Dia de los Muertos

Photo by Sara Molina

This post and the photos come from Sara Molina, our Spanish teacher, who splits her time between Vermont and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Thanks, Sara, for introducing us to this wonderful and colorful cultural celebration of our ancestors!

Skulls, death, skeletons: these items often inspire fear, or at least negative feelings. But in Mexico, and many other countries that celebrate the Day of the Dead, it is quite the opposite. ‘Día de los Muertos’ is a colorful holiday of joy and festivities based around honoring the lives of loved ones who have died. This is a time to celebrate and remember these loved ones through parties, dinners, altars, and parades.

This celebration has a history of thousands of years, starting with a month-long holiday in the time of the Aztecs and then evolving to be celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2 with the arrival of Catholicism.  November 1 is generally for celebrating infants and children who have passed and November 2 is to honor adults. Offerings play a large role, where the deceased are honored with their favorite foods, drinks, pictures of them, and other colorful decorations. Celebrations are often held in cemeteries, at the graved of loved ones, with music, food, and drink. As opposed to the somber tone often felt at cemeteries in the U.S., the feeling is festive and happy at these Day of the Dead cemetery celebrations.

 

Papel Picado in Mexico
Painted skulls and altars in Mexico
Evening Festivities for Dia de los Muertos in Mexico

Skulls and skeletons are an integral part of the Day of the Dead. The Catrina is the main skeleton seen, she is elegantly dressed and was created in the early 20th century by an artist aiming to poke fun at the high society ladies of the time.  Some of the Catrina creations are stunning, with elaborate face painting and gorgeous and colorful costumes.  Another fun tradition that just began last year in Mexico City, was a Day of the Dead parade. This was modeled after the Day of the Dead parade in the recent James Bond movie, ‘Spectre’.  The opening scene features an impressive parade in Mexico City, and some leaders in the city decided to make it a reality this Day of the Dead.

Feel like getting into the Day of the Dead Spirit? Create an altar or offering (ofrenda) for a loved one (pets too!) who has passed. Include flowers, their favorite foods or drinks, music, symbols of activities they enjoyed, pictures of them etc.

Or if cooking is more appealing, create the traditional Día de los Muertos dish: pan de muertos (bread of the dead).  This is a basic sweet roll that is often molded into various shapes: angels, animals, or of course on this holiday – skeletons!

And if you’re a crafty person, try making a traditional decoration of this time: Papel Picado. This colorful paper is cut with patterns, and hung around the altar, and all over streets during this time.

Regardless of our level of celenration of the holiday, pausing for a moment to fondly remember loved ones no longer with us can bring a smile to our faces.

Additional Resources:

National Geographic site about Day of the Dead (good for general Day of the Dead info and activities. A clean and well organized site)

BBC documentary about Day of the Dead in Mexico (a 20ish minute documentary, one of the better ones I’ve seen about Day of the Dead)

Recipe for Pan de Muertos

Directions and Template for Papel Picado

Mexico City Day of the Dead parade video

12 Ways to Foster Hands-On Creativity at Home (Even If You Don’t Feel Creative)

Does the idea that homeschooling parents need to be naturally artistic or compulsively creative stop you from trying? Don’t be fooled! Although there are plenty of parents who enjoy doing arts and crafts with their children, there are plenty who don’t. You can foster your children’s creative and artistic streaks even if you’re not sitting down at the table and eagerly leading the way. Here are some ideas to get you started and keep you moving forward:

1. Provide a variety of creative materials. Start by stocking up on basic, kid-friendly, age-appropriate supplies.

Photo Credit: Abbie L.
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Here are some possibilities:

Here are some other things that can be fun to have around:

  • wooden craft sticks
  • a hole punch
  • chalks, oil crayons, watercolor pencils, and other colorful drawing materials
  • fun patterned paper (origami paper, doilies, scrapbooking paper)
  • scissors with patterned edges
  • a straightedge or ruler
  • a stapler
  • play-dough, clay, beeswax, and other modeling media
  • wool roving
  • fabric scraps
  • random collage materials (feathers, sequins, beads, cutout shapes)
  • string, ribbon, embroidery thread
  • needles of various sizes
  • scrap cardboard and other reclaimed materials
Photo Credit: Warf Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

2. Establish a comfortable, easy-clean area for creating. It’s ideal to have a separate area with a table and nearby storage if possible. But if you don’t have abundant space, a vinyl tablecloth can protect any table or floor area from creative messes. Just shake or wipe down the tablecloth and put it away for the next round of creativity. Good lighting is also very helpful.

3. Store most materials in an accessible, kid-friendly way, with the important exception of anything you want to supervise. Some materials, particularly messy ones, might be available to young artists only “on request” until you’re sure they can handle the responsibility that such materials require. Even more important than making materials easily accessible is making it easy to store them away when the creating is done.

4. Remember that you do not have to teach your children how to create! Children are inherently creative beings. If you are not the sort of person who wants to patiently teach the proper methods, it’s perfectly fine to explain any safety points, and then just get out of the way and let your children figure things out for themselves. You might be surprised by what they come up with.

