Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Peter Reynolds, Reggio Emilia, and Me

I'm still on Cloud 9 after Peter Reynolds, author of Ish and The Dot, let me know that he tweeted my Reggio Emilia post.  He even commented on my blog post.  It said, "Fantastic! This is such a great intro to the Reggio approach... everyone who interacts with children should read your blog. It will inspire people to dig deeper into this inspired approach to nurturing children's gift, thinking, talents. Thank you again for sharing!"

How awesome is that?  Well, I had a few people let me know that they had no idea what the Reggio Approach is and don't have kids at home, so they don't know children's book authors either.  Even though I usually stick to gardening, cooking, decorating, cleaning, and sewing posts on this blog, I thought I'd share a little about Reggio Emilia and some books by Peter Reynolds.  I have written about both of these on my other blogs.

Here is the original Reggio Emilia post that Peter Reynolds tweeted yesterday:

Reggio Inspired

Have you heard of Reggio Emilia, Italy?  I remember hearing a bit about this place when I was doing my undergraduate work, at Seattle Pacific University, in the 90's.  I was introduced to Reggio Emilia again in about 2000, when I was working on my Master's in Reading and Literacy.  The introductions were brief, maybe just a paragraph or two in a book.  About 8 years ago, I was chatting with a friend about typical teacher stuff and she was telling me about someone she knew who was going on a Reggio Emilia study tour.  That little conversation sparked my curiosity again. I remembered hearing something about schools in Reggio Emilia, but didn't remember what made them significant.  My reading about the Reggio Emilia approach started at that moment.

I started by reading Authentic Childhood, Exploring Reggio Emilia in the Classroom.

I discovered a favorite book about teaching art in a Reggio inspired manner.

Then, I discovered Playful Learning. It was like lights shining down from Heaven and angels singing.

I signed up for an online class in Creating Playful Spaces and started organizing my home and classroom differently.  I told families about the book and classes and showed them specific examples of how to incorporate Playful Learning into their homes.  It was right about that time, that I decided to create Love, Laughter, and Literacy. An early childhood literacy blog was just the thing I needed to help me really dive into issues and trends as well as support families.

So what does it mean to be Reggio Inspired?  And what's the story behind this type of learning?

The town of Reggio Emilia was virtually destroyed after WWII.  The people living in the town didn't want to wait for their government to figure out how and when to rebuild their schools, so they decided to do it themselves.  Brick by brick, and book by book, they built their schools.  They did it the way they knew schools and education should be built... with kids at the forefront.  This would be an approach to education that challenged and accepted the gifts that all kids brought with them each day.  We often talk, in education, about meeting the needs of the children.  In Reggio Emilia, kids are viewed as people who bring their own unique gifts and talents to the classroom, not just empty vessels ready to be filled. Teachers in Reggio Emilia don't "meet the needs" of their kids, they create experiences that enhance the gifts that each child brings.

Reggio Emilia schools help children learn in different ways from traditional American schools, but have inspired many to try their methods.  Reggio Inspired schools were born and study tours were developed to help educators learn more about the schools.  A Reggio inspired school is one where the teacher understands learning to be grounded in experience.  The environment is considered the third teacher and teachers set up a space that encourages inquiry. (Two teachers reside in each classroom.)  Every space is created in a manner that engages students and parents.  There are many more elements that make Reggio schools special, such as integration of transparency, the Hundred Languages of the Child, making learning visible through documentation of learning, and the amazing Ateliers and focus on the arts.

I'm taking baby steps toward my own Reggio Inspired classroom and home life.  Our homelife is grounded in experiences.

 My classroom, in my old school, had a designated Atelier, although there is not enough space in my new building.

Even without this dedicated space, there is still a focus on the arts in my kindergarten class.

 I am introducing more inquiry based learning into my classroom too.

You can see more photos of these projects by searching Instagram for #CTInquiry and #allaboutinquiry.

 I've been specifically focusing on my documentation of student learning through photography this year and it's been an amazing process.

