5 Ideas to Hold All Those Valentines

Valentine’s Boxes

While I’m not one of those people who prepares for Valentine’s Day the moment Christmas is over, I have noticed that preparations are underway for the most loving of holidays. It just so happens that, while I’m currently fixated on Chinese New Year, I have been keeping an eye out for potential Valentine’s Day crafts. What’s caught my eye this year isn’t so much projects as receptacles for taking those Valentine’s home. Here are some ideas that caught my fancy.

Heart Valentine Holder from Buggy and Buddy

Heart Valentine Holder from Buggy and Buddy

If, like me, you live in California, you may have to pay for your brown paper bags. Or you may have access to brown butcher paper. I love the simplicity of these bags. Even if you skipped the painting these bags would still look great.

Valentine’s Mailboxes from Blue Cricket Design

These envelopes require a little more dressing, which is fine because they don’t ask you to do much assembly. Here they use scrapbooking paper, but it’s not necessary. Go simpler with red and pink construction paper, and a little crazier with the hearts.

Heart Printed Paper Bags from Teach Me Mommy

Three words: Toilet. Paper. Rolls.

Paper Plate Valentine Bag Crafty Morning

Paper Plate Valentine Bag Crafty Morning

I like any project that involves sewing, even if it is a simplified form. For some of my students, this is a no-brainer, but for others, I like to constantly reinforce this practical life skill. How do they attach two separate items together? By sewing, of course!

Felt Valentine Envelopes from Snap Creativity

Felt Valentine Envelopes from Snap Creativity

Speaking of sewing, this year I plan to put my large supply of felt to good use. We’ll be making envelopes for our Valentine’s. The pattern for the envelope above is small, so we’ll enlarge it to suit our purposes. I know my class of sewers will have a blast. Maybe they’ll even use the envelopes again next year!

Check out my previous Valentine’s Day post!

Summer Camp Ideas: Japan

Japan Summer Camp

This June, I’m looking forward to a change in my usual teaching schedule–MSO is hosting their annual Summer Camp and my theme for the 6+ group will be Japan. I’ve already started my Pinterest board and begun gathering ideas as fast as I can find them. I can’t wait to delve into a new culture in a fun, Montessori way. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the ideas I’m tossing around:

Japanese Tea Ceremony

Tea is actually central to the practical life curriculum in my classroom, so you can imagine that I’m terribly excited about the prospect of including an actual tea ceremony as part of my Summer Camp program. I’d adore to have the students be able to create their own tea cups to use in the ceremony, and to have them be involved in the set up as well as the ritual. Since it’s unlikely that we’d be able to have a true expert come demonstrate the Japanese Tea Ceremony (or the Way of Tea) to us, we’d all have to recreate the experience together, which is something I think the students will enjoy researching and making happen, especially if I can provide as many of the real tools as possible (i.e., a chosun, an iron pot). It’ll be a coin toss to see who will be willing to try the matcha, but I think it would be fun to offer blooming jasmine tea as an alternative. Even if it’s Chinese.

Minature Karesansui, a Japanese Rock Garden, from Highlights

I love the idea of making personal Zen rock gardens! I would, of course, prefer to make a less plastic-y version than the one pictured above. I already have some ideas, like using wooden forks rather than plastic ones, but I’m still brainstorming on the tray. Here are some ideas that have flitted across my mind (but easily be rejected):

Kimono Collage

Clothing is a fun way to explore any culture, and the kimono is no exception. I’m looking for just the right project, but honestly, I could do a summer unit on the kimono alone. It’s so hard to choose, from textile patterns, to the many parts, to practicing putting one on (it looks like a group effort, really), discussing the different varieties, male versus female versions, and introducing occasions that might require one to dress in this most traditional of garment.

Which brings me to two very important Japanese holidays:

Children's Holidays in Japan

Camp attendees will be delighted to learn that Japan has two holidays especially for children. Kodomo No Hi is the official, nationally recognized Children’s Day (there used to be separate days for boys and girls). Shichi-go-san celebrates boys ages 3 and 5 and girls ages 3 and 7.

