Crafting with Children at the Holidays

Photo credit: Amanda Witman (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Amanda Witman
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Holidays offer such a wonderful opportunity for crafting and creating. Thoughtfully handmade decorations and gifts always seem to have a willing recipient or admirer. There is something special about creating something that will be seen and enjoyed by others. Whether you are someone for whom crafting comes naturally, or someone who wants to find a way to make more creative opportunities for your children, there are many ways to weave crafts and activities into the holiday season.

Some of us are naturally inclined to such projects and craft with our children as easily as we read to them or engage them in other daily tasks. But some of us have a harder time with it. Here are some ideas for crafters old and new.

Materials

Start by amassing some basic craft supplies in seasonally appropriate colors. If you are decorating for Christmas, you might choose red and green. If you celebrate Hanukkah, blue and white might be more appropriate. Or maybe you love the idea of pastel snowflakes for winter. For Halloween, orange and black. Valentine’s Day, pink and red. Silver and gold add nice sparkle to any holiday. Whatever the holiday might be, a general color theme helps to unify even the most wildly divergent pieces of homemade art.

Provide open-ended craft supplies in the best quality you can afford. Offer construction paper and cardstock, beeswax crayons, colored pencils, and paints. Keep scissors, tape, and glue or paste handy. You might find it helpful to make a straightedge and a hole punch available. Other interesting things to offer could be collections of buttons, bits of ribbon and yarn, magnets to be reused, scraps for collages, googly eyes, beads, pipe cleaners, or glitter. Don’t forget things found in nature, such as feathers, pine cones, shells, nuts, acorns, twigs, etc. Fabric scraps in various colors and patterns, pieces of ribbon, and other colorful “bits and bobs” can be good seeds for creativity. A plastic tablecloth or some newspaper to keep the table safe from glue and paint is also a very helpful thing.

Photo credit: Colleen Bak (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Colleen Bak
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Lay out some piles of paper and some crayons or pencils in the color of the current season or holiday, and see what your child makes of it. Start out with just a small offering of supplies so as not to overwhelm anyone. Be present to supervise and provide support when it is warranted. “Mom, do we have any glue?” “I need some scissors!” “Can I stick buttons on this?” “I can’t cut this by myself!” You will know what they need because they will ask for it.

You might be surprised at how creative your children can be when they’re given free rein with materials that feel good in the hands and are attractive to the eye. If they ask you, “What should I make,” turn it back to them with, “That’s your job to figure out. What do you think would be good to make with these things?” If they need a little help getting started, sit down with them and start sifting through the materials. Once they get going, they may not even notice when you quietly leave the table.

Decorations

How do you decorate your home at the holidays? Do you have flexibility built into your expectations of how your house should look? With homeschoolers in the house and perhaps younger children at home as well, the reality probably looks nothing like minimalist magazine photos and Pinterest pins. Don’t let that bother you! Let your home reflect the people who live there.

Photo credit: Amanda Witman (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Amanda Witman
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Start your child off with some appealing materials in seasonally appropriate colors, take some time to review holiday themes and concepts, and give them your approval to create whatever they feel moved to create in honor of the season. It doesn’t have to be complicated: Providing young children with strips of colored paper, tape or a stapler, and some instruction can easily result in the longest paper chain imaginable. It can also help develop fine-motor skills and bring a lasting sense of pride when the project is done and hung up for all to see.

Now comes the fun part — deck(orate) the halls! Get some removable double-sided tape or adhesive putty. If your children are happy to help, ask them what should go where. If their art is somewhat difficult to interpret, let them help you make labels so you can explain each piece to others. If you are faced with a mile-long paper chain, decide together where to drape and stick it, and consider dividing it into smaller lengths if the maker is willing. Then invite some friends over to your “gallery” and enjoy the festive atmosphere.

Cards

Another wonderful way to encourage and showcase children’s creativity at the holidays is to have them create handmade cards that can be sent to friends and relatives. Some children enjoy mass-producing holiday-themed art, and what better way to honor it than to give it to others who will appreciate it? Make sure you have the artist’s permission first.

Photo credit: Amanda Witman (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Amanda Witman
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Start with plain cardstock, either whole or cut in half lengthwise, and fold it in half. For children who often tend to “mess up and start again,” you could cut pieces of regular paper and give them a stack of these to create their artwork on; the ones that meet their approval can later be pasted onto the fronts of the folded cardstock cards.

You can purchase rubber stamps with a variety of holiday greetings to add a polished touch to the inside of the card, or encourage your child to practice writing a holiday-appropriate greeting or a short poem. Also have them put their name or initials on the back of each card along with the year. Consider including a photo and a personal note. Recipients often will treasure handmade cards for many years.

