Monday, August 10, 2020

What We (Think We) Are Doing for School, 2020/21

 When I got the increasingly rare wild hare to do a blog post, I was feeling a lot perkier and energetic than I am now. So this may not be as extensive a post as I'd imagined. We'll see... 


We started school today. I know, it's August 10, and we've never really been year-round homeschoolers. I mean, we have been in my mind, but between one day camp and another - and often one play date or other scheduled fun any other - there have been so few empty weeks in our summers that formal school never really happened.  Then there was 2020. (I have a feeling we'll be seeing phrases like that a Lot in years to come!) 

Anyway, although we've "schooled" roughly half of the summer thus far, we have taken the last two weeks off for day camps (one at TRFC, and then local ones at dance and taekwondo). I took (nearly) full advantage of that time for planning, purchasing, and printing. (I should add praying to that list, but I won't lie: it was light. Not non-existent, but it needs to be better. Note to self.) 

Today we dove in to our new school year with a soft-start on some of our new curriculum. 

Back for Another Year: 


Only a few months ago, I implemented a "Whiteboard Scheduling System" that continues to work beautifully.
Tauna (of, not to mention a personal friend!) has been very big on "Loop Scheduling" for quite a while, and my system is definitely a close relative. Even a sibling. But even her paper-based schedules seemed a little too formal and unsustainable for me. Look, my kids can't keep track of a pencil. A schedule on paper is just one more thing that is never where it's supposed to be. Bookkeeping that won't happen. Still, they were at the back of my head, and finally what shook out is this "Command Center" thing that just... works. 

It is a simple as it looks. A list of subjects, along with check-boxes for the number of times they need to be completed during the week. Our memory verse at the top right. That's it. Well, except for the reward system. At the end of the week they get 3 tokens per checkbox. These are saved and redeemed every month or two for a mutually agreed-upon lagniappe.



  • Writing Strands (Master Books)
  • Typing (
  • Spelling-U-See (Demme Learning)
  • Self-directed creative writing, mostly comic book style
  • Cursive (forgot who, just a basic workbook)


  • Handwriting Without Tears, first cursive book. (She calls it Handwriting with Lots of Tears. I don't care. It seems to work.)
  • Low-key creative writing, comic style and other lightly guided options
  • Typing (


  • Handwriting Without Tears


We have enjoyed Life of Fred math over most of the kids' school career. However, I've found it difficult to consider it a "full" math curriculum. Its minimalist approach to practice problems has seemed far too light-weight, while the books themselves are short enough that we advance beyond what the kid is really ready for too quickly.
So, we spent a year or two using Masterbooks Math for the older two, while Lucy finally used up that A Beka 1st grade math book we've had around since James was 6.
This approach had plenty of problems of its own, most especially for Grace who took a particular dislike to the Masterbooks curriculum. Also, James has aged out of it.
Finally, I decided that I'm probably using Life of Fred wrong. (Hmm, maybe I should have read the parent notes a little more carefully!)
So, we're trying again, with a little more intentionality.
This is the plan.
The girls will do roughly two chapters of Fred 1x1 with me each week. On the days we don't do a chapter, they will use worksheets generated at that practice facts and concepts that are in the same general range as the book they're studying. We won't go nuts with these: usually there will be well under a dozen practice problems per day.
And when we get to the end of a Fred book where I don't feel they've really mastered the concepts - we'll go back! For instance, I estimate that when Lucy finishes "Goldfish," we will want to return to "Edgewood" for review. Grace may reach the end of "Honey" or maybe "Ice Cream" before going back a book or two for review.  We'll work through books much faster the second time through.
That may not be exactly how it works out, but that's my current plan.
I also hope to intentionally add math games at least once or twice a week.

