Wednesday, November 4, 2020

DIY Dollhouse Dolls


Many eons ago - we're talking mid 90s if the clothing styles are any clue - I developed a fully articulated doll made from polymer clay, strung together with pipe cleaners, and clothed in fabric scraps. I made these primarily for my own benefit, and to add to my grandmother's doll house once I inherited it, but after showing them off at church I ended up actually making a set on commission for an elderly friend. If memory serves, I asked for all of $20 for three dolls, which was nuts, but then again, I've never been good at charging what my skills and time are worth! 

Anyway, the reminiscing here is leading up to the present day when my now 7 and 9 year old daughters have been permitted to play with Grammy's doll house.  They like my dolls - although they pronounced some of their faces "creepy," and I cannot entirely disagree. I learned the basics of facial sculpting from an old craft book I splurged on at the craft store. (I'd love to give you title and author, but those details are lost to time.) Anyway, it's not easy. Mine ended up very "cheeky" on average, with slightly protruding eyeballs, large noses, and lips just a little "off." But they've got a funky sort of cute all their own. And apparently my 9 yo daughter didn't think they were Too creepy, because she asked if I'd help her make one (read: if she could help Me make one) this afternoon that looked like her.

Let me warn you up front: this is not a quick-and-dirty project. It is dirty, but it isn't quick. It also isn't for the faint of heart. But the results are a lot of fun, so if you have some preexisting skills with sculpting, especially polymer clay (Fimo, Sculpy, etc, I feel like it's totally worth it.

Time: 90-120 minutes exclusive of clothing

Skill Level: Moderate to Hard. 

(If you are interested in a beginner-level Fimo sculpting project, check out Easy Polymer Pastry Pendants

Sculpting skills needed: Form spheres and "snakes." Form clay around an armature. Build up features and blend pieces together. Add tiny details. 

Other skills needed: Basic hand sewing, understanding of simple clothing design - i.e doll clothes. 


Materials needed: 

  • Polymer clay * in several colors including your choice of flesh tone and hair tone, underwear and shoes, white and eye color. 
  • Scraps of fabric for clothing
  • Tin foil (optional) 
  • pipe cleaners, flesh or white color preferable

Tools needed: 

  • Toothpicks (critical) and other sculpting tools of choice
  • X-acto knife or box cutter 
  • Baking tray (dedicated, or cover with tin foil) and oven
  • Garlic press (dedicated) or play-doh extruder toy for hair (optional, we did without.) 
  • Hand-sewing tools such as needle, thread, scissors. 
  • Glue, for instance E-6000

Sculpting your Doll

My doll breaks down to head, hands, feet, torso, pelvis, upper and lower arm "beads," and upper and lower leg "beads."

If you're like me, you're going to get about 90% of your information from the photos, and all my hard work trying to put things into words will be largely wasted. So I'll try to keep it minimal! 


 

1. Form the head.
If desired, form around a small marble-sized ball of tinfoil to save clay and bake-time.   Mount on a toothpick for the remaining steps.

2. Add features. (Don't forget the ears!)
I decided to go with "lips" made from very flat pancakes blended onto the head, bottom lip first. Then add the nose and eyes. I did not  add cheeks to this doll and I'm happier with her than some others. Blend, blend, blend using a toothpick.  

Can this be simplified? Absolutely. Go ahead and carve a mouth, add a teensy button of a nose, and simple black eyes. Maybe something like this idea from Pinterest
Or go full kawaii and leave out the nose and/or mouth entirely. If this is the only part of the project you don't think you can pull off, go ahead and simplify. You may like the results!


 

3. Add hair.
Not going to lie: this is nearly as tricky as the facial features. Most of my old dolls have carefully placed strands of extruded hair. But I have no idea where to look for that old garlic press, and my daughter suggested a ballerina bun as an alternative.
I don't have a lot of tips here except to form it in at least two pieces, and add texture with a sewing pin or your knife.


 

4. Form the torso and shoulders.
I built around a small ball of tinfoil. I decided to have my doll in an undershirt. I formed the whole thing in pink, scooped out just a little bit at the neckline, and then blended in some flesh colored clay. Finally I blended a little More pink over that to get the shape of the undershirt's neckline just right. 