Photo Credit: Lynn Nash
(Oak Meadow Archives)

5. Open-ended situations allow for the widest range of creativity. Offering a variety of basic materials that feel good to use can bring about much more creativity than a preassembled kit for making a particular end product. You might encourage your children to think up new ways to use what they have at hand by saying something like, “Lots of people only paint with a paintbrush; can you think of any other good ways to apply paint to paper?”

6. There is no wrong way to be creative. Keep your own preconceived ideas out of it! Your child should be the one to decide what they will create and then explain to you in their own way what their creations mean. When your child inevitably asks, “What should I make?” follow it with, “What do you feel like making?” or “This is your project, so I can’t decide for you. What do you think you should make?”

Photo Credit: Jennie Smith-Pariola
(Oak Meadow Archives)

7. Look to nature for variety and inspiration as needed. Go scavenging outdoors as a family, and bring natural materials back to your craft area. Encourage your children to incorporate them into their creations. Ask them to draw or paint or create a likeness of something they enjoyed seeing outside or make a mobile with their found objects.

8. Less can be more! One tool. One color. One type of material. Keeping it simple can help prevent everyone from feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes having all possible materials staring at you at once can stop you in your creative tracks. If that happens, let simplicity be your guide. “What could we make if we only had paper and tape to work with?”

9. Be proactive about managing stress. Messy projects can be stressful for those who have to help clean them up! Set up your creative space for easy cleanup by keeping trash/recycling containers, a broom and dustpan, and a sponge handy. Keep smocks and/or aprons nearby. Cafeteria trays can also be helpful for containing bits and pieces. For projects with huge mess potential, consider setting up a creative space outdoors for easier cleanup.

Photo Credit: Neigh Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

10. Figure out your own challenges with creativity. What holds you back personally from feeling creative? Can you identify why you don’t feel like a creative person? Acknowledge your reasons, but don’t pass them on to your children. There is no right or wrong way to create. Be gentle with yourself, and if you feel inspired to pick up a piece of modeling wax or put crayon to paper yourself, go ahead and see what flows.

11. When in doubt, follow the rainbow. It’s helpful to own a rainbow’s worth of colors of materials when possible: paper, crayons, paint, modeling wax. Sometimes all colors will be used, but sometimes choosing just one color at a time to explore with your child can also be very freeing. “How many different ways can we think of to create with the color red?”

Photo Credit: Cindie Young
(Oak Meadow Archives)

12. Remember that the joy is in the process! Many decisions are part of a creative experience, from choosing materials and colors, to predicting the outcome of an action, to deciding how to respond to the results partway through, to deciding when a particular project is finished. Creating can also be a highly sensory experience, allowing a child to integrate sight and touch, and in some cases sound, smell, and/or taste. It can also be extremely imaginative – you may find your child narrating their creative process or creating a story about their creation. Be open to the value of the process itself, and don’t worry if the project gets abandoned before it is finished. One of the best rewards of fostering a creative experience is hearing your child say, “That was fun!”

Creative Craft-Festive Lanterns

The sunlight fast is dwindling.
My little lamp needs kindling.
Its beam shines far in darkest night,
Dear lantern guard me with your light.

Song written by Margaret Meyerkort

The season of winter is a time of contraction. As the days grow shorter, we find ourselves inside more. It’s a perfect time for expressing our festive, artistic side. Making lanterns that shine from within and bring a warm glow to your home can help you and your children ready yourselves for the cold days and nights of winter.

You will need:

-heavy water color paper (9″X12″ or 12″X16″)

-watercolor paints and paintbrushes

-scissors

-tacky glue, white glue, or glue sticks

-paper fasteners

-warming candles, votive candles, or tea lights (the ones in metal containers)

-tissue paper

What to do:

1. Paint the paper. (Dark colors work best, such as ultramarine or cobalt blue.) Encourage your children to fill the entire paper with color.

2. After the paper dries, make a fold all the way across the length of the paper, approximately three inches up from the bottom.

3. Cut a fringe of three-inch wide segments all along the bottom folded section.

4. Cut several small shapes out of the top portion of the lantern. These are the “windows” that the light shines through. (Star and moon shapes are always fun!) Small pieces of colored tissue paper glued over the inside of the windows create a beautiful effect.

5. Form the lantern paper into a cylinder, gluing it from the top to the bottom. Fold the fringed edges in and overlap them to make the lantern’s bottom. Put small dabs of glue between the fringes to hold them together.

6. Add a fairly long handle (12-15 inches) 1/2 inch wide and attach to each side of the lantern with paper fasteners.

7. Use candles that come in individual metal cups. A dab of glue placed in the bottom of the lanterns holds the candle in place.

Important Note: These lanterns should be used only under close adult supervision.