James, on the other hand, should be nearly done with the elementary series based on what he studied last year - but he never went through them! So we're starting this year with an accelerated trip through books H through M. He is being "bribed" to go quickly, so that I don't get a bunch of "But MOM, I already did a chapter today. That's all the math I Have to do, right?!" - when he's deep in review of basic multiplication!
I am hoping he can be done by November, but I could be way off. There may be more covered in Fred than I think, and he might not be able to pull off 5+ chapters a week. We'll see. Again, flexibility is the name of the game here.
After he completes the Fred review, the working plan is to try a public school curriculum called Envision Math 2.0, Accelerated 7th Grade. I was gifted these books (and several others for the same level) by a school teacher friend, and James and I finally identified this one as the most likely candidate. Again, I Hope that we'll get there by November. We might not.

Brand New This Year


We've been woefully light in our science studies over the past several years. We tried a secular online curriculum called "Science Mysteries," and always enjoyed the projects. The secular nature didn't bother me - much - because I am pretty secure in my own Creationist understanding and quite willing to interject when needed.
But we were trying to make it happen with a co-op, and when that pooped out, so did we. So I told myself that Jonathan Park episodes combined with a week of Outdoor School and the occasional OMSI visit was somehow adequate. And possibly it was. But it's time now to be a little more formal with James racing towards middle school. (Or even In it by some measures... ack!)
After a couple of hours (low estimate) of poking around, I decided on another online program called Crosswired Science. (Honesty time: I was on the fence between them and a textbook based option when they offered to give it to me for $20/year instead of $100!) But, I'm hopeful. This one is explicitly Christian, and also explicitly multi-age. And it is built on a spiral - topics are revisited after a year or two - and with the underlying philosophy that science is all related (cross-wired), such that learning about a bird's feathers helps illuminate fluid dynamics as well as biology and the more you know about subject A the more you can funnel into subject B. I like that concept.
Of all the new stuff I've chosen to add this year, this is the one I am least confident about. I am very fearful that we (I) will bog down after a month or two. We'll get to a place where it's expecting a lot from the kids in terms of hands-on experiments and other projects. They'll resist. I'll feel like I'd rather go to the dentist than dissect something. (They will too.) We won't have materials on hand for some project or another. It won't feel like we can move forward until we do. And it will slowly fade away...
But maybe it won't. While they offer lesson plans and projects and material that could easily consume more than an hour a day, I think it will be reasonably customizable. They even offer a calendar that supports you using it as a supplement (1 or 2 days a week) instead of an overwhelming, all-consuming anchor on your day.
So like I said... hopeful!


Spelling-U-See does not work for Grace. While I have not - and probably will not - had her professionally evaluated (long story), I would not be surprised if she turned out to be on the very high-functioning end of the dyslexia spectrum. Her reading is fine. Her comprehension is great. But her spelling... not good. And her handwriting... not great. She was still reversing letters at the beginning of last year, and right and left are pretty hard for her. So there are reasons to suspect.
Anyway, we quit with Spelling-U-See in the middle of last year after one too many break-downs and just took a break.
This year I decided to try All About Spelling, a heavily phonics-based "Orton-Gillingham" compliant program that seems to work heavily with flashcards and other manipulables.  
I definitely don't understand this program well yet. It's not even in the same ballpark as Spelling-U-See. I think it is going to take a fair amount of 1x1 instructor time, which could be a drag, especially as I'm using it for Lucy as well. (I Really don't know if Lucy might be on that spectrum too. But SUS was a struggle for her at least partially because it was Mostly independent and I didn't get involved as much as I needed to.)
I'm not going to say much more about it at the moment, because I don't even know what I don't know. But I am hopefully optimistic we can make some forward progress not just in spelling but in confidence about spelling (and thus writing) this year.

