Saturday, December 24, 2016

Graham Cracker Houses

I have made graham cracker houses every December since I was a child. These are used as center pieces as well as gifts to be given away while Christmas caroling. In high school, I had friends come for a house building party, and now as a mother of teens we continue to make it an event. There have been several years when I have built 25 houses or so to take into my son's class as a party activity, and once, I think my friends and I assembled about 75 for a church party.

Last week, I had my students decorate their own houses as part of our architecture unit. We watched a video about Frank Lloyd Wright's amazing house, Falling Waters, and discuss the importance of architecture in our daily lives. We talked about the parts of a house (eaves, balcony, columns, etc), and why building designs include floor plans and elevation plans. Each student got a pre-fab house with their own royal icing bag, and candy collection. There were plenty of extra graham crackers for garages, car ports, dog houses, chimney's etc. One student even decided to add on a second story. Experiencing the curriculum in 3D is very important to blind and visually impaired students, and making something edible ups student engagement quite a bit. Happy house building!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Quilled Christmas Ornaments

Paper and glue. Supply lists don't get much simpler than they do for quilling projects. Various widths of quilling paper can be bought online or at craft supply store. I used a paper cutter and cut strips of construction paper 1/4" wide. Rolling the strip of paper around a toothpick makes a tight circle, but if you pull the toothpick out of the center and let it relax, you can determine the size of the circle you want as an end piece. Use a drop of glue to tack down the end and keep it from unwinding too much. Then you can play around with pinching a side to make a tear drop shape, or two opposite sides sides to make an almond shape. Three pinches make a triangle, four a get the picture.

 Small quilled shapes glue together to make larger shapes. wreaths and trees were the most popular shapes made for ornaments. My younger students glued separate quilled shapes to paper to create images. Making tactile images and objects like these, are perfect for my visually impaired and blind students. They are also build fine motor skills for kids who are used to just sitting and listening.

Quilling can be used to make greeting cards, pendants, and earrings, for any time of year. Maybe now's the time you get out your paper and glue.

Gingerbread Themed Christmas Sets

This year, I was given the green light to take the sets for our school winter concert sets any direction I wanted, so I directed myself towards a gingerbread theme. Yum! I had two high school students help me hone the idea, transfer my drawings on to 4 8'X4' panels, and paint the large areas.

Part of this theme came from wondering if there was a way to transform our giant (6 foot tall) Snoopy dog house from "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" into a gingerbread house. The top had been flat, for Snoopy to use as a singing platform then; but I talked the set builders (horticulture teacher and two other students) to raise the roof, and close the front and back triangle shaped hole. The wood didn't fit exactly, but a little masking tape was used to cover the gaps, and with enough brown paint, no one can tell from a distance.

It was strange to see our spring musical images covered up little by little and gratifying to see a whole new look.

We also got to paint a Santa Sleigh for a student Christmas party photo op.
The day we took the panels out of my classroom to go to the stage and lobby was a bitter sweet day. My classroom feels like my house the day on January 2nd: almost naked and stark without all the holiday cheer, but also cleaner and bigger. The program today was wonderful, and I'm so glad I got to help. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Foam Christmas Ornaments

When my sister asked our mom for advice on how to choose a preschool for her oldest son, Mom said something to this affect: "Go tour the school and look at the artwork hanging in the hall. If every piece looks the same, then you are in the wrong place." I know what she means. Schools are full of well intentioned, but misguided, parent volunteers (and even some teachers) in elementary schools, correcting children for putting the colored foam feathers on their turkey magnet kit in an order different from the manufacturer's photograph. Of course that's fine if you are raising sweat shop workers, but not if you want to encourage creative thinking skills.

This December, rather than buying a foam ornament kit with pre-cut shapes for your children, why not just buy sheets of foam and some glue? Kids have their own ideas. They need to be able to choose their own colors, cut their own shapes, and determine the size, proportion, and patterns that represent their ideas.  Hole punchers not only make the holes in foam to weave or sew ribbon or yarn, but the colored circles can be used as ornaments or lights on a foam tree, or Santa eyes or snow man buttons.

Craft foam is in expensive enough that if one idea is a flop, trying a second and third time is not a big deal. These ornaments were made by some of my elementary students this week and I'd like to think that if a mother were coming to check out our school, that she would notice the variety in every piece of my students' work, whether in the hallway or on the Christmas tree.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Squiggly Lines Op Art

Most Op Art projects are formulaic and therefore not hard to do, but they yield a wow factor. Plus it is just fun to talk about optical illusions, even to students with optical challenges.  

For the squiggle project, you draw curved lines from one end of the paper to the next. Most of mine went top to bottom for a horizontal piece of paper. Then they drew a curve from the middle of one line to the next, like a smile. When you get to the next line make it a frown, and continue going smile, frown, and switching direction at each line. After that every line above the line will be frown lines, and every line below the line will be similes. This is the same principle that is used when drawing cylinders with the horizon line (eye level) somewhere in the middle.