Gifts

Homemade gifts do not have to be complicated. What could we make with the things we have at hand? Invite your children to invent some possible ideas for gifts. They could even create a made-up “invention” for each recipient and write or dictate a story to go along with it.

Talk also about what each person on your list might like to receive that your child could make. You might find, as I have, that one or more of your children has a flair for crafting that far surpasses your own. Among other treasures, I have received (at various times) an embroidered pillow, a full-length skirt, a walnut shell baby, and a sleep mask from an enterprising child who had a clever idea and some materials at hand.

If you or your child need an outside source of ideas, Oak Meadow’s Pinterest boards contain links to ideas and instructions for many fun, wholesome crafts. You might find that just looking through some of these possibilities gives rise to a new creative craft that you can make with materials you have at hand.

You might be impressed with what your children create when given materials and encouragement! But at the end of the day, if all you end up with is a collage of paper scraps and bits, don’t fret. Just smile, hang it up on the wall, and enjoy the way it authentically reflects your child’s creativity. Happy holidays!

Winter Solstice

 

images

“I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

‘We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,’
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.”
–   Oliver Herford, I Heard a Bird Sing

Such a beautiful poem! I love to recite it every year around this time.

This year I’ve looked at it a bit differently because I have many students in the Southern Hemisphere. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are tilted away from the sun and experience these darker December days while my students in the Southern Hemisphere are enjoying warmer days as they are tilted toward the sun. Here, north of the equator, the December solstice brings the longest night and shortest day of the year and the Southern Hemisphere experiences the longest day and shortest night. As I look forward to snow falling, students in the Southern Hemisphere head to the ocean for summertime fun!

I looked for a poem to share with my Southern Hemisphere friends, but couldn’t find one. If you know of one, please share it with us!

If you would like to learn more about what is happening on the Winter Solstice on the planet Earth, go to http://earthsky.org/earth/everything-you-need-to-know-december-solstice

Happy Solstice!

Winter Reading

Books have a life of their own

and are born in the mind

and given birth to by a writer

into its full-grown life as a book.

Louise Moeri

Photo credit: The Cassell Family (Oak Meadow archives)
Photo credit: The Cassell Family (Oak Meadow archives)

For those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, the season of winter is fast approaching. It is the perfect time to nestle in and share additional reading time with your children. Your choice of books could even be centered around the theme of holidays and wintertime.

When my children were in their elementary age level of learning, one of my favorite books to read aloud during this time of year was Star Mother’s Youngest Childwritten by Louise Moeri and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Another favorite was Vivian French’s abridged version of the Charles Dickens story, A Christmas Carolbeautifully illustrated by Patrick Benson. However, there is a wide assortment of both unabridged and abridged books of this classic for children. At this time of year, your local library will most likely feature several selections from which you can choose.

If your weather is too inclement for traveling or your library is closed for the holidays, the StarWalk KidsMedia site offers a lovely selection of holiday and winter-themed ebooks. Reading books together on a cold winter’s night might just be the perfect way to bid adieu to the old year and ring in the new year!

 

Even More Advantages of Homeschooling

Photo credit: The Main Family. (Oak Meadow archives.)

1. Children can follow their interests and passions deeply, encouraging sustained engagement in learning.

2. Listening to their bodies regarding when to sleep, eat, play, etc. helps children remain connected to and responsible for their physical needs in a healthy way.

3. Spending significant time together builds a strong parent-child relationship.

4. Time and energy are free to be invested in the family instead of in the needs of the school system.

Photo credit: The Vannucci Family. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: The Vannucci Family.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

5. With no dress code, it’s perfectly possible to spend the day in the comfort of pajamas!

6. There is freedom to make nonconforming choices about appearance without the risk of peer pressure.

7. Homeschooled students who are on either end of the academic bell curve have no reason to be self-conscious about how different they might be from their peers.

8. Learning can happen at its own pace, which means quick learners can accelerate and slow learners can take all the time they need.

Photo credit: Gabriela Guberman. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Gabriela Guberman. (Oak Meadow archives.)

9. Flexible scheduling throughout the year makes it easy to take a “leave of absence” from formal learning for traveling, attending a special event, managing a health issue, or healing from trauma.

10. Complete oversight of your child’s learning means the parent’s educational priorities are always front and center.

11. Individual attention means an infinitely flexible, personal approach to learning for each child.

12. You can rest easier knowing that you are doing what your child needs.

Want to read even more? Check out these previous blog articles: 12 Advantages of Homeschooling and 12 More Advantages of Homeschooling. Then comment and let us know if you can think of any advantages that we left out!