SO... today was day 1. 
And it went better than expected, in most ways. We started working on memorizing a Bible verse. The existing subjects went off well. We got started with All About Spelling. Science had a hiccup: #2 lost her cool before we managed to get started. Completely. Partially my fault: I took the wrong moment to bring up a not-entirely-minor error in judgement from last night. And she didn't take it well.
But, I adjusted. I set up the video she was supposed to watch - with attached quiz - on the second laptop and sent her to her room. 
It wasn't a perfect solution, but it was as good as I can hope for. Meltdowns were a constant source of derailments last season. One of things I have got to learn as a teacher is not to let the perfect(ish) become the enemy of the good. When I want group work to happen and one member of that group is unavailable for whatever reason... I need that Not to derail us. I won't always have an Easy back-up plan. But I need to put responsibility and as much natural consequence as possible on the "melter" rather than the rest of us. 
Brave words. :) But like I said, day 1 went OK. Here's to days 2-200!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Need a Mask?

Hey, all!
I've been making masks. Lots of masks. Maybe not masses of masks, but very nearly!
I am not donating these masks to hospitals. This is not because I don't believe that they need them, it's just that there are tons of people on that right now, but I still don't see Any of my neighborhood cashiers, baristas, or even fellow grocery shoppers wearing masks. 
So I would like to give YOU a mask. I don't care who you are or why you need it: I just want you to have one if you feel it would help you be safer. Do feel free to tell me what you'll use them for, though, 'cause I am curious!
If you want one, please drop me a line at Make sure that you put "Mask" in the subject line, because I have a bad feeling that evil auto-crawling bots are going to generate a lot of spam.
Also, be sure to mention if you would prefer female, male, or neutral colors and patterns. 

Obviously these are not N95 certified masks capable of protecting you from the black plague, nuclear fall-out, or the zombie apocalypse. That said, they're far better than nothing, and quite possibly Nearly as good as a standard non-N95 medical mask. When combined with social distancing, sanitizer, and common sense, that is. Here are some tips on use.
0) Keep your clean mask in a clean zip-lock.
1) Sanitize your hands before picking up your clean mask.
2) Know which side is the front. Don't confuse them.
3) Always use the ear loops to put the mask on, and again when taking it off. Try not to handle the fabric.
4) After use, consider the outside of the mask "Dirty," just like the handle of your shopping cart! Fold your used mask with clean-to-clean, dirty-to-dirty surfaces touching (and outside), especially if you need to reuse it at the next stop. Maybe stick it back in a bag, Not your pocket.
5) Sanitize hands again after taking it off.
6) Wash your mask with your laundry, or by hand in hot water. (If there is a nose wire, remove it first. Trust me!) Dry in the dryer.
If it's sunny, line drying outside will be extra helpful - assuming you don't have any seasonal allergies! You Can boil your mask on the stove for 15 minutes. You can even put it in your Instant Pot. (Warning: colors will probably run.) But just machine washing Should be adequate.

Here's what some official-type people have to say about safe mask wearing.

And here's a great article from WIRED magazine on why it really makes sense to do this: It's Time to Face Facts, America: Masks Work

Do you want to make your own masks? It's really very easy, assuming you have a machine, cotton fabric, and 1/8 inch wide elastic. (Aye, there's the rub! This April, that stuff is Hard to find. I am using clear beading elastic about as thick as I can find. Others have found ways to use hair ties. Others are using fabric ties, but that quadruples production time and also makes them harder to put on.)

Here is a video from Deaconess medical center.

In a nutshell, you need two pieces of cotton, 9 by 6 inches. Kids masks (8 and under) can be 6 x 5.
Unlike the video, I am using only two tucks, because tucks are hard and someone said that having just two was OK.
Also unlike the video, I gave up on finding proper elastic. Instead I am using 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide loops of polyester ribbon sewn into each corner. I thread 12 inches of heavy elastic beading cord through and tie a loop as my final step. (Bonus: masks are easier to sew when not fighting internal elastic!)
I am considering adding a nose wire in my "mark 4" mask.
Someday I may even try a shaped mask. But for mass production, these are great and seem to do the job.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The 7 Deadly D's

I love to imagine that if I just find the Right way to explain something that is, in fact, a heart issue, I will magically be able to transform my children's behavior And attitudes. 
OK, I get it. The Holy Spirit is in charge of their hearts.
But sometimes a snappy little bit of alliteration does help clarify expectations - at very worst, I have sometime concrete to point to when behavior deteriorates.
Anyway, here's what we have up on our wall. I drive the kids nuts with it.

