Under the Maple Canopy

Singing Union Songs Since 2009


Art with Kids

Sometimes I feel like the odd mom out. Homeschooling was often difficult and stressful. I couldn’t quite let go enough to unschool and I had had no interest in trying to make nice with the fundagelicals. These days I find that I don’t care enough about the sorts of things that public school parents are supposed to care about (mainly test scores and a freakish obsession with attendance). I let my kids watch Disney movies, but I don’t have cable television and I limit their opportunities to watch TV. I don’t let my kids have free access to computers and electronic games, but I do allow them to have judicious access to the iPad and am still on the hunt for good educational games and resources.

Lately, I feel this limbo even more keenly as I’m finding some parts of the previous roles I played difficult to give up. I may not be homeschooling my son anymore, but I still think in terms of themes, subjects, units, and other ways to tie the ordinary parts of life into learning. Some habits, as they say, die hard.

Back in 2007, I was the stay-at-home parent to just one child and would look forward to the new issue of Mothering Magazine with the sort of excitement only mothers of small children can understand. In one of the issues that year there was an article by Jean Van’t Hul called “Small Hands, Big Art” that inspired me (link to the author’s website as the magazine article is not online). While my dreams of a toddler art group and then a homeschool art group never materialized (sadly, though not for a lack of effort on my part), I still tried to replicate some of the things that Van’t Hul talked about in her article both when my son was an only child and now when my table is groaning under the collective weight of artwork generated by three enthusiastic (and mildly serious) artists.


People ask me in real life how I come up with the ideas of the things we do together as a family, believing that I am some creative maven, but to be honest, I often feel anything but creative. I, like so many other parents, often shy away from allowing the kids to do art projects because I dread the mess. Dread it. I am still discovering spots of red and blue tempera paint that my now five-year-old daughter sent flying three years ago in my kitchen. And glue? Oh, the glue. Sometimes it feels like more than any reasonable person can handle.

But when it all comes down to it, I believe in my heart that this sort of creative outlet is important in young children. It’s important in school age children. It’s important for homeschoolers. It’s important for the parents of public schooled children. Anyway you slice it, if you have kids, then opportunities for artistic and creative expression at home is as important as any other extracurricular or school related activity. I believe this with every fiber of my being and just as passionately as I do the importance of children playing outside without adult direction or structure (and the adult watching from the sidelines or the kitchen window, of course).


Whatever the sort of parent you think you are, would like to be, or plan on becoming at any point in the future, I still encourage you to take a few deep breaths and dive right in to creating with your children. I would say it borders on a cultural imperative requiring that even grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other adults who care for children take part.

I bet you’re feeling a little overwhelmed at the thought of where to start, right? I have a few “rules” that I think might get you pointed in the right direction.


First, I think it’s important to be well rested. I have a great deal more patience with my children if I’ve had enough sleep the night before. You’re going to need every ounce of emotional and mental energy to make it through this alive. Well, maybe not alive, but at least to prevent meltdowns of the adult kind. This is, of course, the ideal situation. Life, as I’m sure you’re aware, is not ideal which is why this past weekend I found myself the administrator of the little artists’ studio complete with headache and plenty of pauses to count to ten and breathe deeply. Rule number two then would be that sometimes rule number one does not apply. Sometimes it’s worth just diving in anyway.

The remainder of my “rules” relate to materials used. Primarily, buy the best art supplies that you can afford and buy in quantity – both of which should be done with an eye towards free expression. Buy so that you can say “yes” more often than you say “no.” Buy paper in large reams and try to breathe when they go through four sheets in one sitting. Often. And deeply.

Why quality? Because there’s nothing more frustrating to an adult than when the tools you are given to complete your task either don’t work or break. The same is true for children. But again, not so expensive that your eye starts twitching when the kids go through it like water as they are wont to do.


Most importantly, leave the craft projects to someone else. As endearing as the cut on the line, glue the tab here, and otherwise follow directions to make some specific thing may be for busy-work-needers and fillers-of-children’s-time, it’s not the same thing as the freedom to create what you see in your mind or the ability to follow where your inspiration takes you. One is about coloring in the lines and filling up a box. The other is about thinking outside of the box and daring to make a few mistakes along the way that just might turn into the next great masterpiece.

With that goal in mind here are –

Some of my favorite sources:

Nasco (www.enasco.com) – Supplier to schools, day care centers, etc, etc, but most importantly open to the public. They’re local for me which means that I can drive down the highway and shop right in their store, but you can order online. Nasco has been my key to keeping art supplies cheap and plentiful. They sell name brands, but they also have a line of their own that’s wonderful as well.