The Nutcracker Ballet

This past weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to enjoy an evening at a local university that presented their 30th annual production of “The Nutcracker Ballet”. This grand holiday tradition dazzled and delighted the audience with spectacular dancing, beautiful costumes, glorious scenery, and pyrotechnical magic as the brilliance of Tchaikovsky’s music was brought to life by the university’s symphony orchestra and the local city’s children’s choir. I had not attended a “Nutcracker” production since my boys (now ages 28 and 35) were young children. It was a very special performance for me, for it brought back warm and wonderful memories of a magical family event during my children’s early home schooling years.

11324001829Nutcracker bookIf taking your children to see “The Nutcracker Ballet” is a part of your holiday plans, then I highly recommend filling your home with the amazing orchestral soundtrack before you attend the performance. Since the performance is “told” in the form of music and dance, I also recommend reading aloud the story so your children can better understand the storyline during the performance. There are many books written about the Nutcracker. One of my favorites is the original tale of Nutcracker, written by E.T.A. Hoffmann (in 1816), translated by Ralph Manheim and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. The New York Times Books Review has rated it as “one of the ten best illustrated children’s books of the year.”

1historynutcrackertumblr_nudsxdhksN1qke7l1o1_540If you are also interested in sharing a little history of this special ballet, then I recommend the book, The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition, written by Chris Barton and illustrated by Cathy Gendron.

 

Who would ever have thought that, during WW II, three small-town Utah boys interested in ballet would have started this annual holiday tradition? “The Nutcracker Ballet” has retained its freshness because it appeals to the sense of wonder we all share. It is a memorable and magical event that every family should enjoy together at least once.

 

Nature and Physical Activity: Antidotes to Anxiety

by Chris Mays

Anyone with a teen at home has probably worried about how today’s young adults are affected by the stress of modern life. The rise in anxiety levels of students in their teens and early twenties has grown to an alarming level. Leading research confirms that the number of teens experiencing unhealthy levels of anxiety in modern America is estimated to be five times the rate it was in the 1930s, a time of high anxiety for our country. We have much work to do to interrupt this pattern.

Photo credit: Brooke Doughty. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Brooke Doughty
(Oak Meadow archives)

While many teens are able to process daily stress effectively, for some, the stress lingers and builds. Pervasive anxiety can be debilitating, often leads to depression, and creates avoidant behaviors, which further stress family systems, promoting even higher levels of anxiety. Students who struggle with anxiety often seek escape from the uneasiness of social, environmental, and academic stressors by avoiding situations and retreating to their rooms or home, appearing to be unmotivated or uninterested in the larger world. Many opportunities are lost for expanding their perspectives and life options.

Why is this happening? Several key factors contribute to this trend. They range from an overabundance of choices, social media influences, suspect diets, lack of physical activity, and a shift from intrinsic goals to extrinsic goals. Neurological changes take place as a result, and some of these changes are not for the better. Those of us working with high-schoolers level know how important it is for students to achieve self-regulation and engage regularly with the larger world. It is important to first understand these issues and then take effective action through a coordinated plan that actively involves the student in the solution.

Photo credit: John Paul Huber. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: John Paul Huber.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

So, what can we do? The discovery of physical activity in aiding depression and anxiety is well known and has been monumental in helping those who are suffering. Spending time outside has also been linked to positive effects on the human psyche. Walking, hiking, biking, skateboarding, horseback riding, swimming, running, and any other active way to enjoy the outdoors has myriad benefits. As Richard Louv (2005) worded it, “Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health.” Engaging students in outdoor physical activity is a powerful way to address anxiety and other mental health issues.

There are many possible kinds of outdoor activity that can help students cope with anxiety and other challenges. One form of physical activity that has proven successful in healing and transformation as a therapeutic sport is surfing.

Surfing can promote physical well-being, combat discrimination, build confidence and a sense of security, as well as play an important role in the healing and rehabilitation process for all children affected by crisis, discrimination, and marginalization…programs with organized and supervised activities can offer important opportunities for leadership development, discipline, teamwork, and personal and professional growth” (Lopes, 2013)

Connecting students with the natural world through hard physical exercise challenges them physically and mentally in a way that can be life-changing. In fact, there are many programs for youth that focus on spending time outdoors because simply being outside in nature has a therapeutic effect.

Photo credit: Natasha Diamondstone. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Natasha Diamondstone.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

Some students benefit greatly from a residential, outdoor-challenge-based program. Such programs can offer students a supportive environment for their emotional and physical needs while also providing an appropriately flexible educational program. One such program is the Point School in Puerto Rico, which provides an Oak Meadow education as part of their program for high-schoolers.