Once formed, carefully drive a toothpick through from top to bottom ("spine") and from left to right at the shoulders. Don't forget, or you will have to drill your doll before you can string her together!

5. Form the pelvis.
Again, underwear is an obvious choice here. The design is a simple rounded triangle.

Drive two holes through with your toothpicks, joined in the center.


 


6. Now, the easy stuff! Start building the limbs.
My adult sized dolls had elbow and knee "beads" in addition to upper and lower arms and legs. This doll is child sized and I left them out.
Tips: To make sure my left and right arms and legs match, I form them at the same time from one log of clay. I get the shape right, and then use my knife to cut them exactly in half.
Don't forget to thread them onto a toothpick!
I also add divots / indentations at the top of the arms and legs to match the torso and pelvis angles. 

7. Hands!
As with other features that need to match left-and-right, make a ball double the size you need and cut it in half. Scoop it into a mitten shape and pull out a thumb. Finally, use your knife to gently slice the fingers. Don't forget you need a right and a left!
Mount them at the end of your toothpicks  and form a decent wrist around the shaft. These are the trickiest to get to stay on the pipe cleaner, so the deeper the hole you can make, the better. 



8. Shoes can be a challenge.
Tip: Make a nice ball of clay double the size of your shoes. Made it a bit oblong, then slice it in half to give yourself two flat "soles." Add details from there.
Tip: If you go ahead and make them reasonably blocky and boxy there's a good chance you'll be able to get your doll to stand. 


 

9. OK, you've got everything. Time to bake!

Double check that everything has holes. I go ahead and bake them on the toothpicks to keep organized and un-squished. 

Learn from my mistake and get yourself a nice big lump of tinfoil. Mount your head upright on its toothpick neck here instead of laying it flat. (My doll ended up with a squished ear.)

Follow the baking instructions on your polymer clay package. I baked the smaller pieces for 20 mn at 275, and added 5 more minutes for the head and torso. 

Like the package says, Do NOT over-bake. It smells awful, and it discolors. You don't have to be precise down to the second, but don't forget about it in there!  

Assembling the doll


 

I run one pipe cleaner from the neck through the spine and down through the first leg hole in the torso. String the leg beads, then make sure you have enough "give" in your spacing that you can flex your neck and knee. Cut off and add the first shoe. 

Attach the second pipe cleaner at the waist between torso and pelvis, then run it through the other leg hole. Repeat steps above.

Run the last pipe cleaner straight across the torso and string the arms. Again, make sure you have sufficient give to flex elbows and wrists. Cut off the wire and add the hands. (We'll want to glue these, but wait until you make the clothes, trust me!)  

Now that the doll is assembled, see if you can get her to stand, and make any minor adjustments. 

Making the clothes 

A full tutorial on pattern drafting and doll clothes sewing is beyond the scope of this project. I'm going to assume you have some experience and skills. But I will definitely give you some tips!  

* Stretchy, light, no-fray fabric - like a T-shirt - is your friend.

*  I always go with a simple T-shaped shirt or dress. Nothing complicated or fancy. And neither the head nor hands need to fit through: that's why we haven't glued yet!

* Draft a simple pattern by folding a sheet of paper in quarters. Lay your doll as shown, and draw with a 1/2 inch (ish) margin. Cut into a T. Transfer to your fabric. Sew. Snip a tiny hole for the neck. Simple as that!

*  Mine turned out very baggy, so I added a wide belt, which also added some fun color. I'm happy with it.

* A word of caution: unless you are a super-seamstress who loves sewing tiny fasteners and whatnot, I recommend against trying to make the clothing removable. Besides, your doll won't hold up to that sort of handling very many times.

There, isn't she cute?

Another warning: Don't hand her to a 4 year old. I am OK with my 7 year old carefully handling them, but I will not let one loose in her room unsupervised. They will hold up to posing in a nice dollhouse, but not to being stepped upon by Dad.

____________

* Polymer clay comes in several brands and styles. I've used most of them, and while you can make this project successfully with any, there's no denying that they are different.

Your cheapest options are original Sculpey, with the Michael's store brand coming in even slightly under that. Both of these clays are super soft: they're ready to go straight out of the package. On the flip side, sometimes they are too soft and sticky for fine details. They also tend to bake up with more of a matte, even chalky finish. Durability is less than more expensive brands.