Of course, holidays can’t be celebrated without good food, so I’ve also been researching summer cooking ideas:

Japanese Cooking Ideas

I think the students will be attracted to the incredible cuteness that is bento boxes, so we can have some fun playing with (some of) our food. I’m also ridiculously excited to try making mochi, though I’ll definitely try it at home first. I’ve made gyoza before–the press makes them easy and fun, and it’ll be fun to make sushi, even if all we roll is rice and seaweed. It’s the experience that counts!

Finally, I’d like to give the students an opportunity to practice some Japanese writing:

Japanese Writing

I especially like the idea of having a Buddha Board in the class so the students can practice their Japanese calligraphy. I even bought some dice at the American Montessori Society Conference so they can practice their number recognition!

It’s going to be a great summer, with activities galore. I hope some of you will consider joining us–there will be fun for all ages!

6 Nature-Based Projects for Spring

Spring Projects

We’re off to on Spring Break next week (can grown teachers squee?), but before we go, I thought I’d show you some of the ways I’m thinking about incorporating the upcoming season into my classroom.

Over here in Southern California, we don’t get much in the way of a winter, but we’ve had a bit of rain to get the green going. Things feel refreshed in the way that they should this time of year, even if we did just have some uncommonly hot weather recently. I was delighted, however, to notice that we got enough rain for my students to do something we weren’t able to do last year: flower pressing:

Stocking Up: Pressed Flowers from Playful Learning

When I participated in the Art of Teaching online workshop at Playful Learning last year, I was so inspired by the way Mariah Bruehl incorporated pressed flowers into writing, art and, of course, botany, that I was dying to send my students outside with little baskets for some quality flower picking. Last year–no dice. This year? We’ve got flowers a-pressin’ as I type.

Pressed Flower Projects:

Another project I love doing in the spring is sprouting wheat grass. Last year, I bought planters from the dollar store. This year, I’m recycling milk cartons:

DIY Recycled Hanging Planter from Oh So Very Pretty

I like to sprout a little wheat grass because it brings a little green into the classroom, but also because the students get to see their seeds grow–literally–from the ground up. Furthermore, each student is responsible for his or her own planter. I like to see them give their plant a little TLC or offer to take care of a classmate’s. And it’s fun to see how the wheat grass grows.

Other planter ideas:

Shiitake Mushroom Log from Williams Sonoma

My students have been asking for a class pet and I’m very reluctant. I finally agreed to a Class Fungi, which has made everyone happy. I happen to think mushrooms are very cool, and once I discovered you can grow them in logs, I was even more in love with the idea than ever before. There’s a fantastic element of practical life with this (using the drill! Care of our mushroom log! Cooking with the mushrooms we grow!).

Other mushroom ideas (that aren’t as cool as growing them on a log, but still):

Spring Bird Seed Eggs from Mindful Lifestyle

There are plenty of birds out right now, and what better way to attract them to your doorstep than with a homemade bird feeder? There are plenty of ideas out there, but I happen to think these little eggs are pretty cute–not to mention seasonal. It’s also time to put your binoculars in a prominent position in the classroom, along with a Backyard Bird Guide and a maybe some copies of the local Wildlife Preserve’s Bird Watching Checklist.

Other bird (and butterfly) ideas:

Cloud Inspector from The Techy Teacher

If you want my advice (and you’re reading my blog, so I’ll take it as read that you do), cloud-watching opportunities should be seized whenever they present themselves. It’s not often you’ll find a sky full of the puffy white stuff–instead of a white haze or that boring blue sky everyone raves about. Last week, I took my class out for an afternoon of cloud-watching that morphed into a writing activity and eventually into a rash of haiku:

Cloud Haiku by Room 8

Finally, I’m going to end with something I remember fondly from my childhood–something that’s a little magic and a little science (okay, pretty much just science) solar prints. Also known as cyanotypes, these pieces of blue paper visually demonstrate the photographic process using blue, white and the strength of the sun.