(Hat trick to Tauna Meyer from  Proverbial Homemaker for the the Obedience rubric.)

When Instructed or Corrected, avoid these 
7 Deadly Ds of Disobedience
  1. Drama
  2. Disrespect
  3. Defiance
  4. Deal-Making
  5. Disagreeing
  6. Dawdling
  7. Disappearing
Obey Right Away, 
All The Way, 
With a Happy Heart

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 
Colossians 3:20

If you'd like a nicely formatted printable copy, download here.

Educational Contracts

This has been one of those school years when it's been hard to feel like we've gotten out of "survival mode." OK, let's be honest, all 5 school years have been that way so far.
I have a very strong-willed eldest and youngest, and a middle who seems to be spending an increasing amount of time getting down on herself and complaining that she "can't."

I hit a wall yesterday when the eldest told me flat out that he would not recopy his essay. He tried negotiation first, of course, and whining, and black-mail, and deal-making. I insisted, explained, and threatened. Finally, when it was clear I wasn't going to budge, he just flat out refused.

I decided that I needed a time-out before I lost my own cool more than I already had. By the time I came back from my quick walk, I had moved (slightly) from imagining punitive writing assignments to clarifying in my own mind exactly what I wanted him to understand about his role in our little school. Thankfully, he had bowed to the inevitable by the time was ready to deal with him again, so after I got him set with his revision and recopy, I spent a few minutes writing up this educational contract.

An Educational Contract

The teacher’s job is to instruct, correct, and assign work as she deems necessary and appropriate for the student to attain mastery of the subject. A good teacher will understand her students’ unique personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, and use creativity, variety, and fun to challenge and inspire her students to do their best. She will not forget that they are students, not masters, and thus will treat them with patience, encouragement, and respect even when they do not perform perfectly. She will not allow them to be lazy, disrespectful, or overly discouraged. Instead she will be their cheering section when they are cooperative and attentive, their helper when they are struggling, and their compassionate but firm disciplinarian when they do not uphold their end of the bargain. 

A student’s job is to listen, think, ask questions when appropriate, and humbly accept correction as part of the path to mastery. A student should respectfully and obediently perform tasks and assignments as given. Argument, most negotiation, rushing, shirking, complaining - not to mention outright refusal of work - are unacceptable for a student. The good student submits to his or her teacher’s rules, instruction, and assignments, even when the reasons are not immediately clear. Like the teacher, good students do not forget that they are students, not masters. They treat themselves with patience when they fail to understand or perform to their own standards, keeping in mind that mastery of any subject takes time, effort, repetition, and even occasional failure. Determination and willingness to try again even when the skills do not come quickly are important marks of a good student. 

When both parties adhere to this contract, learning - both academic and character  - cannot help but occur. 

We, the undersigned, agree to abide by this contract. We understand that penalties can and will be assigned when and if the contract is breached, and agree to accept them with as much humility as we can muster. 

Teacher: __________________________________________   Date: _________

Student: __________________________________________   Date: _________  

This morning I shared the contract with all three kids, discussed it, and then asked them to sign it. We filed it at the front of their 3-ring binders for reference, where we can refer to it later if when things start to go wrong. 

(Want a printable copy? Download here)

Look, I don't expect any miracles in my kids' behavior based on this little piece of paper. As I explained to my son - while he busily looked for loop-holes and nit-picks and basically did his best to use up all my good will - it's not like I'm giving them a Choice about this. They're far too young to opt out of any teaching. In any case, the true behavior change I want comes only from the heart by help of the Holy Spirit.
But there's probably some value in clarifying expectations and giving them a peek into how I understand my own responsibilities.
There's also value for me, as this both reminds me that I Don't get to "phone it in," and also that part of my responsibility is to not tolerate endless arguments and whining.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Book Review Rating Philosophy

Note: This post is primarily for my own benefit, and secondarily for anyone who reads my Goodreads reviews and actually cares to learn how I arrive at my ratings. I would prefer to have this posted directly on Goodreads, but there is no obvious place outside of a single book review. Since that doesn't make sense, here it is!