I'm certainly not "there" yet, but I'm inching closer. (The schools in Reggio Emilia weren't built over night and my Reggio Inspired classroom can't be built that quickly either.)  High on my list of priorities is a study tour to Reggio Emilia.  I would LOVE to go in the next year or two... we'll have to see about that.  Meanwhile, I will keep reading and getting more inspiration.  I'm excited about a new documentation process that is coming to our school, called WAKIDS, and the possibilities for transforming my environment and structure to fit the needs of center based/inquiry based learning.  In my vision, it all blends together perfectly.  Only time will tell if I can actually make that happen!

If you know me from the educational setting, you've probably heard me talk about the Reggio Approach many times.  In fact, I think I see eye rolls once in a while when I bring up a new Reggio book I've been reading.  I'm inspired to make changes to my own class, but I also see a need for change in our entire system of education.  I was chatting with my principal yesterday and we were talking about the big push to get kids "college and career ready" but I think the entire system of education needs to define what that really means.  Careers are different than they were 20 years ago and they will be MUCH different when my kindergartners graduate from high school or college.  Are we really doing our kids a favor by forcing them to conform to the "standards" that we expect and testing them based on those standards.  (Yes, I believe that having common standards to teach toward is a good thing, but that getting to those standards needs to look different for every child. In addition, I DO NOT think that standardized tests are the way for YOUNG children to demonstrate their learning. Don't get me started on that!)

Kate, at An Everyday Story has a great description of the Reggio Approach on her blog.  Click on the picture below (photo from her blog post) to take you there.

I hope you are as inspired as I am to look more closely at the Reggio Approach.  It has changed my image of the child and deepened my understanding of how kids learn.

Happy exploring!

And here is my original post on Peter Reynolds' books.  It was so awesome to see that he read my blog post and appreciates my work!  It's a teacher/blogger's dream come true!


Oh, how I love art!  I am, by no means, an artist.  As a mater of fact, I FEARED art as a child.  I could not draw to save my life and it seemed that it was always part of every subject.  We had to draw models in math (pictures to represent our thinking) and it went hand in hand with the subject of writing.  That doesn't even begin to touch the traditional - Friday Art Project.  I was no good at it, and it really frustrated me, but I wished I could do art because I loved the idea of it.

When I became a teacher, I decided to take the fear out of art for my kids.  I started taking art classes for teachers in college and have spent many years practicing art with my own kids.  I can honestly say that I am no better at art than when I started, but I've learned to overcome my fear. I strive to find the art in every day life and make things beautiful around me. My big learning is that it just doesn't have to be perfect... that's all.

When I was at the NAEYC conference in Dallas, a few weeks ago, I was able to hear Peter Reynolds speak.  I could have listened to him all day.  He just GETS kids.  He knows their thoughts and fears when it comes to art and creativity and helps them think outside the box.  The books, pictured above, are a trio which really inspire kids to be the artist THEY are and not try to be perfect.  Sky Color, Ish, and The Dot are absolutely beautiful stories about the fact that it might not look exactly like a house, but it's house-ish.  Today, we did some Peter Reynolds inspired art.  It didn't have to be perfect, but it was our way of practicing small motor, trying to draw something new, and then adding labels later.  

It was good day, and we were ALL artist-ish.

Enjoy creating art!!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Bunnies, Berries, and Basil

Ok, there is actually nothing in this post about basil, but the title sounded better than Bunnies, Berries, and Zucchini.

Our garden is really starting to take off.  We've planted several new varieties of berries this year, which I'm really excited about.  We planted the Brazzelberries, which are dwarf raspberry bushes that do well in pots.  I planted a few new strawberries too.  I still need to make several trips to Biringer Farms for my BIG picks, but at least I can pick myself a snack now and then.

We've started lots of different seeds in the garden too.  I usually wait until May to plant my basil and tomatoes because they don't like cool and wet conditions.  I'll have to see how things go this year, with our new little friends hopping around.  Most of you know that we have a pet bunny at our house, but this year we also have a family of wild bunnies living under our deck.  They are awfully cute, but I'm afraid they will love our lettuce a little too much!

My garden is my happy place, so I'm thankful that Spring is finally here and my mini-homesteading can begin for the season.

How about you?  Have you started your planting yet?  What do you plant in your garden?  Are you trying anything new this year?  I'd love to hear about it!