Dick Blick (www.dickblick.com) – Another fantastic supplier. Sometimes when I’m researching a particular medium or product I find their website answers most of my questions. They also have a line of their own products that’s very good quality.

Imagine Childhood – Really amazing supplies some even made from natural materials. I’ve been eyeing up the Mercurius chalk for quite some time now.

Painting Boards – I like the birch plywood ones that Nova Natural sells. These are fantastic for protecting your table, but also make moving wet paintings a breeze.

My “must have” list of supplies:

Watercolor paint – I prefer pans because the kids can use them easier and I don’t have little jars of premixed paint sitting in my fridge. I bought cheap and went for 16 pans because my children ask for more colors, not less. I bought mine at Nasco and they must have been their brand because there was no label. For my second grader I went with a 10 pan Yarka.

Brushes – Royal Brush Big Kid’s Choice are my favorite. Plastic handles, comfort grips, and most importantly sturdy brushes that don’t shed bristles. I’ve purchased a number of brushes over the years, but these are my favorite hands down. A set of the Deluxe Shader 6-pack is the perfect place to start.

No-Spill Paint Cups – I have this set and love them for the under 6 crowd. I also love canning jars (pint for water, half-pint for paint) and simple 10-well paint trays.

Paper – 50lb and a bright white. I think the last time I bought paper I went in intending to purchase this one and left with this one. At least I think so. I need to buy some more and I’m kicking myself for not writing down the product number. A 500 sheet ream is a must. Whatever I bought, I love it for all of our drawing and painting needs.

The BARP (aka big-ass-roll-of-paper) – Great for protecting your table from paint, pumpkin guts, clay, glue, etc. Makes for quick and easy clean up. Also perfect for those times when a standard sheet of paper just isn’t big enough. This one from Nasco is beyond cheap for what you get.

Fingerpaint – Crayola, of course.

Tempra Paint – Crayola or Nasco’s.

Acrylic – We used to use Tempra paint almost exclusively, but regardless of what the paint folks say, it always seemed flaky and I wasn’t super thrilled with the end product. We’ve since switched to Solucryl which is a water soluble acrylic paint and reasonably priced to boot.

Paint Markers/Daubers/Bingo Markers – I got a set from Do-a-Dot Art when an educational store in the area was going out of business, but the Nasco brand is nice as well. This is a relatively mess free way for kids to paint so get a set for each kid. There will be fewer arguments and I’ve been known to leave my kids at the table with these while I escaped to the shower in the morning. It makes for the most wonderful peace and quiet.

Oil pastels – I love the Crayola ones because they’re inexpensive, easy for the kids to use, and the shape keeps them from rolling off the table.

Colored pencils (we love the erasable ones too), markers (thin, thick, scented), and crayons (regular, beeswax, sticks, and blocks) – Crayola primarily, but Stockmar and Lyra are heavenly. Stock up on these during the back-to-school sales. If your kids are in school, buy a set for home and a set for school.

Glue (sticks, bottles, craft, white and gel) – Lots, please. You wouldn’t believe how much glue kids can go through. Consider buying it in gallon or quart sizes.

Glue-ables – Pompoms, wiggly eyes, beads, beans, cotton balls, popsicle sticks, glitter, tissue paper, etc.

Scissors – Fiskars or other decent quality scissors appropriately matched to your child’s handedness.

Stickers – As many as possible in as many color, shapes, and sizes. A big bucket of stickers and large sheets of paper is another wonderful way to get a little peace and quiet.

Modeling materials (clay, playdough, Crayola Model Magic, etc) – Some to play with and some to make things with that will last. Add in some rolling pins and other tools for even more fun.

Pipe cleaners – Their bendable-ness never ceases to inspire my children to make wearable art (necklaces, bracelets, headbands, etc). Get as many colors, shapes, and sizes as you can find. This is another great way to keep little people entertained so that you can get dinner made or find where you left your brain.

My favorite places for inspiration and ideas:

All of my best ideas lately have come from Joyce Raimondo. She has a series of books (some out of print, eek!!) that use an artist as inspiration for picture study and then projects inspired by that artist. The series of oil pastel pictures I used in this post were inspired by a Degas painting in “Picture This!: Activities and Adventures in Impressionism.” Lou picked the first project Raimondo listed after the picture study. I’m probably going to kick myself for mentioning this to you, but if you can get them, get them. I had meant to get the full set earlier and didn’t. Now I’m wishing I had.