On the more expensive end is Original Fimo, a much harder clay that takes a lot of working to get pliable enough to shape. It will be a challenge for littler kids, and you can expect crumbs all over the work surface - not to mention the floor! On the plus side, it bakes up with much shinier finish, and is considerably more durable.

In between is everything else. Fimo has a variety called "Fimo Soft," and Sculpey has a variety called "Primo." Both of these middle-of-the-road options worked well for this project.

And here's a fun fact for anyone who stuck with me this long: 20+ year old Fimo Still Works! Really! I assumed I would be replacing my ancient stash a few colors at a time - I mean, I was buying this stuff as a teen when $2.50 per block still felt really steep. But it still softens up and bakes just as nice as when it was new. Fimo: The eternal substance! :)

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Quick and Dirty Deodorizing Sachets

 Last night I was sitting on my brand-new leather couch watching TV when I realized that I kept getting a whiff of dirty socks. Since practically no-one in the house wears socks but me, and mine were clean, this was quite the stumper. Finally I figured out that the family shoe bin had been recently replaced on top of a small table just behind the couch. And my son has been stealing my fuzzy Crocs - sockless! - routinely. 

Clearly, something had to be done. 

So Lucy (age 7) and I took a break in the middle of the school day to make deodorizing sachets. The project was unique in that it took hardly any longer than I had anticipated. It has a very short supply list, and if you have a sewing machine sitting around ready to go, you could literally have 1/2 a dozen finished in 30 minutes. It is also an ideal project for a beginning sewer: the consequences for crooked seams, imperfectly cut pieces, and the like are very low. My daughter was able to do large portions of the project with minimal supervision. 



 

Materials


 

  • 1/4 yard (or whatever you have on hand) of basic cotton fabric. * 
  • Baking soda (if you are making more than 2, your tiny box won't be enough!) 
  • Favorite essential oils (optional.) We used tea tree oil and cornmint. 

Tools

  • Sewing machine
  • Scissors 
  • Small bowl and spoon for mixing EOs and Baking Soda
  • Sheet of paper for an improvised funnel

* I came across the Perfect fabric in my stash: the print consisted of a 1/3 inch grid with cute little animals in scattered squares. It was perfect because the strong straight lines gave my daughter something to follow both when cutting and sewing. If you are shopping for fabric, definitely keep this in mind. But you could also use basic plain muslin. No need for an expensive, heavy, tight weave here. Really, you want something that breathes pretty well because you want to absorb odors. 

Procedure 

  1. Cut fabric into rectangles approximately 4x6 inches.
    The size is anything but critical: just make sure your top and bottom pieces match.
    The size and shape of our fabric permitted us to cut 4 sets on the fold, which saved us one seam on those pieces. The other 4 were fully cut apart. Both worked fine: there's just more sewing on the second sort. 
  2. Head for your sewing machine. Take each set of rectangles and align them with right sides facing. If you have cut on the fold, sew along two sides, leaving the last open. If you have separate rectangles, sew along three sides leaving the last open.
    You may be tempted, as we were, to turn the corner on the last open edge and leave only a small hole for filling. I would not do that again. It was hard to fill the bags, and it did not save time or improve the appearance.


  3. You should now have a small pile of sacks open on one end. Now head for the kitchen or dining room table, and scoop at least a cup of baking soda into a small bowl. Add essential oils to the soda and stir well.  (We used a whole cap-full of Trader Joe's Tea Tree Oil per cup, and at least 10 drops of corn mint / peppermint.)
  4. Take a piece of standard printer paper and roll, starting from a corner, to form a rough funnel. (Your kitchen funnel won't work if it, like ours, has a tiny spout meant for liquids.)
    Fill each bag about 1/2 full of baking soda.


  5. Once each bag is filled, take them back to the sewing machine. Fold the edges of the open end in to make a neat looking edge with no exposed raw edge. Then top-stitch all the way across.

That's it: you're done! All that's left is to strategically place your deodorizers into your stinky shoes, dance or martial arts bags, or other odoriferous places. Congratulations!  

 



Thursday, August 27, 2020

3 Weeks In...

3 Weeks Into the 2020/21 School Year

Thus far, my carefully laid plans have survived enemy contact far better than in years past. 

