape as well, plus it was the first. The smaller, more colorful pot was the last pot made, after much practice, and is one we made together. I rolled all the blue and I made the mouth while Calvin assembled and did all the other rolling and mashing and shaping.

I think they were both adorable, and now they're both blobs of dough again waiting to be remade or made into something else.


Felt, the volcano edition

It's been a while since I made new felt. It's been a while since Calvin asked for new felt (although he does continue to get his old sets out at least once a month for quiet play time), and then a couple days ago he became rather intent on having a volcano felt set. The first day he asked me to make him said set I told him to make me a list of what such a set would include, because I just couldn't get my mind wrapped around it. All the "volcano felt set" images I found when I searched online were actually dinosaur related (and you'll remember that Calvin's interest is most definitely volcano related, not dinosaur related), and it left me wondering. Calvin's list included a sleeping volcano, a volcano erupting with "volcano red" lava, houses, people, and sheep. Sheep?

When we sat down to work on this today I asked him to draw a picture of what his ideal volcano felt set would be. I guess he forgot about the people today. The sheep seemed to be the real goal.

I did most of the cutting, but Calvin selected the colors, did all the basic design work, and helped with the hot glue.

Having now seen him at work with the set I now understand (or think I understand) that what he's going for is a reenactment of the Pinatubo evacuation as we saw it on the National Geographic special we watched a while back. He reassured me, for instance, that the sheep in this picture is not being touched by the lava because he has been "evacuated" and is in a town far away from the volcano. "It's a matter of perspective," I was told.


Natural Easter Eggs

I avoid artificial colors in the things that we eat like the plague. This year I decided that should apply to our eggs as well, not because I'm concerned about leaching through the shell, and not because I feel the need to control every bit of food that we take in, because I don't, but because it seemed like an easy thing to get on top of, and the more natural we can be, the better. So last year when we dyed eggs the house smelled of boiled eggs and vinegar, this year it smelled of cabbages and beets.

The colors weren't as brilliant as I thought they might be, and our results were different from others I've seen online, we did the project as a family and we had a good time. A really good time.

Natural Egg Dyeing

Red: Three beets, cut into slices. Bring to a boil and simmer in four cups of water, 1 tablespoon vinegar, for 30 minutes. Strain and reserve liquid. Cool.

Blue: One pound red cabbage, shredded. Bring to a boil in four cups of water, 1 tablespoon vinegar, for 30 minutes. Strain and reserve liquid. Cool.

Yellow: Four tablespoons turmeric dissolved in 4 cups water, 1 tablespoon vinegar (it dissolves easiest with a little heat).

The natural dyes took way longer to really work than the standard dyes. I anticipated this by putting the dyes in big bowls so we could get them all done at once.

We decorated them with crayon first, just like we've always done. Though I thought the red would be my favorite, the blue actually worked the best. And they were all fun.