Arts/Crafts, Books

Perfect Picture Book Friday: The Art Lesson

Author/Illustrator: Tomie dePaola
Publication Info: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1989
Intended audience: Ages 4 and up
Genre: nonfiction, picture book
Themes/topics: art, autobiography, individuality, persistence
Opening and synopsis: ”Tommy knew he wanted to be an artist when he grew up. He drew pictures everywhere he went. It was his favorite thing to do.” Tommy wants to be an artist. He can’t wait to start school and take weekly lessons from the art teacher. His cousins tell him real artists never copy. What will Tommy do when the art teacher has the class copy her drawings?
Why I like this book: Tommy is a boy who knows what he wants — to be an artist. He holds fast to this dream even in the face of discouragement, especially from his first-grade teacher.
Resources: Houghton Mifflin has a “Meet the Author” page with biographical information about dePaola. Here’s a reader’s theater script for the book. Ginger at has developed an entire study unit around the book. Finally, this book shows the value of teaching children art. My hands-down favorite site for art lessons is TeachKidsArt.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.
Arts/Crafts, Books, Holidays

WOW MOM: Mother’s Day Card Symmetry

Mom, if you are reading this blog post, please STOP. Right now. Delete this email immediately. Close your Web browser. Walk away.

Is she gone?

Ok, I’m going to let you in on a little secret — our homemade Mother’s Day cards. This year’s design comes from Loreen Leedy, author of the captivating math-based picture book, Seeing Symmetry. Loreen has a host of symmetry-related activities on her TeachersPayTeachers site, including the template for this WOWMOM card ($3) (Note: Her TeachersPayTeachers site has a free activity pack for the book Seeing Symmetry.)

Cooper asked me about symmetry just the other day. I’m not sure where he’d heard about it. Because he’d asked about the concept, making this card was a perfect opportunity to learn about the topic. While Cooper was decorating (with glitter glue, of course), I pulled some of Finley’s construction paper letters off the wall where they hang, so we could talk about which ones had symmetry.

Does Cooper understand symmetry now? Nope. I think that’s a fourth-grade math standard. But our glitter glue WOWMOM cards are sure to wow the moms in our lives. What do you have planned for Mother’s Day?

Arts/Crafts, Field Trip Ideas

Earth Day: Loving the Landfill

Waste Management's Julianne Haness shows us what's recyclable.

Each year, my MOMS Club tours the local landfill in honor of Earth Day. The field trip is always a big hit with kids and moms alike. What child wouldn’t enjoy meeting a garbage truck that holds 10 elephants worth of trash?

And this green gal always learns something new. Obviously your local recycling rules might be different but I realized:

  • I can get additional recycling and green waste cans for FREE! I have a second recycling can on its way.
  • Juice boxes, including orange juice cartons are recyclable.
  • Any plastic, even if it doesn’t have the recycling symbol, goes into the recycling bin.
  • But, keep the styrofoam out of the recycling, even if it has the recycling symbol on it.
  • Never throw greasy paper plates and pizza boxes into the recycling. These are broken down in the equivalent of a big blender to make new paper products. The grease can’t be removed.
  • Key takeaway: when in doubt, throw it into the recycling bin. They’ll sort it out later.
We learned a new recycling song, sung to a tune reminiscent of an Army march. I kept wanting to chant, “Sound off, 1, 2. Sound off, 3,4” each time we sang it.:

“I recycle you should too

I recycle yes I do

Don’t throw paper in the trash

Paper needs another chance

Take  your cans and give ’em a smash

Don’t throw your cans in the trash

I recycle you should too

I recycle yes I do” (courtesy of Waste Management)

Even if you can’t visit the landfill, you can create your own Earth Day fun:

  • Make recycled paper. Create a small screen by laying a rectangular piece of mesh over four popsicle sticks, one for each edge. Attach the mesh with a stapler. Have your child tear up old newspaper. Add it to your blender along with a little water. Adult, blend up your paper mush. Your child can carefully scoop out the paper mush and press it onto the screen, pressing out as much water as possible. Wait until it dries, and voila, paper.
  • Make robots out of toilet paper rolls and pipe cleaners. This comes from FamilyFun (click on link for picture and details). Paint the rolls with acrylic paint. Punch two holes for arms. Cut the pipe cleaner in half and twist each half around a pen to create coiled arms. Attach them at the holes and paint on your robot design.
  • Enjoy some Earth-friendly books. We recently enjoyed Compost Stew and This Tree Counts, which were Perfect Picture Book Friday recommendations.

This year, Earth Day falls on Sunday the 22nd. How will you celebrate?