MaryAnn F. Kohl is another great author. She has books on art of all kinds. Books for art and toddlers, kids, science, storybooks, etc. She even has books about artists with hands-on experiences much like Raimondo’s. Don’t forget to check out her blog or her fantastic Pinterest board!

Amanda Blake Soule’s books and blog are a great way to see how someone else works art and creativity into their family’s every day life.

The Studio Blog from the Eric Carle Museum.

The Crafty Crow (blog)

The Artful Parent (blog) or her book “The Artful Parent” coming out in April this year.

And last, but certainly not least, I’ve also created a Pinterest board called “Art with Kids” where I’ll be pinning some of my favorites listed here as well as other resources and materials I find along the way.

There are many regrets, dear reader, in my life when it comes to raising my children – doing less art is not one of them. Here’s to making art together!


Today we’re:
Listening to music (though not all of us are sitting  backwards on a rocking chair) and taking pictures.  Old favorites.  Finding out we’re missing a few.  Oh, my!  Photo shoot with willing kids.  Picture me!  Picture me!  Discovering that I’m not such a bad photographer after all and that there’s no reason to go down to JcPenney to get Boo’s picture taken.  Oh, and that ordering prints through iPhoto is cheap.


Finding a new spot for the Buddha to sit seeing as certain people can’t keep their fingers out of the water and his old home was on my refinished antique sewing machine. We’re just going to call what happened there…character.  This one’s in the kitchen below the chalkboard that’s going to be home to our weekly menu plan because I’m not homeschooling anymore and I think it would be pretty.  I picked this cabinet (made from spark plug crates) up at an antique store many moons ago.  Discovering that I need to go antique shopping…like yesterday.


The cabinet is also home to our books.  According to our librarian (the second grader) this is where the non-fiction books belong.  He loves to label things in the house.  I had to start buying masking tape for the kids to use because keeping them in scotch tape was getting expensive.  Missing homeschooling and reminding myself several times a day that school was a good thing for a kid that blossomed into a writer when I had to cajole him into writing each. and. every. word.


A fresh tablescape with the table runner made by my mom and some placemats I got from Ikea who knows when and were sitting lost and forlorn on top of the dryer.  Oh, and art.  Lots of art with the beeswax blocks that never really caught on with the kids until recently.  Wishing that we had done more of this last year and less spelling, grammar, and pulling along.


Seriously amazing quilting.  I’ve sat with this here tablerunner for a good long while just looking at the quilting and still find something new every time I look at it.  This one’s going to be coming off and on the table several times a day.  No food-y hands on the tablerunner, please!

IMG_0897Lunch.  A mess in the microwave.  Sun bread.  Cheesy popcorn.  Birthday party plans.  Evites.  Playing in the snow.  Puppy.  Yelling a time or two to please stop fighting(!).  Referee.  Alarm clock.

A good day.


Tale of a Homeschool Dropout

I’ve planned on homeschooling my children since before they were born.  I’ve spent years of my life planning and researching and reading and talking and looking and hunting.  I’ve spent the better part of the last couple of years homeschooling.

On my own.

Now?  All I have left is the ifs. If my husband had a normal job… If my husband were home more… If I only had two children… If I were a better mom, I… If I were better at this…

That’s the funny thing about ifs.  You can’t ever really know the answer because the if…isn’t.

My husband doesn’t have a normal job.  He doesn’t work a normal schedule and sometimes we only see each other in passing. I don’t have two children, I have three and while Christian Fundies, who pride themselves on their ability to reproduce copiously because the sky guy says they have to, are able to do more, I can’t.

If I’m honest with myself, I kept on the last six months or so for the husband.  The topic of school came up about spring and the look on the husband’s face when I suggested it meant I didn’t talk about it again.  Just like that other thing two and a half years ago.  I did it because it was the thing to do and I was afraid to say what I really wanted.  I was afraid to speak from the depths and there’s no turning back.

While I love my husband dearly, I can’t make all my decisions as if what he wants is what’s most important.  If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself in the last month or so, it’s that I have to be somewhere.  I have to matter.

Which isn’t to say that anyone else around me (the husband included) said or behaved as if I didn’t matter.  It’s absolutely my problem.  I’ll spend money on everyone else first.  Do whatever anyone else wants instead of saying what I want.  Put everyone else in front of myself because it’s the thing to do.