Book Rating Philosophy

It has come to my attention that I rate approximately 9 in 10 books as a nice, safe, inarguable 3 out of 5 stars. I've also come to realize that this is an almost meaningless rating, even to myself. Some of these 3 star books I consider really very good, and would eagerly recommend to a friend. Others I would never bother to recommend, let alone re-read. About the only thing the books in this forest of 3-stars has in common is that the writing mechanics and storytelling were good enough that it didn't feel fair to assign a mere 2 stars, and that they simultaneously lacked that certain something - a je ne sais quoi - that made me feel good about assigning 4 stars.
Reviewing my few 5 star books, I do see some common threads. The most obvious of these is world view. In most cases, the authors of my 5-stars share a deeply Christian philosophy, which when combined with superior writing mechanics, plotting, and characters create a thought provoking, even convicting work of art that calls me back time and time again.  There are exceptions: I've rated a small handful of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan stories at 5 stars, and even a few Heinleins. Neither of this authors could be counted Christian or even conservative, but their characters and worlds so captured my imagination - and I've in most cases re-read the stories so many times - that to give them fewer stars would seem disingenuous.
This is the clue I needed to figure out why I have comparatively few 4-star books. Something checks me when the worldview of the author does not align with my own, and unless every other metric is truly superior, I hold back that last star. Except when I don't, of course.  (Recently my kids using my account for their reviews throws off this metric. They tend to consider whatever book they've just read to be "the best ever," and while I've drawn the line at 5 stars, I've stopped arguing about 4!)

This long, rambling discussion is here simply to introduce my magical solution to this problem: all books I review will contain a sub-rating in several categories. For the moment I will stick to the out-of-5 metric.
The categories as of July 2019 are as follows:

Writing Mechanics, Characters, Plot, World Building, and Truth Value 

Writing Mechanics: 

This most basic measure includes word choice, grammar, adjective use - artistry. Ability to hint, insinuate, and otherwise show what a inferior author simply tells. A 2 indicates the author writes so poorly as to distract from a potentially decent plot. A 3 means the author writes at least as well as I do. No distracting tell-vs-show. a 4 or 5 indicates true superiority. Snappy dialog, humor, artistic place descriptions, etc.


It starts at "do I like them," but goes far deeper. Are they presented as truly, believably human, regardless of how much they resemble me Or the author? Do they grow and change as a result of the story. Do I care what happens to them, or are they merely tools of the author to tell his or her story?
I greatly prefer stories about People as opposed to stories about Events. I don't even Remember stories that have no interesting central character. Stories with an excellent one - i.e. Bujold's "Miles Vorkosigan" - may end up with 5 stars even when the author's worldview is in opposition with my own. Or as a counter example, Kim Stanley Harrison's "Red Mars" seemed like a book I should enjoy, but nearly all of the characters were distasteful at best, and hateful at worst. The worldbuilding in this book was pretty interesting (although others have pointed out its serious scientific flaws), but the characters were so uninspiring that I had a great deal of trouble caring long enough to finish the book.


This goes beyond whether or not I was able to guess the "whodunnit" in a mystery. Encompassed in this metric is whether the story lagged, or sped too quickly. It also involves believability, innovativeness, and uniqueness.