Celebrating the Sun from Purple Twig

Other sun print ideas:

Whatever you do, I hope you get out there and acknowledge the season. Enjoy the green while it lasts!

Celebrating the Lunar New Year

Celebrating the Lunar New Year

Although it is often referred to as the Chinese New Year, many Asian communities celebrate the Lunar New Year in early February. I try to use the term “Lunar New Year” as much as possible, and to explore other, less well-known Asian New Year celebrations. Lunar New Year is also known as the Spring Festival, which may feel odd to those of us who follow the Western Gregorian calendar, given that we consider February a winter month. Who celebrates the Lunar New Year? Here’s an incomplete list of the countries that celebrate the Lunar New Year:

  • China
  • Korea (the New Year is known as Soellal)
  • Vietnam (the New Year is known as Tet)
  • Japan (the New Year is known mainly as the Spring Festival)
  • Many other Asian countries such as Bali, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia
  • Chinese communities around the world (e.g., in the U.S., England, France and Australia)

You may or may not already know that the Lunar New Year is China’s largest holiday. I hesitate to compare it to Christmas, but the temptation is there. It’s one way to drive home the importance of the holiday in your students’ minds. Celebrations actually begin on the first full moon of January and the following new moon (in February) marks the New Year. That’s fifteen days of family, food, festivals and fireworks. China Highlights offers a calendar of events for celebrating the holiday and, let’s just say, if you thought Christmas was intense…

Courtesy of China Highlights

And if you haven’t seen how much they put into decorating and celebrating, well…you haven’t lived:

So what are some fun ways to celebrate Lunar New Year with your students? By all means, eat Chinese food, but the easiest and simplest is citrus. Citrus fruits represent wealth and prosperity. My personal favorite is the pomelo. Sweeter than a grapefruit and as large as your head, pomelos are only found in January and February and they’re a buy ’em if you see ’em fruit. The combination of these two facts make them an exotic treat–but, wait! The fun isn’t over yet! Eating the pomelo is an adventure in itself. The peel is about an inch thick and has to be cut with a knife before it can be peeled away. Then the membrane has to be removed to get to the sweet inside pulp.

You might also be delighted to know that a huge part of the Lunar New Year is devoted to cleaning (or, as my students call it, “the “c” word”), so that the year can begin anew. Plus, all the family will be coming over for the New Year’s dinner–and I mean all the family. In fact, by all accounts, holiday travel in China puts the US to shame.

If you’ve ever seen pictures of a Lunar New Year celebration, then you know that there’s no skimping on decorations. This makes for an exciting plethora of activities for the discerning teacher. I started to put together a Pinterest board for Lunar New Year’s activities. Here are some of my favorites:

Asian Fans with Paper Plates from Artescuola.com

There’s something incredibly attractive about fans, at least to my students. They make them all the time, out of everything. These are visually stunning and quite simple to make. The only thing I might add is a tongue depressor craft stick to create a handle.

This project is just a picture, but it’s a dragon image built around a piece of yarn glued to black construction paper. Dragons are popular in Chinese folklore and one of the highlights of the New Year’s parade is the Dragon Dance. I love that this project builds organically around a single piece of yarn, but also that it’s kind of like a doodle. Last summer I bought a set of pastel pencils that would work wonderfully for this project.

Make a Chinese Gong from Kid World Citizen

Be prepared for a lot of noise with this one–but that’s precisely why the students will love it. Incidentally, once you’ve checked out this project, explore the rest of Kid World Citizen for some other fun cultural activities for children. Becky has ideas for countries all over the map.

Koinobori – Japanese Flying Carp from Squirrelly Minds

It sometimes feels as though I have been saving toilet paper rolls since the beginning of time (along with egg and milk cartons–don’t ask), so it’ll come as no surprise that I compulsively pin projects involving them. This is one of the more attractive projects I’ve run across lately, and one I’d probably keep hanging around the classroom or even my house. Please note that it’s a Japanese project, though, and not Chinese, if you’re looking to be strict to one cultural group.