Do it all while I get lost in the process.

I’m tired of doing things all on my own.  Tired of doctrinal statements and Christian privilege attached to everything.  Sad that there are so few kids for my son to play with in the neighborhood.  Tired of fighting my son to get him to do a small fraction of the school work that kids in school do because he’d rather play Legos all day long. All.  day.  long.  Too overwhelmed by the screaming of a certain someone…over every little thing…to find a way to do things differently so that my son comes willingly along because it can’t all be fun science and history projects 24/7.

So, we enrolled our oldest in the local public school.  He wants to go for the hot lunch and recess (did I mention that we eat a hot lunch everyday?).  I want to take one job title off my plate.  He’s got the perfect teacher for his very first year (owns a farm, brings in animals, nature, nature, nature).  And everything shifts around.

I’ve been labeling each individual pencil, crayon, and glue bottle because they say we must.  There are stacks of books to sell to pay for other school things (and maybe a yard or so of fabric for me).  All while running around like a chicken with my head cut off – portfolio, registration, shoes, clothes, supplies, that binder that made no sense without context, sell, print, package, and ship.

We’re excited and exhausted.  The last of the homeschool lesson plans have either been completed or cancelled because I’m done.  Someone else is going to take over for a while and I won’t have to try and hunt down the 4H lady to figure out how to join.

If you told me last week that this is where we’d be, I wouldn’t have believed you.  It’s been a wild last few days, but in the end it’s right.

It’s just right.

I’m a homeschool drop out.

And everything’s going to be just fine.

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Summer Vacation (with capital letters) and Goal Setting

Summer Vacation (with capital letters) stretched from two weeks into more than month.  I’ve been asked a few times when we’re going to start again and I usually just shrugged.  We’re enjoying the time off and…so…there you go.

I have gone through what’s left to cover of the weather unit (and made a few adjustments) and while we won’t get to our Earth Science lessons before the Fall Trimester begins, we’ve still accomplished quite a bit.

We’re going to continue Summer Vacation (with capital letters) through the end of August and right through Labor Day weekend. I will try to fit in two weather unit lessons during our break before finishing up the remaining three in the first week of September.  Then we’ll have the mini-break I had already planned before beginning the Fall Trimester on Wednesday, September 12th.

I’ve pretty much completed my school year lesson plans at this point minus a few Life Science lessons.  I had a rough sketch of a schedule finished awhile ago, but I’m reconsidering that.  We may switch back and forth between history and science (one week of history followed by one week of science) to help us focus a bit more in-depth on a subject for the span of a week.  Some people do this on a monthly basis (focus on science for a month and then history the next month), but we’re going to hold off on that just yet.

Mr. J’s strengths continue to include history, science, math, handwriting, and reading.  We’ll continue on as we have before in these areas as we stretch and shore up slight weaknesses within those subjects.

Mr. J’s weaknesses include writing and social skills which we will be focusing on in the coming year.

We’re a bit limited on social opportunities being that we’re secular, non-Christian homeschoolers.  My attempts at getting a secular group started failed rather miserably.  I did briefly consider trying out the homeschooling co-op nearby, but after contacting them earlier this week it’s clear to me that they will not be a good fit.  Somewhat frustratingly, this means that there are in effect two Christian homeschooling co-ops in the area and zero truly inclusive groups.

Homeschool Swim & Gym at the YMCA has not proven to be enough for Mr. J who is beginning to show a difference in maturity level compared to his public schooled peers.  Boy Scouts are out (doubly so after the Boy Scouts choose to reaffirm their exclusionary policies in July of this year).  The husband and I have been talking about this quite a bit lately and tossed around ideas like the Boys & Girls Club, 4-H, and enrolling Mr. J in the local public school.

We’ve settled on team sports (soccer in the fall and spring which Mr. J is already interested in plus maybe basketball), 4-H, and classes at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center.

For writing we’re going to focus on completing more of the daily writing exercises in Voyages in English plus we’ll consider adding in Bravewriter’s Jot It Down! later on this fall.  We’re also going to be continuing the progress we’ve made in reading comprehension last year with another round of Comprehension Plus.

On top of all that, I need to find a way to get it all done while also maintaining time for myself.  The more activities there are, the more driving around I do, and the less space there is for me.  It’s definitely going to require careful thought on my part to fit it all in!

Book #5 is Finished

We finished #5 on our Read Aloud Project book list yesterday. There was a part of me that wanted to push through on the 31st to get it finished up, but the kids would have revolted against me.