Here are a few thoughts on our new curriculum choices, 3 weeks in

1) All About Spelling

We are already about 75-80% through Level 1, because neither kid needed much practice on basic CVC or simple blend words, nor did they struggle with chunking or breaking into syllables. We slowed when we reached the introduction of the "arcane rules:" when "c" says "s," when to use "k" vs. "ck" at the end of a word, and when to double a final consonant.   I cannot remember Ever being taught this stuff when I was in grade school. Maybe I was : I can barely remember what I did last week, so recalling precisely how I learned to spell 35 years ago is probably asking a bit much. It is definitely fair to say that, if I ever knew them, I certainly don't use them now. But I Like rules. I am holding out hope that Grace also likes rules (or at least can learn to rely upon them), right-brained though she may be. Certainly both girls are getting a kick out of "Flossing" when we practice the double consonant f-l-s words!

I can entirely understand why this system is considered tedious and/or boring by many. For a "natural" speller, dragging tiles around, learning arcane rules, and drilling via flash-card is going to be frustrating and unnecessarily time consuming. We are definitely not doing Everything the teacher's manual says. We're not practicing every word. We're eschewing the tiles much of the time. We're writing on white boards (or cookie sheets!) or Boogie Boards instead of paper. And we're writing complete sentences rather than the 2-word phrases, since they're both developmentally ready.
In this, plus many other, ways the AAS system reminds me strongly of "Teach Your Kid to Read in 100 Easy Lessons." It's great, but when you don't need it any more, don't beat your head against it by doing Every Little Step. 

Anyway, I'm still pretty hopeful about this system. I have ordered Level 2 - unfortunately, I'm so spoiled by Amazon Prime that I put this off too long and I think we'll have a gap between the levels. Oh, and the myriad spelling cards Barely fit in my standard sized file box. I can see why they market a larger one. But again, we're not going to need to review all 150 of the things. We can put them aside when the next level starts! 

2) Crosswired Science 

This curriculum is definitely in its infancy, and while the videos are pretty well produced, informative, and fun, the website, printable, and online materials suffer from a slightly clunky navigation system and ill-defined overlaps. That doesn't make sense. Specifically, there is a large, 100+ page notebook you are encouraged to print, and it references several other things. There are calendars - several, in fact - that purport to show you what to do each day or week depending on how you are using the course. And then when you actually get down into it, you find that (a) there are also worksheets for each video that are Not included in the giant notebook, (b) there are a BUNCH of experiments, referenced but not printed in said notebook, (c) Each video has an online true/false quiz that does not appear in the printed material, (d) the printed material has links in it that you obviously can't follow and suggests that you do things like draw dragonfly wings and build fish models but doesn't go into hardly Any detail... (e) there are occasional references to "points" and "bonus" and "extra credit," and places to painstakingly record which videos you watched and when. It's not that they didn't think it through, it's that they didn't quite finish fleshing their explanations of everything out so the Teacher could have a good feel for things before she was in the thick of them.
At this point I am starting to feel like I probably didn't need the notebook. Except where I do. And it's super clear that you will have to have a computer open and ready at nearly every stage because of the many off-site videos and links.

We are definitely not doing everything, and we're not going at anything like the speed they recommend. And I confess to a little frustration and more confusion about the whole thing. In my heart of hearts I wish for something a little more clearly spelled out - more "open-and-go." But we're enjoying what we are doing, learning, and watching. I have no idea if we'll do it again next year, but I'm happy for now.

3) Literature Kits from School House Teachers

For someone who enjoys both reading and writing as much as I do, I really get a complex about teaching it. I'm never comfortable that I am "doing enough," while at the same time I don't want to waste time on boring books or useless (my opinion, easily argued!) sentence diagramming. 

Anyway, we are using the "Literature Kit" for "Call it Courage," an 80 year old fictional story about pre-missionary French Polynesia. 

Again I'm suffering from the print / online / tablet dilemma. The teacher's guide contains a lot of links (some expired - inevitable, I know!) which would be of no value when printed. So I decided to shoot it over to one of the Kindle Fire tablets so as to avoid firing up the laptop. No dice: the PDF reader on both tablet and phone disables web links. So I Must use the laptop to print out coloring pages or see photos of the flying fish. Oh well. I am using the tablet for the teacher's guide while actually teaching, but it's not a perfect solution even when there are no links. I'm starting to think I should print them after all.