For my students who have no vision, I used hot glue to trace their initial lines, so they could draw their "smiles" and "frowns" within those boundaries. Then I created construction paper stencils of crescents of various widths and thicknesses. I would have to help pick out the right size stencil, but at least these students could color their piece independently.

It is not only the repetition and color contrast that creates the optical illusion, but the value. By shading the colored pencil on the edges, or the ends of each crescent shape, it gives the illusion of three dimensions. This project took a couple of weeks, but it was well worth the extra time to see the sense of accomplishment in my students' faces for a job well done.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Pasta Angel Ornaments

Angel ornaments are very inexpensive and easy to make. Once you have the supplies you can make a couple dozen in an evening, which is something I did as a poor newly wed. They hold up fairly well considering the fact that they are made from pasta. The one pictured here has gotten by with just a chipped wing from the 16 years of use.

Start by gluing a hairline on a small (about 3/4") wooden ball , and filling it in.  Elmer's is fine. Dip the ball in a cup of frog eye pasta or couscous. Then take a piece of bowtie pasta to use for the wings.  Cut a second bowtie, with kitchen sheers, and use that half for the skirt. Hot glue the head and skirt to the wings, before adding 2 pieces of elbow macaroni coming in towards the center of the wings. These are the arms. Make as many as you'd like before lining them up to spray paint white. A few coats front and back will do the trick. Hot glue a small ribbon bow and craft store flower over where the hands would be  a small loop of tiny beads for a halo, and a loop of ribbon to use as a hanger. I still have a couple that I made 17 years ago with my friend Missy Stowell. This isn't a kid friendly project since the hot glue burns, but it makes great gift toppers. I have happy memory of Missy Stowell showing me how to make these, and am happy to share the joy with you.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Memory Tree

"Where's the glass fish from Chicago?" My daughter asked as we unpacked the Christmas ornaments Sunday. "And has anyone seen the tiny teapot from Chile?" I added. Each ornament carries a memory and so we search, find, reminisce and hang with purpose each year.

The family memory tree tradition, from my childhood, was featured in a 1970's  3/4 page news paper article. (My town was tiny enough for this to count as news). My parent's tradition of buying or finding an ornament on every trip, has now carried on to a third generation and it has been successful for several reasons.

You save money on souvenirs.

My family doesn't feel the need to buy $30 sweat shirts for everyone to prove we've been to Philadelphia. We buy our mini Liberty Bell for six or seven dollars, and treasure it, years after everyone would have grown out of the  shirts. We take lots of pictures and video, but in terms of tangible objects, it is usually just something that fits into one pocket. Spend less, travel light and see more sites.

The Search is Fun!

The quest for the perfect ornament on each trip feels like a treasure hunt. We look past most of the things in gift shops and focus on something that  would work as an ornament, like a small toy or a key chain. We may spend several weeks traveling to many states, but we are in search of thing that will represent our trip, something that we love. We've found  a tomahawk from the Smokeys, a tiny sock monkey from Vermont, and a celtic knot from Ireland.

Found objects are our often favorite things. My son found a piece of driftwood on a walk in Niagara Falls, NY that looks like a shepherd's crook. We collected a few sea shells from the beautiful shores of Tonga that now hang on our tree.

Happy memories bring more happiness.

We write the name of place and year on (the back or bottom of) each ornament and so as we decorate the tree we remember and discuss the trips we took. This is not a commercial tree to be admired once or twice for matching glass balls, but a meditative experience. During December, I often find myself staring and reflecting on the time I've spent with family, the amazing things I've experienced, and it brings me a great deal of gratitude and satisfaction.

Eclectic Tree give a home to odd-ball ornaments.

When I walk into someone's home and they have a tree decorated with nothing but pink balls ornaments and burgundy ribbon, I wonder what they've done with all the ornaments they've received from church and work ornament exchanges or gifts. What happened to all the homemade ornaments the children brought home from elementary school? Were they all tossed or put into indefinite storage because they didn't fit in?  Having a memory tree gives a home to all sorts of styles. Variety adds interest.

The Holidays are about People

My father-in-law died right before the holidays, last year, and we were overwhelmed at the number of collections he had, one of which was a wooden duck collection. Rather than feel the need to keep all of his things, we took a very small duck, put an eye screw on the back, and now each time we see it on the tree, we think of him and remember that "grandpa collected ducks."

My former teacher,and good friend, Jean, made homemade ornaments for my children for years. I think of her every time I look at the tree. Christmas should bring us closer to distant dear ones and their memories. Even if these aren't souvenir ornaments, they're still an important part of having a memory tree.

I create visual unity by by using red ribbon on most of the ornaments. And I use plenty of handmade, repeated ornaments too; (stay tuned for ideas on home made decorations.)

Decorating a memory tree brings more thought and meaning to the season and has become a favorite tradition of mine. In case of fire, I'm grabbing the ornaments.