All students can benefit from the opportunity to learn while engaging in their natural environment, challenging themselves physically, and receiving support from encouraging adults. Incorporating regular physical activity and outdoor time can help every individual, regardless of age or circumstance, lead a happier, healthier life.  


Chris Mays is the CEO of The Point School, a residential community in Puerto Rico for young adults who need support and guidance to assist them in graduating high school and/or preparing for college. Chris has worked for over 30 years as an employee and manager of adventure-based youth development and treatment programs including sail training ships, Outward Bound programs, and private centers.

Tips for Playing the Recorder

Music plays a very positive role in your child’s development, whether it is through listening to music, singing songs, or playing an instrument. In the first grade, Oak Meadow offers an introduction to the soprano recorder as a musical instrument to play, along with additional, more advanced tutelage offered up through the fourth grade.

The first grade curriculum introduces the recorder with the Beginning Recorder course book; the second grade curriculum follows up with Intermediate Recorder; the third grade curriculum offers advanced lessons in the Advanced Recorder course book; and the fourth grade curriculum completes the recorder coursework with Recorder Duets.

blog -renaissanceThe recorder is a very old European instrument that dates all the way back to the 14th century, possibly originating in Italy. It’s an appealing and appropriate modern-day instrument for young children who are just beginning to unfold their musical abilities and potential. The recorder is also a simple and versatile instrument to learn that allows the player to practice attention and focus, to help train and develop the ear, and to further aid in reading and composing musical notation.

If you, as the home teacher, are also new to playing the recorder and feel that a guided tutorial would benefit you in teaching your child to play this instrument, I suggest watching the Recorder Basics – B A G video. The instructor in the video, Mr. Barnes, demonstrates how to hold the recorder, as well as how to play “Hot Cross Buns” with the notes B, A and G. “Hot Cross Buns” is one of the first songs introduced in Oak Meadow’s Beginning Recorder guidebook.

If your child is more advanced in playing the recorder and has already worked through all the songs in the recorder books offered in the Oak Meadow coursework, Woodstock Chimes provides a lengthy list of familiar songs to play on the recorder. Each song includes its own fingering chart, as well as words to the songs for additional singing pleasure.

playing_recorders

As a collaborative effort, Oak Meadow’s staff offered some additional tips for helping to play the recorder:

1mmenegazMichelle Menegaz – 

Before you begin to practice, do some quick stretches…shoulder rolls, finger wiggling, etc. Then stand tall and imagine you are being suspended by a string from above. Relax the shoulders and lengthen the body. Please consider standing as often as you can when practicing. It really helps!

When you perform, there are special but simple skills you can practice to make your gift of music or poetry or any other presentation more enjoyable for your audience. Try looking toward the back of the room just above the heads of the people farthest away. Smile, smile, smile if you can remember  – either while playing or before or after if you are using a wind instrument. Remember to introduce yourself and your piece before you begin and bow with gratitude when you finish.

1OM-sarahSarah Antel –

One of the things that stuck with me from music lessons as a child was belly breathing. You can stand in front of a mirror to practice breathing. Additionally, it helps if you stand sideways so you can see your belly go in and out. You should take a deep breath through your nose and imagine you are filling a balloon in your belly and focus on filling your belly with air rather than making your chest rise. In a similar fashion, when releasing air, or breathing out, exhale through the mouth. You should focus on squeezing all of the air out using your stomach. Your chest should not be moving at all. Looking sideways in the mirror, you will see your stomach pull in. This type of breathing allows you to take a deeper breath and have a stronger sound when playing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lesley Arnold –

Instruct your child to sit up tall (with a straight back) and toward the edge of the seat in order to take full breaths. After finding the right breath for blowing into the recorder, have your child try to imagine gently blowing on a candle flame just so it flickers, but doesn’t go out. The fingers should be curved and relaxed completely covering the holes. The left hand should always be on top! Have your child press firmly to seal the finger holes completely. Lips should cover the teeth lightly. Make sure your child separates the notes by touching the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth or to the tip of the recorder. Clap and count the rhythm, speak, then sing the name of the notes. Then the tune is ready to be played. 

1AmandaxpW8nOnU_400x400Amanda Witman – 

“Find a place where you can practice comfortably and without distraction.”

“A little bit of practicing every day is better than a lot of practicing once in a while.”

“Listen to the sounds you are making and experiment with ways to make them pleasing to you.”

“Take a moment to relax your hands and your breathing before you start to play.”

“Share your music with others. If you can’t find anyone to play for, stand in front of a mirror and perform for yourself. Smile and take a bow at the end of your performance!”