I'm also suffering from the "not doing my lesson planning in advance" dilemma. I'd scanned the whole week of lessons they were basing on only the first chapter of the book, and decided I was not interested in significant art projects nor recipes for smoothies. So I went ahead and read the second chapter of the book. Then re-scanned the teacher's guide and noticed that it was encouraging me to talk about Elements of Story (Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, etc.) for the *previous* chapter. "Good Idea," I thought. But it was already 8:30 am. For once the kids cooperated by sleeping late and eating slow, and I was able to quickly put together some cards and worksheets on the subject, using mostly stuff right off the teacher's guide.  Long story short, we had a reasonably cooperative and informative discussion of Story Elements, applied them to no fewer than 3 recently completed or current family reading projects, and even discussed how The Story has dictated through all of human history the sorts of stories (fictional or otherwise) that we enjoy reading, telling, and hearing. So I'm counting it a real success. But I need to be reading Ahead of time next week! 


4) The Tuttle Twins - Libertarian "Civics" 

I bought the Tuttle Twins series of elementary aged books thinking that I would mostly use them for James. They have some associated worksheets from the publisher, which - like many things I'm dealing with lately - have to be picked through because they run the gamut from Pre-K to late Middle School in terms of content. Anyway, I hadn't actually Read the silly things. I suspect if I had I would have decided against them: they are simply too young for James, and possibly for Grace. Lucy suffers from youngest-kid syndrome. She's exactly the right age for them, but because her siblings consider them a bit silly, so must she. That said, I'm going to use them anyway. Over-simplified or not, the concepts are worth reviewing formally. And even though they weren't assigned, both girls read the first book and Grace read the second. James didn't feel like there was much new to discuss about the first book, but I expect they'll get a little more interesting / chewy as they build on the basic foundation.

5) Bible Memory System

So far, so good. It's working. We'll see how it goes when there are 10 verses or 30 in their boxes instead of 3. But for now, it's a win.
My own question is how can I use this system to memorize Passages that we work on for several weeks. Because of the way the review works, it seems like those passages are going to get split and be practiced out of order, rather than all the way through. We may have to make exceptions or modifications if - as I am tempted - I assign something long like 1/2 of the 3rd chapter of Colossians. 

Overall

This year is breaking new ground for me as I have committed myself to actively teaching far more subjects than in the past. For a good deal of last year I sporadically did Life of Fred chapters with the girls, sporadically worked on some Bible memory with everyone, and outside of that functioned more as a resource than a teacher. While we got through it and everyone learned quite a lot, it wasn't ideal. This is about 2x as organized as I've been in the past, and while I am happy about it, there's a cynical / anxious part of me waiting for a shoe to drop. Or perhaps I'm waiting to personally drop the ball.  I was surprised to realize today that we were not done with school for everyone until about 2 pm. I really only have until noon reserved in my head. Now, we did Lit, Bible (read-aloud), and Science together, which is more than most days. But when you add the necessarily 1x1 math that lined up today, plus the 1x2 spelling, it took a long time.
Other things are getting dropped, and I don't mean my daily siesta. I mean housework, and meal planning / cooking.
So I hope and pray I can sustain this level of involvement, and that I can set things up to "fail gracefully" when, for whatever reason, balls start dropping. And that it will get easier such that I can pick up the non-academic balls. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Quick and Dirty Home School Money Saving Hacks

This year we're starting a couple of new programs and curriculum that require quite a few accessories. Accessories that could have set me back approximately $30 more than I actually paid ($50, if I'd sprung for a real white board!)

Spelling

It started with "All About Spelling," a heavily manipulative-based system I am really hoping and praying will help my anxious, poor spellers. 

Being a naturally cheap frugal person, I balked when I checked a the publisher's site, an office supply store, and finally Amazon, only to find that a basic 3x5 card file box cost anywhere from $5 to $15 - Each! I'd just resigned myself to paying nearly $4/ea for a multi-pack on Amazon when, to my relief, they appeared before me on my second Dollar Tree supply run! 