This one was a bit more difficult to read aloud, but with threads of similarity to John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” For that reason alone I’m glad to have read through it with the kids.

Ella Enchanted” is up next!


Jot It Down Tuesday

I’ve officially given up on Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” (for the reason, check this post).  I’m going to continue on with my NaNo Writer’s Workbook and Natalie Goldberg’s book.

I’m going to keep doing the morning pages because they work for me and I’m going to keep the concept of the artist’s date, but change it ever so slightly.  It won’t necessarily require that I go somewhere (which is challenging in and of itself) nor that I do it alone, but it does require that I do it for me – just for me and without feeling guilty about it.

I’m acknowledging that I’m burnt out and while I have an agenda in mind, I’m going to set it aside.  I could power through the rest of my science plans and easily cover what I think I should before fall, but I’m not going to.

I’m not going to feel guilty about this.

I’m taking the week off of homeschooling and maybe the next.  I’m calling it our Summer Vacation (with capital letters) and I’m not going to feel guilty about it.  Yes, there’s still that research paper for Mr. J to finish and we’re still due for a bunch of science-y stuff including some books that I had to return to the library, but we’ll roll with it.  This is nothing that can’t be adjusted or accounted for.  It’s not the end of the world.

We can roll with the punches.

This week (or more) break is my artist’s date.  It’s the thing I’m doing just for me and I’m not going to feel guilty about it.

I will send my children out in the yard to play the moment their bright eyes open and will encourage them to continue playing for the rest of the day.  There will be picnics in the yard so that there’s less food on the floor for me to clean up.  I may even consider paper plates (shocker!) so that I don’t have to do as many dishes.  I will stick to my menu plan for this week because I already bought the food, but next week I may not cook at all.  I may buy pre-packaged convenience foods or we may eat only sandwiches…on paper plates.  I’m going to be contributing to climate change, I’m sure, but it’s just for two weeks.

I will think about taking my kids to go swimming at the Y or at the wading pool, but in a non-guilt inducing way.  If we make it there, great.  If we don’t, I’ll remember that I am not ruining their childhood by not going.

I will work on a few paper pieced blocks, or not.  I will read the books on my nightstand, or not.  I might even make strawberry margaritas, take my camping chair out into the yard, put my feet in the sandbox, and pretend I’m on an island instead of sitting under a maple tree, ten blocks away from oodles of traffic, on a city lot, in Wisconsin.  Or not.

I’m going to let go and enjoy the summer because it’s almost August and it won’t be long before we’ll need a jacket to go outside and I’ll have to turn on the furnace to keep my teeth from chattering.

I’m doing it all for me because I never do stuff for me.

And it’s not the end of the world.


More Resources on Drought and the Dust Bowl for Kids

I updated the Weather Unit page with the books and resources we used in talking more about drought as well as what we added to discuss the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.  There are a few resources we’ve used along the way that don’t always make it on to the page or that I may check out from the library to place on the book shelves at home.  To that end, here are some of the resources we’ve found helpful:

  • The National Drought Mitigation Center’s Drought for Kids pages (h/t to Linda @ Each Little World)
  • Droughts” by Louise Park
  • The Dust Bowl” by Therese DeAngelis and Gina DeAngelis
  • The Dust Bowl Through the Lens” by Martin W. Sandler – The photography in this one is poignant.  The author uses a two page spread to convey the facts about the Dust Bowl.  This is not a book that we sat and read together, but one that I checked out with the intention of my son looking through it on his own.  It has the right mix of interesting pictures to draw him in.  This is one of those things I think he could spend part of an afternoon looking over on his own.
  • Dust for Dinner” by Ann Turner –  This one is an easy reader.  It was much too simple for my son, but still a nice little story.  We checked it out from the library and my son read it to us on the way home.
  • The Journal of C. J. Jackson:  A Dust Bowl Migrant” by William Durbin – This one is unfortunately out of print.  It’s part of the A Dear America/My Name is America series and takes the journal/diary format.  I’m planning on using it for our next read aloud when our current one is over.  It tells the story of the Dust Bowl through the eyes of a young boy.  We picked this one up from the library (and it looks like someone’s dog ate it), but there are a number of inexpensive used copies available on Amazon.
  • Out of the Dust” by Karen Hesse – Newbery Medal winner tells the story of the Dust Bowl through first-person poetry.  This would be a fantastic for those families who use Poetry Teatimes in their homeschooling routines.