World Building: 

Primarily a characteristic of sci-fi or fantasy novels, encompassed in this metric is the imaginativeness of the world the author draws - whether it is simply a carbon copy of Tolkien or D&D, or whether it draws more deeply on less widely known mythologies and/or the author's own imagination. It also measures internal consistency and believability.
Tolkien, of course, would receive 5, as his worlds are detailed beyond all belief. Narnia, despite being my favorite series of all time, might receive only a 3 since there is a shallowness to certain aspects of the world that niggled at me even as a child. (Where Are those female Dwarves?!) Harry Potter similarly comes in at a 3, since there are certain aspects of the wizarding world and especially Hogwarts simply too fantastic and irrational to swallow. They are not followed to their logical conclusions, and therefore are far less believable.

Truth Value

Last, but certainly not least, is the what I've decided to call "Truth Value." In this measure I am most strongly influenced by John Eldredge, who taught that all art (inclusive of story, song, movies, and everything else) could be evaluated by its adherence to, or reflection of, capital-T Truth. In evaluating this, a useful rubric is "How does this piece of art reflect (or possibly deny) the capital-S Story of the humanity," which itself may be very succinctly distilled as "Perfection, Fall, Redemption, and Return to Perfection."
Some of the questions I might ask when evaluating the Truth Value of a piece of fiction are "Do the characters embody key virtues such as loyalty, bravery, kindness, self-sacrifice, and integrity?" "Is redemption, either of situations or preferably of characters, a key plot element?" "Are characters aware of their weaknesses and striving, through whatever means, to improve?" "Is there something more than crass romantic / sexual emotion at the root of the relationship between the central characters?" "Does the story seem to be in touch with the basic human condition of fallenness and selfishness, and do any of the central characters choose the hard work of rising above this default condition?" Finally, "Does the plot or characters point either explicitly or allegorically towards the True God?"
It is important to note that works by authors who no-one would ever accuse of being Christian may, in fact, score very highly. In many cases, the true state of man is seen quite clearly by those who have not embraced the Redemption of Christ. The late Terry Pratchett, for instance, made no end of poignant (not to mention hilarious) observations of the human condition. The "Emberverse" series by S.M. Stirling, who I believe calls himself an atheist, includes some very powerful pictures of the endless struggle between Creation and Disintegration. In the character of Father Ignatius, he also draws one of the most deeply Christian men you will find in current fiction.
On the flip side, there may be many works written by ostensibly Christian authors that would score less highly because they ignore, gloss over, or even deny certain fundamental truths that would give their art the ring of Truth.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

What the Kids are Doing Without Being Forced

Best homeschool purchase this year: A nicely bound lined journal from Grocery Outlet for $4. My 8 yo daughter saw it several months ago and wanted it for some reason she couldn't really explain. She's a poor and anxious speller, has less than stellar handwriting, and a reluctant writer, and this was not "right" for her, but since I too am attracted to pretty blank journals, I sprung for it.
Best homeschool field trip of the year: a holiday visit to my brother's house, where said kid (my middle) got to spend rare 1x1 time with her slightly older cousin. Said cousin shared her work-in-progress hand written and drawn comic book - long, silly, stories about a girl and her family. My daughter was Super impressed.
MONTHS LATER - like at least 4 - my daughter is suddenly covering her (lined!) notebook with elaborate cartoon drawings, speech bubbles, and the like. She has a wide-ranging plot planned. She's asking questions ranging from spelling to geography to salaries. She's working spontaneously and for long periods of time over the past few weeks, even in the car.
Her older brother (almost 10) is amazed. He works out plot elements with her and helps draw the mansion that the fictional family is acquiring. Soon he - also a reluctant writer and academics-resistant kid - wants his own nicely bound blank notebook and is beginning to fill it with his own cartoons, an offshoot of his sister's plot.
The youngest (newly 6, just starting to read semi-fluently) is also trying to make her own comic book.

My planning time on this: Zero. Honestly, if I had tried to plan this, I think it would have crashed and burned in the first two days. I am doing my best to stay out of the way, hoping that maybe if I don't acknowledge what's going on, they won't notice that it's educational.