Happy planting!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Big Scary Wall

Everybody has a wall like this one.  My sister calls it The Big Scary Wall.  It's that one wall in your house that is just a blank canvas, but it's SO big that you don't even know where to begin.

I've had grand plans for this space since we moved in, 10 years ago.  My plans have involved an entry table with lamps and a picture (hubby said no), barn wood shelves (don't even know where to begin with this idea), a gallery wall with photos (my house is already filled with photos of my kids), and even building shelves into the wall (again... don't know where to begin with that one).  It's been 10 years and I have done nothing with this space.

This is the big wall you see when you walk into my house and take a right, toward the kitchen.  It is also directly across from the dining room.  Here is the lovely view you see as you are sitting in my dining room.  Pretty blah, huh?

Well, I have finally decided that it's time to do something about the big scary wall.  I bought 3 small-ish items, which won't even make a dent in this space.  But, the best news is that I have an IDEA of what I want to do!  It's taken 10 whole years but I now know how I want this space to look!
  I can't wait.  

Here are 2 of the items I purchased for the big scary wall.  The rest of the things will come from thrift stores, possibly an antique store or two if I don't find what I'm looking for at the thrift stores, and my pantry cupboards.

I can hardly wait!  Do I have you wondering what I'm going to do and why I'm so excited?  Oh, I certainly hope so!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Cooking Ahead

Want to know my #1 secret for feeding my family during the crazy work weeks? It's chicken.  We eat chicken several times a week and I try to cook several pounds ahead of time. This week, my hubby cooked the chicken for me on the smoker.

My usual method for cooking chicken is to throw 2-4 pounds of chicken in the crockot with a few cups of chicken broth, turn the crockpot on low for 7 hours, and leave for work.

Chicken cooked on Sunday makes a great chicken Caesar wrap on Monday. 

I also chop up the cooked chicken and put it in freezer bags. Small bags are perfect to grab in the morning for my lunchtime salad. 

This week we will use the chicken in a casserole and a pasta dish, as well as the Caesar wraps I already showed you. Last week we used our chicken to make chicken soft tacos, white chicken chili, and chicken pizza. 

Once the chicken is cooked, dinner is a snap!

Happy cooking!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Creating An Outdoor Learning Space

The seeds and starts have been planted in our little garden and my attention is turning to how we use our outdoor space.  My daughter is 10 now, and she has used the playset behind our garden, less and less over the past two years.

I always said that, when the kids outgrew the playset, we could get an above ground pool for this area.  It's a nice flat spot that gets lots of sun!

The problem I'm having is that I just don't see them using a pool.  We love swimming and go to the local pool several times a week in the summer, but my kids are spoiled.  The pools are really warm. (Side story:  When they were little I would hook up the hose to the hot water heater so we could have warm water in the blow up pool.) We live in the Pacific Northwest, and nights are not warm.  The pool water in an unheated pool is pretty chilly!  I truly think that if we put a pool in this spot, I would go unused.

My mind has been wandering toward the idea of Outdoor Learning in my classroom lately.  I'm kind of obsessed with Reggio Emilia and Reggio Inspired learning spaces.  You can read more about my Reggio obsession on my literacy blog.  I've been reading about wonderful outdoor spaces that simply invite kids into nature, and it made me start to wonder if I could create something inspiring out here.

Can't you image a little arbor or bridge inviting a 10 year old and her friends into a mini outdoor school to play?

I'm picturing a few Adirondak chairs, tree stumps for side tables, maybe a table made from a tree round, a chalk board on the fence, and balance beams made from logs.  Little outdoor lights, hanging from the fence would complete the space.  The little kids (the 10 year olds) might use it to play school, or games on the chalkboard, while the big kids (the 14 year old crowd) could use it as a hang out that's a little further away from mom and dad on a summer night.  Maybe I'm dreaming, but I think this could be a really cool space!

I've created a Pinterest board with ideas for my outdoor learning space.  Some of the ideas are more suited to a school environment, but there are lots of ideas that could be used in the backyard as well.  

I can see using lots of natural materials, which might keep cost down.  Now, I just need to find a neighbor who is cutting down a tree and doesn't need the wood.