Arts/Crafts, Field Trip Ideas, History, Travel

Art Detectives on the Loose

Though I’ve lived in the Los Angeles area for almost 13 years, I’ve only been to the Getty Villa three times. I visited once in 1996 before the museum closed for a nearly 10-year renovation. I went back in 2007 with my almost-one-year-old. In fact, I have fond memories of Cooper “army crawling” on the tile around the fountain in the Outer Peristyle garden.

Then, I didn’t go back for almost five years. It probably had something to do with nap schedules, diaper changes and worries about the boys jostling ancient Greco-Roman pottery. But honestly, the biggest reason I didn’t go back was because I’d rather see a Rembrandt than a Roman drinking vessel.

I know my lack of enthusiasm is a direct result of my limited knowledge. I never studied the Greco-Roman world, and I know little about the culture and art work. One vase looked similar to all the others –until my most recent trip. The Getty has done a tremendous job of making ancient Greece and Rome accessible to children and parents as well.

Getty staff have developed three different sets of “Art Detective” cards. The front of each card directs you to a specific gallery, shows you a picture of an artwork and poses a question. For example, in Gallery 207, we were to find a statue of  a girl and figure out, “Why does this girl have a slot above her dress?” Once we found the piece, we flipped over the card to discover that coin banks were popular with Romans. The metal statue was an ancient piggy bank. Having additional information about the pieces on display made exploring the collection fascinating.

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In the Family Forum, the boys could dress up like ancient Greeks and Romans. (Note: It was hard to pull them away from the foam swords and shields.) A tactile display revealed how clay pottery was made. A collection of vessels explained the various shapes and functions of the pottery we would find in the collection. For example, drinking cups are wide, flat bowls with two handles. The boys could doodle on pottery using dry erase markers or decorate paper vases with rubbings. The Family Forum brought the collection to life through hands-on learning.

While at the Getty, we made our own perfume the ancient way during a “Spicy Scents” demonstration. We started with a base of olive oil. Then we crushed myrrh, rose, cinnamon, anise, coriander and other spices with a mortar and pestle. We mixed these with the oil to create our own ancient perfume. We learned that long ago, people would use these perfumes to beautify, worship gods, heal, work magic and show off wealth.

Finally, the Mummy of Herakleides was Finley’s favorite. We watched the mummification process video repeatedly. It showed how the Romans in Egypt removed the organs leaving the heart and lungs, salted the body for forty days, covered it in plant resin and honey and wrapped it. Finally, a they placed a portrait on top.

I would recommend the Getty Villa for anyone over the age of 3. While the Getty Center may be more well known, the Villa is original Getty museum. J. Paul Getty built the Roman-inspired villa in 1968  to display his art growing art collection. Aside from his priceless collection, visitors can enjoy the beautiful gardens with views of the Pacific Ocean.

Arts/Crafts, Holidays

Easter Egg Color Mixing

This year I decided against buying the usual box of egg-dye pellets. Normally the box has at least 8 colors and mixing all of them is quite a project, especially with little ones. Instead, I decided to turn egg dying into a color mixing activity, allowing the kids to learn about primary vs. secondary colors.

Here’s the recipe I used for the dye: 1 tsp. white vinegar, 1/4 tsp. food coloring and 1 cup of hot water. I only prepared the 3 primary colors: red, yellow and blue. I mixed the dyes in disposable cups placed on top of cookie sheets. Yes, I was anticipating some spills. We explained that the boys would have to dip in yellow first, then blue to make green, for example. My dad found some wire in the garage and made egg dippers, which made the activity go a bit more smoothly.

We even got in some counting practice as we waited for the eggs to adopt their vibrant hues. Here are some pictures of the boys and “Grandmommy” dying eggs.

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Arts/Crafts, Field Trip Ideas

Are You My Mother?

Photo Credit: ArtsPower

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of introducing young children to performing arts. I went to the children’s symphony in Phoenix as an elementary schooler, and I still remember some of those performances to this day. Now I take my children to our local performing arts center for its “Arts for Youth Program” a few times per year. The storybook adaptations are our favorites.

Friday we saw “Are You My Mother?” by P.D. Eastman. I was curious how well the play would relate to the book, considering Eastman’s classic is a scant 699 words. To create a 55-minute performance, the scriptwriters introduced new themes and additional subplots. For example, the “scary snort” is scheduled to knock down Baby Bird’s tree in the name of progress, while a tree hugger tries to save birds’ home. Baby Bird, Hen, Cat and Dog form a “mixed up family” who work together to get Baby Bird home, showing how all kinds of folks can get along. I almost thought the rag-tag group was going to give up the search and adopt Hen as the new mama.

The show was enjoyable, but it certainly was a departure from the book. In most cases I like the original book better than a screen or stage adaptation. Nothing beats my imagination when it comes to bringing characters to life. So, I have to force myself to forget the original text and approach the play or movie with fresh eyes.