Look, I feel guilty - sometimes really guilty - about not being a Classical or Charlotte Mason homeschooler with kids who have memorized the order of the presidents by age 6 and can explain Aristotle at 8. I've read - and have some fundamental agreements with - the articles disparaging the current trends towards kid-directed learning, as if letting the inmates run the asylum is somehow going to lead to superior results. "Unschooling" seems way too scatter-shot and lazy to me, even as I have to admit that in many subjects it's exactly what we do. I mean, the kids have exactly two textbooks this year. Two!

BUT... classical, highly structured learning is a bad fit for us. Most of the formal, classroom like options are.
I know I am going to be fighting my own emotions and assumptions about learning and schooling for this entire journey. And my kids are going to have some gaps, maybe even serious ones, that they'll have to figure out how to fill as they come closer to adulthood. I'll be happy to help.
But I can also relax. We're doing OK. They're working on something they find fun and compelling and creativity sparking, and there's no way it isn't teaching them Something useful.

This "cans and string telephone" experiment also happened largely without my input. I checked out a bright, shiny "you can make this" book from the library last week and never mentioned it. Grace was inspired to make a guitar - and to finish it up, she had to collaborate with James. I did NOTHING on that project. On the telephone project I did get out my yarn needle to poke holes and finish up knots when the project got frustrating, but that was pretty much it. 

Lucy *asked* to do a report about Frogs. There was a ton of drama with James last week or so regarding the report I wanted him to do. It started out as salmon and somehow turned into the Internal Combustion Engine. I fought him on Every Step. Lucy, on the other hand, showed off her brand new reading skills to read me a book about frogs, and then eagerly did all the worksheets in the packet I printed her, acquired and resized her own piece of cardboard, and taped everything in place. She even labeled it and hand-drew a life cycle diagram.
Again, most of this happened while I was out of the room, and I emphasize that this is not a particularly compliant child. But this project struck her as fun, and it would have been hard to Stop her doing it. 

(Thanks for sticking with me this long. This was going to be a short, simple little bit of encouragement... until it wasn't!)

Friday, April 12, 2019

Quick and (Very) Dirty Marble Painting

I'll never find it to link to it again, but a few weeks back I watched a video of a man "painting" by rolling marbles and spinning tops across wet paint. I thought "Hey, we could do that... I mean, except for the really cool part where he actually makes the top draw a recognizable picture. That's not happening, but abstract? All the way!"

So we tried it. Our results are not as cool as his, but since we're not linking to the video, it's not like you'll really know, right?!
This is a project that can appeal to all ages and takes nearly no skill (aside from not popping the marbles out of your container).


1. Acrylic paint in 2-3 (or more) colors
2. A rimmed art tray, like one of these, or (considerably cheaper) a foil tray from the Dollar Tree meant for lasagne or casseroles. Just make sure it's at least 8.5 x 11 inches and fairly deep, or do the project Outside!
3. At least one ordinary glass marble. Or maybe two or three! 
4. Paper cups or foil plus popsicle sticks or something for mixing your paint
5. Whatever protective clothing and surface coverings you feel are justified
6. Solid colored paper or cardstock


At its most basic, you're adding a few splashes of paint to your tray, dropping in a marble or two, and then rolling them around.
And feel free to start out by doing just exactly that.
But here are a few tips I found after messing around for 20 minutes that gave me the results I like the best:

1) Thick, tacky acrylic does not work very well. Add a few drops of water to your paint in a mixing cup to thin it considerably.
2) You can apply the paint directly on the paper, but this made blobs and globs I didn't like much. I ended up applying the thinned paint onto the tray, up at the top above the paper.
3) I think using one color of paint at a time is best. If you use a couple of primaries at the same time you could get some interesting mixes, but I think most likely you'll end up with mud.

Now the next question is: what to do with the finished product?
I think the idea that seems most practical to me is to add some adhesive letter stickers or shapes to the blank paper before starting as masks, then carefully peeling them off.
Other ideas are to make origami boxes or other creations out of your dried project. Or cut into pieces and use to make mosaics. The sky's the limit!