Happy outdoor space planning!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Spring Gardening Kind Of Day

Hello Spring Break!  I really love you!

It was a beautiful, sunny, day in the Pacific Northwest and I spent my afternoon in the garden. My hubby and I went to Flower World a few days ago and I had some new plants waiting for me.

We bought 2 new blueberry bushes.  (This time, I promise that I will remember to water them MORE than the other plants in the yard because they really need lots of water. Lesson learned.)

We bought 2 Raspberry Shortcakes by Monrovia.  I can't wait to to see how this dwarf raspberry does in a pot on my deck.  Yes, I have visions of sitting of sitting in my comfy chair, and reaching over to grab myself a snack.

My youngest was a pretty good little helper.  We added chicken manure to the garden and she helped turn the garden and rake it out.

I pulled a ten year old ivy plant out of the pot, on my deck, and replaced it with my little Shortcake.  I will FOREVER be pulling ivy out of that, I'm afraid.

I planted lettuce and parsley starts, and I also planted a few seeds.  I planted carrots, beans, and two varieties of zucchini.  I will add basil and tomatoes in May, and I will plant more lettuce and beans in two weeks.  I also have potatoes that will be grown in bags this year. I wanted to try something new, so I'll let you know how the potato bags do.

The strawberry plants got a little TLC today too, with fresh soil.

At the end of the day, I propped my feet up on 5 bags of dirt, and poured myself a glass of Grape Crush.  

Cheers, to a job well done!
Happy gardening!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Wire Crafting With Kids

A few days ago, I wrote a post about some fun activities to do with your kids over Spring Break.  A couple of people told me they took my suggestions and bought an item or two!  Yay!  I hope you are all enjoying a little at-home-creativity.

Well, my daughter and I decided to take on a bit of wire crafting yesterday.  It's pretty fun, friends!  I've never done anything with wire, except using it to trellis my fruits and veggies in the garden.  I've been interested because it's something that is introduced quite frequently in Reggio Emilia, Italy.  (You can read more about my Reggio Emilia obsession on my literacy blog).  I brought out the materials for wire crafting and my daughter was a bit intrigued, but didn't know what to do with them.  I do want to grab a few books from the library, to get some more ideas.  We pulled out the iPad and looked up some tutorials on You Tube.

One of the first tutorials to pop up was a ring.  This was my daughter's first attempt.

I love it!  She loved it so much she hasn't taken it off since she made it.  

Here are a few product suggestions to get you started, if you are new to wire crafting.

I have a Pinterest board set up for wire crafting now.

I certainly don't have the patience for some of the amazing tutorials I have seen online, but there were several things that might be fun to try.  I'm most excited to introduce this as a medium for demonstrating learning in our nature provocations in the classroom.  (Ok, that just confirmed that my teacher-brain is always running!)

Happy wire crafting!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Easter Activities For The Kids

One of my first assignments, when I started working for LeapFrog, was to create some Easter activities for their Learning Path app and website.  They were looking for a range of activities that would work for very young children and something that would be great for the older kids as well.  I came up with three activities including sensory play-doh, sensory egg shakers, and a scappy/artsy card for older kids to try.  The colors in the play-doh eggs made my heart go pitter patter.  Well, after completing this assignment, I sent it off and had the most wonderful response from LeapFrog.  They sent me an email telling me that they loved these activities, photography, and my writing so much that they were going to use these as the cover in their newsletter that was slated to go out to 2.75 million people.  That totally stopped me in my tracks, friends.  It was such a great feeling to know that my work would reach that many people!  Since Easter is coming quickly, I thought it would be a good time to share these again.  You can click on the links, below, to take you to Learning Path and find out the instructions for each of these activities.

I hope these activities keep your kids busy and you enjoy them as much as we did!

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

How To Keep Your Kids Busy Over Spring Break

Spring break is almost here!  We are sticking pretty close to home this year and it made me think about what we are going to do to keep ourselves busy.  This blog is all about home and family.  I love to share cooking, sewing, gardening, and art projects that we are doing around here so I thought I'd let you in on my secret weapon.  I must confess that I don't always come up with amazing ideas on my own to keep my daughter busy.  I love books and I'm always on the lookout for fun How-To books for her.  Over the past few years, these have provided hours of entertainment.