Easy Lantern Craft from Kinder Craze

Cutting work is a common part of practical life in Montessori classrooms. The Advanced Cutting Templates that I got from Montessori Services include one for a Chinese Lantern. I like to put it out at this time of year, allowing the students an opportunity to make these deceptively challenging paper lanterns. They look easy, but can cause frustration at the drop of the hat since they have to be made and cut in just the right way. It’s an exercise in following directions, which I love. I like the idea of jazzing up the lanterns with a little yellow paint and some cookie cutters. Heck, I like the idea of jazzing up anything.

Write in Chinese from Education.com

Writing in Chinese is almost an art form in itself. I love the way these worksheets divide the writing area into four quadrants, and help the students to create the characters step-by-step. I’ll definitely be printing a few of these free worksheets for my classroom this year.

Last, but not least, don’t neglect the Chinese Zodiac. If your class is anything like mine, it’ll make for some interesting play at lunch recess, involving a variety of animals. At any rate…

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

8 Ideas for Celebrating Hanukkah

Hanukkah Activities

It’s Winter Holiday Week here at The Absorbent Teacher!

Last night was the final night of Hanukkah. For those of you unfamiliar with the Jewish winter holiday, please see my post from last year Celebrating Hanukkah the Classroom (and Out). The post has a bit of an explanation about the holiday, along with a few book recommendations, foods for the holiday and some activities to try, including the rules for playing dreidel. If you’re curious, please do check it out! If not, I did find this cute infographic:

This time around, I thought I’d explore some crafts appropriate for the holiday. Hanukkah colors are traditionally blue and white or blue and silver, so there’s not room for movement there. Symbols include the dreidel, the Star of David (which is a six-pointed star), and the menorah. Candles are often used to represent the holiday as well, since we light them to mark each night.

The easiest and most basic craft for celebrating Hanukkah in the Montessori classroom is the Star of David. If you’re not familiar with this particular Jewish symbol, it’s easy to make using the triangle inset. It’s easier to use the inset than the frame.

Sharpie on tinfoil is always a good look. These ornaments also involve texture, which I love. You could also poke holes in the tinfoil to let a little light through.

This dreidel game bag is kind of like a stitching sampler. I like the idea of making a simple bag–what an easy sewing project! It’s also a great way to store your Chanukah accoutrements until the next year.

This paper menorah is bright and colorful. The instructions sound a little fiddly and involve a lot of tape, but it would be a nice keepsake.

Chocolate dreidels would obviously be a big hit. If you can get these DIY dreidels to the finished stage (ingredients include marshmallows and Hershey’s Kisses), they make look pretty on a plate for a few minutes.

Hanukah decorations are hard to find. I like these dreidel lights because they’re elegant.

Assembling this Gelt Connect 4 requires a bit of rejiggering, but I think it just might be worth it.

Dreidel Toast Tangrams are just about the most exciting thing I’ve come across in my search for Chanukah craftivities. I know we’re not supposed to encourage children to play with their food, but how cute are these?

Of course, challah is one of the best things about Jewish meals, and bread is a fantastic way to cook with children. The menorah is fun, but the dreidel is my preference here. Each student could make their own dreidel and voila–instant proportioning.

Dreidel and Menorah Challah

Check out Bible Belt Balabusta, a blog with numerous ideas about sharing and celebrating Jewish holidays and culture. Ideas aren’t limited to Hanukkah! There’s plenty to find there, so make sure you have time when you visit.

Finally, I’m going to leave you with this:

 

 

6 Thanksgiving Art Ideas That Inspire

With Thanksgiving a week away, I’ve been searching for Thanksgiving art projects that don’t make me cringe. I tend to dislike those cheesy hand turkeys and, indeed, my students have outgrown much of the hand-based art that’s popular among the younger crowd. I’ll share with you first the project I did last year, which was a big hit with my students:

Draw a Mayflower Ship from Art Projects for Kids

Drawing the Mayflower was a bit of a challenge for some of my students, but they enjoyed it immensely. I let them choose between chalk pastel and crayon. It was a bit of an experiment, but really it’s the project that made me want to look for a really good quality crayon. I like chalk pastels, but the way they smudge can really frustrate students. I’d like to have an occasional alternative.