This program also needs a magnetic white board for manipulating letter tiles. Portability is a major factor for us: I did not want to teach spelling in the common room, nor devote one of my giant white boards to the tiles. Again, enter Dollar Tree, but this time, head for the baking aisle and grab a small cookie sheet. Not only is it magnetic, but dry erase markers come off it just fine. Not perfectly - you're not going to end up using it for cookies - but it's enough for our purposes.


I have a suspicion that we will eventually run out of space in both the card box and on the tiny cookie sheet. But I'm not borrowing trouble yet. I don't think there will be real need to keep all the level 1 cards around for daily reference once we get to level 2. And if we need a bigger cookie sheet, they're only a few $ at a regular store. Or, we'll just use two! 

Bible

Another thing we're bringing some organization to this year is verse memory. We've done plenty of it in the past, but we've never tracked our progress or even maintained a master list of what we've learned. I'm not wasting too many tears on this, but I was ready for a little more formality this year. 

I'd heard good things about a card-file based memory and review system, and I tracked down the instructions here at SimplyCharlotteMason.com.

Like the spelling system, we needed 3x5 card files, already obtained at Dollar Tree. We also needed a Lot of tabbed dividers - 41 per kid, to be precise. Here's where I decided to make some modifications. You can get alphabet card dividers from Amazon as low as $5, but they would require extensive modification to work with the memory system.  The site referenced above has a nice printable set of customized dividers, but when I thought about how my hands - and my head - would feel after cutting out over 120 of the things, I balked.
I already knew we were going to be printing out our verses on regular-weight paper, cut a little smaller than 3x5 cards. This means regular cheap index cards will work fine as dividers. So I broke out my $1 pack of colored 3x5 cards and a pack of paper clips. I put the paper clips where the tabs would be, and simply labeled them by hand. It took about 1.5 episodes of my current TV show, and no hand-ache afterwords! 


Oh, I did make one more modification. I don't intend continue to build up the verses to review in the same box forever. I think we'll stay more sane if we just re-set them each school year. And we'll only be doing one verse (or brief set of verses) per week. So I decided to reduce the 31 day-of-the-month dividers to 15. I wrote 1,15 on the first, 2,16 on the second, etc. This still gives us 27 slots in our box in addition to the current week, meaning we won't ever have more than 2 verses per slot. I think we can handle that. And if it gets overwhelming, we will go ahead and cycle them out early. 

I'm also adding a few memory helps to our system. Each week, I will print a set of four cards for each kid. The first contains the entire text of the verse, with reference. The second contains the same verse, but about 50% of the words are blanked out except for their first letters. The third contains Only the first letter of each word and punctuation. The last has just blank lines for the verse to be hand-copied on. 

See a sample verse here 


The cards are arranged on the printout such that you can fold the whole verse and the first-letter-only copy back-to-back for storage in your file. When you are ready to move a memorized verse from the "Daily" practice slot, discard the hand written and partial-deletion copy, and place the first-letter-only version face out in the next slot.

We will also mark the card with date of initial memory, plus the date of formal review every quarter or so. 

Bonus: School Room Storage

BTW, here's how we organize (much of) the rest of our school stuff. 


Both the fabric boxes and the shelf unit are from Ikea (Kallax series, to be exact.) Total cost around $110.
Each kid has their own box. They keep their binders and current textbooks in there, a pencil and supply box, and any other work in progress. It's the equivalent of a grade-school desk or a middle-school locker - which means that plenty of trash ends up in there after a while too, but at least it's out of sight in my dining room!
I have my own box too, and there are a couple of extras. OK, there are also a couple of cubes that are collecting marginally organized detritus, but that happens to every other storage furniture I've ever owned.  And, in fact, this system is actually tried and true: we got it early in the '19-20 school year and it worked for us Far better than our previous organization attempts.

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: 

Scheduling 

Only a few months ago, I implemented a "Whiteboard Scheduling System" that continues to work beautifully.
Tauna (of ProverbialHomemaker.com, 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.

Curriculum

James

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

Grace

  • 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 (typing.com)

Lucy

  • Handwriting Without Tears

Re-Introduced

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 TheMathWorksheetSite.com 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

Science

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

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 annetteccollins@gmail.com. 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
Instead, 
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.