*In full disclosure, I'm part of the Amazon Affiliate program, so if you choose to buy a product by clicking on it, I get a little kick-back.  I promise, I wouldn't tell you to buy these books unless I really and truly loved them.*

First up is the Mom and Me Cookbook.  I have a pretty big children's cookbook collection and this one is my absolute favorite.  

If you're up for a little sewing, this book has some great projects for beginners.  My daughter and niece made both of the projects on the front of the book, had a great time, and learned a new skill.


If gardening is your thing, then this next book is great for getting a few little projects going.


The next item is something that I don't actually own, but it is on my wish list.  I've been wanting to do some experimenting with wire art in the classroom and at home.  I thought this would be a good way to start and see how we like it.


I bought this pipe cleaner book when we were on vacation and needed an activity for our down-time.  It was a great way to keep kids busy.  Did you know the best way to cut pipe cleaners is with nail clippers?  The book comes with pipe cleaners and shows you how to make all sorts of different animals.


Ok, this one is awesome.  Have you ever heard of watercolor pencils?  You color with them, like normal pencils, but then you add water to the colored-on paper with a paintbrush.  It makes it look like a watercolor painting!  You might be thinking, "Ok, that's great, but I can't draw."  Well, neither can I!  This book walks you through the drawing process, step by step, and you end up with a pretty cool product.  My daughter liked this one and even framed a few of her paintings.


My last suggestion is the Loopdedoo.  It's a little "machine" that helps you make friendship bracelets out of embroidery floss.  Each bracelet takes just minutes and there are tons of different looks you can make.  This was a Christmas present one year and it kept my daughter busy for the entire break.

I can't wait for Spring Break.  Sigh.  Arts and crafts, gardening, sewing, and baking are on my To Do list.  Doesn't that sound lovely?

Happy shopping!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mission: Organization - The Kitchen Drawers

As I've been thinking about what should come next in my Mission: Decrapification Organization, I ran across an old post on the kitchen drawers.  Ok, I guess these drawers need to be next.  Here's the old post.  I have no time to write a new post.  I have drawers to organize.

How many drawers do you have in your kitchen for cooking, baking, and food prep tools?

In my kitchen there are three drawers just for gadgets and tools, not including drawers for knives, silverware, and hot pads. On Easter Sunday, I was looking for my ice tongs. When I couldn't find them, my family started helping me look. I can't tell you how embarrassing it is when three people are searching for a kitchen tool and can't seem to get their hands on it. I LOVE organization and I know there absolutely has to be a better way to organize my kitchen.

Over the weekend, I decided to tackle the drawers. I started by taking everything out of all three drawers. All of my tools and treasures covered the entire counter and the stove. The first thing I thought was that I'd have to get rid of a few things.

Once I started sorting, I found that it really wasn't that much stuff. My tools just needed to be grouped together. I made piles of like items. Things were looking better already.

Then, I decided which drawers to put things into. I designated one drawer for baking and tools I use at the stove.

One drawer was chosen for everyday items, like can openers, kitchen scissors, and a few cookie cutters for cutting out cute peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The last drawer was the deepest, so it was chosen for big things that I either don't use that often or needed a little extra room.

Somehow several cookie cutters had found their way into the drawers. That's because they don't really have a home. Some days they may be in the art cubby with the Play-Doh supplies. Another day they could be on a shelf in the pantry. For someone who bakes quite often, this is not a good thing. I decided to put all of the stainless and copper cookie cutters in a glass bowl, up high in the pantry. These are my good cookie cutters and I'd prefer the kids don't play with them.

There are a few with sentimental value, from baking with my mom when I was younger.

The copper Wiltons are just so pretty!

The plastic cookie cutters were stored down low in the pantry, so the kids could reach them, but I could find them as well.

What I'd REALLY like to do is make a trip to Storables or the Container Store. They have terrific drawer dividers and perfect bins for my baking supplies. That will have to wait for another day and a different paycheck. At least for now, I can easily get to my apple cutter, can opener, or measuring cups. I still don't know where the ice tongs are though!

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