I’m curious, have you ever liked a movie or play better than the original book?

Arts/Crafts, Holidays

St. Paddy’s Day Potato Stamps

First, a big thank you to Clar Bowman-Jahn who recently awarded me the Sunshine and Kreatif blogger awards. Clar, you added sunshine to my day! Please check out her blog….here.

Potatoes and St. Patrick’s Day go together like peanut butter and jelly. What better way to craft some St. Patrick’s Day fun than with potato stamps?

Here’s what you need:

  • 2 or more potatoes
  • heart-shaped cookie cutter(s)
  • knife
  • green tempura paint
  • white paper, one for each child
  • newspaper
  • paper plate(s)
  • wipes for cleaning up

Here’s what you do:

  • Prepare your stamps: Slice each potato in half. Press the cookie cutter into the cut end of the potato. Using your knife, cut off the portion of the potato around your heart by at least 1/4 inch.
  • Cover your workspace in newspaper (note: doing this outside or at the park is a great choice for easy cleanup.)
  • Pour the green paint onto a disposable paper plate.
  • Give the children sheets of white paper and show them how to make a three or four-leaf clover by stamping the potato and using their fingers to paint the stem.
  • Clean up is easy: Throw the newspaper, stamps and plates in the trash. Use wipes to wipe off hands until you can get everyone to the sink for a good washing.
  • I decided to laminate our artwork after it dried to make St. Patrick’s Day place mats. You also can cover them in clear contact paper to achieve the same effect.
Potato stamps are easy to make and are great for any occasion. My aunt had lots of brown paper at Christmas time. She and her grandchildren decorated it with potato stamps to make special wrapping paper.

Now, here are a few things you should know about St. Patrick’s Day.

  • St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, wasn’t even Irish. He was born in Wales.
  • St. Patrick used the three-leaf clover to teach people about the Holy Trinity, with each leaf representing one aspect of God: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • There’s a legend that St. Patrick drove all the snakes in Ireland down to the seashore where they drowned.
  • People believe St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 AD, which is why we celebrate that day as St. Patrick’s Day.


I just watched Being Elmo, an amazing documentary about puppeteer Kevin Clash’s — and Elmo’s — journey to stardom. If you haven’t seen this movie, you must. For writers, it’s fascinating to see how Clash developed the character of Elmo. Another puppeteer gave up on Elmo and literally threw Elmo at Clash in disgust. The movie shows some early clips of Elmo talking in a caveman voice, a far cry from his modern-day, high-pitched sing song.

Clash started making puppets as a precocious 10-year-old, using materials like the lining of his dad’s trench coat (whoops!). He truly was a curious kid, and his family nurtured his talents. Kevin’s dad shrugged off the trench coat incident, which amazes me. I try to channel Kevin’s dad as I watch the boys get into everything (and I mean everything).

When Finley noticed some holes in my socks, I thought making some sock puppets might be fun. After all, the boys enjoyed making paper-bag puppets in the past. I let the boys select buttons for eyes. They both picked red stars,which I sewed on. Then they picked yarn for hair, which we glued on. Cooper picked some psychedelic blue hair, while Finely went with brown with touches of blue. Then we made shirts and scarves out of fabric scraps and attached them with glue.

So far, the boys have been having a great time playing with Puntoff (Finley’s) and Rocko (Cooper’s). Puntoff’s favorite thing to do is bite my finger. He’s a silly one.


It’s in the cards

Lots of love, that is.

As much as possible, I try to enlist my children in making birthday cards, Mother’s Day cards, Father’s Day cards and the like for a variety of reasons. I don’t know if you’ve checked the price tags on store-bought cards lately, but some of the musical cards approach the price of a dozen roses. Despite the money matters, how much cooler is it to receive a home-made card, especially from a dear friend or grandchild? Now that’s a card that actually means something. Finally, card-making is a practical way to engage children in arts and crafts. My two boys are not much for coloring, cutting and designing. However, if someone’s birthday or a holiday is on the horizon, they will oblige me with making a card.

With that said, I am always on the lookout for great card-making ideas. FamilyFun has some of the best I’ve seen,and I’ve used many of their templates and instructions. Here are some of our favorites:

Do you prefer homemade or store-bought cards? Do you have any fun card designs you’d like to share?

Arts/Crafts, Holidays

Valentine’s Day Cards

Nothing says “Happy Valentine’s Day” like some homemade love. The boys and I spent about an hour making Valentine’s Day cards for their various parties next week. Our key ingredients: red card stock, some paint we had on-hand, and old Valentine’s Day cookie cutters. Oh, and a hefty dose of glitter.