Indian Corn Hanging Sunflowers from This Cosy Life

I love these Indian corn sunflowers. The center is made from kernels and the petals from the husks.

5d127b8681cee887967b6785d834cb94

Walnut Shell Boats from Inspirations for the Home

There are few things that attract children more than things that float on water. On the (sadly) few occasions when it rains enough for puddles to form, the first thing that my students do is build boats. These cute little walnut shell boats are a triple threat: craft, decoration and toy!

Thanksgiving Cornucopia from Fave Crafts

The cornucopia is an oft forgotten Thanksgiving symbol, but I remember them fondly from my childhood. I have vivid memories of learning how to draw the horn-shaped basket. This particular art project is Mixed Media, with the cornucopia itself made of of brown construction paper and painted paper.

Pinecone Turkey Centerpieces from Marla Meredith

Of all the Thanksgiving crafts, the turkey is my least favorite. I’m not sure if it’s because they’re so overdone or because, honestly, they’re pretty unattractive creatures. I like this pinecone one because of that extraordinary doily tail. Except for the eyes, I’m not crazy about the eyes, but I’ll figure something else out.

Paper Bag Tepees from Art with Mr. Giannetto

This tepee art project is fun because it comes with the meanings behind each of the symbols. Students can personalize their tepees with messages based on Native American pictograms. Plus, how cute are they?

No matter what you decorate with, I hope everyone has a wonderful break! See you back at school on November 30!

6 More Fall Art Ideas That Inspire

Fall Art Projects

Yesterday was the first day of Autumn! While it doesn’t exactly feel like the harvest season here in Southern California, I’m definitely ready to celebrate cooler weather. Maybe if we do enough Fall art projects, it will call forth some blustery winds? Well…here’s hoping!

Mondrian Spider Webs by Art: Expression of Imagination

You may or may not know that I’m a Mondrian fan. For Student Showcase last year, my students did a combination Art History/Math/Grammar/Art Project based upon Mondrian’s visually striking, primary-colored pieces. It’s no wonder, then, that this Mondrian Spider Web project caught my eye. Er, no pun intended…

Leaf Relief by Cassie Stephens: In the Art Room

I love the aged, burnished look of these leaf rubbings. The bronze ones look like brass plaques, but this project is made with mat paper, aluminum foil, cheap black spray paint and steel wool.

Fall Leaf Batik from Small Hands, Big Art

I don’t need to explain the beauty of these, do I? MSO students just did batik flags for International Day of Peace, and how fun would it be to follow those up with fall leaf flags? I like how the glue resist separates the warm and the cool colors in the leaves. Another striking visual contrast.

Oil Pastel Resist Halloween Art from A Faithful Attempt

I like how this pumpkin project reminds me of woodcut paintings. The process is a bit like something I’ve done to make my own scratch off paper. It’s a bit labor intensive, but in my opinion, the final product is worth it.

Haunted Silhouettes from Sandra’s Savvy Teaching Tips

Haunted Houses go hand in hand for the Fall season. What I like about this project is the deviation from all the warm colors that dominate Fall art projects. Don’t get me wrong! Those reds and oranges are some of my favorite colors–but it’s nice to know you can evoke the season using a hue from the other side of the color wheel. Also, this project experiments with an important piece of art–tints and shades!

Mosaic Paper Acorn from Crafts by Amanda

I’d love to mosaic with my students, and I like that this art project is slightly less labor intensive than actual ceramic and grout version. The creator used finger-painted paper cut into pieces. I’d use painted paper, and I bet it would be fun to lay out a bunch of these like stepping stones.

Happy Fall everyone! I hope to see some cooler weather soon. But even if we don’t, we’ve got our annual Boccali’s Pumpkin Patch Field Trip coming up in October. If that doesn’t get us into the season, nothing will!