Exploring Science through Illustrations

“A natural science illustrator is an artist who works in the service of science, creating images of animals, objects and complex processes that teach, inform, and create understanding of our world.” Guild of Natural Science Illustrators: https://www.gnsi.org/

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From the Oak Meadow Archives

I’ve become fascinated with the illustrations my Oak Meadow students did this year in conjunction with their science lessons. Many were exceptional in the intricate details of the drawings and I could tell that a lot of effort, time, and research was put into them. In the 7th grade Earth Science, a student researched the structure of a leaf, found which part was responsible for transpiration, and drew a diagram of the leaf showing the process. Another student created an illustration of the ecosystem in which she lives that included the various habitats within her ecosystem. In 8th grade Physics I am continually amazed with the details students include in their sketches of wet cell batteries! In the study of color, 8th graders discover the shortest and longest wavelength of the colors of the rainbow and I receive the most beautifully illustrated and colored rainbows! Through artistic exercises students clearly depict scientific concepts in their intricate drawings.

As you explore and observe the natural world around you, take some time to illustrate what you see! It can become a most wonderful pastime, or even a career! The website of The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators explains: “The principle task of the scientific illustrator is to prepare accurate renderings of scientific subjects. These illustrations are designed for reproduction in professional or popular journals in the field of natural sciences, textbooks, as museum exhibits, web sites, and many other applications. Scientific illustrations in both traditional and digital formats provide a visual explanation and aid the viewer by clarifying complex descriptive information. The function of a scientific illustration, therefore, is essentially a practical one: to inform, to explain, and to instruct — in short, to communicate.”

 Below is a wonderful example of a scientific subject illustrated and then put into digital format. ENJOY the Metamorphosis of the Butterfly from http://artorium.com/:

http://www.metamorphosis.urban-parks.org/

Butterfly Art Project

Fly, fly butterfly.

Whither lies your way?

I fly to the sun

On this lovely spring day.

Fly, fly butterfly.

With wings of colored hue.

From the sun please bring us

A message or two.

Author unknown

I have discovered that watching butterflies is a delight at any age. I am in awe as I watch the butterflies emerge from their winter sleep or return home from their long migration. Butterfly watching is fast becoming a popular hobby. Did you know there are more than 650 species of these colorful winged insects in the U.S. alone? Did you know that people who study them are called lepidopterists?

Butterfly conservatories are a great way to observe many different species of butterflies, but most of you don’t even have to leave your backyard before you’ll notice them flitting about. If you are enthusiastic about attracting even more butterflies, you can plant particular varieties of flowers, such as Butterfly Bush, Butterfly Weed, Zinnia, Bergamot, Day Lily, Black-Eyed Susan, and Purple Coneflower, as well as herbs like Tansy, Garlic, and Chives.

1519fg78jCuL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Oak Meadow’s science courses in grades k-4 include various studies of the butterfly. In addition to the suggested lesson activities, you might include a guidebook, such as Robert Michael Pyle’s book, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Or perhaps you would enjoy sharing a butterfly story, such as Alan Madison’s Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly or Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Bruce Coville’s The Prince of Butterflies.

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Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

If it’s a rainy day, and no butterflies can be observed, then you and your children might like to make a butterfly template, paint it with watercolors, and then create your own butterfly kite or wind waver. Before painting,  you might like to view pictures of butterflies to study the symmetry of their patterns. They truly are amazingly beautiful insects!

 

The White House Student Film Festival

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Have hopes for the future? Thoughts on how your generation will bring them to life? Love to make films – or ever just secretly wished to give it a shot? Well, this is your chance!

From now through July 15th, 2016, we’ll be accepting submissions for the third annual White House Student Film Festival. Our theme is “The World I Want To Live In” and we’re inviting U.S. students, grades K-12, to participate. Tell us what you hope the future will hold for us – sci-fi lasers? flying cars? yourself as President? – in the form of a short film. It can be fictional, animated, live-action documentary, or anything else you dream up. We’re just excited to see what you make! (From the White House Student Film Festival website.)

Please read the website and, if you are inspired, then participate! Go here to find out how.

GO FLY A KITE!

images-1Imagine you’ve gone back in history and it is the year 1899. You are with the Wright brothers at their bicycle shop, the Wright Cycle Company. They’ve been making, repairing, and selling bicycles at their shop since 1892. As they work, you hear them talk freely about their new passion of flying. Orville and Wilbur have been observing birds in flight and they’ve noticed that birds tilt their wings to one side or the other depending on which direction they want to go. So now the brothers are talking and thinking about some experiments they are going to try. That’s when you notice they’re not working on bicycles; they’re building kites! Yep, kites! You try to follow their conversation about how they are building a kite with wings that can be controlled by strings, just as birds control their own wings in flight. Jump ahead 5 years and all their observing, questioning, building and experimenting with kites resulted in the first piloted glider and then the first powered aircraft!

Each year there is a kite festival in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where the Wright brothers experimented with their kite flying. It looks like great family fun and The Wright Brothers National Memorial Park grounds there would be wonderful to visit.

APRIL is KITE FLYING MONTH! Make some kites! Try some of these: http://www.bigwindkites.com/20kids/

Tulips in History!

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“But I have always thought that these tulips must have had names. They were red, and orange and red, and red and orange and yellow, like the ember in a nursery fire of a winter’s evening. I remember them.” Neil Gaiman from Caroline

In the middle of a snowstorm today in New England, I found myself thinking about spring! With so much snow cover in the garden right now, I looked out the window and wondered when I will see those first green shoots of bulbs. I love to look for the daffodils and tulips peaking up from the soil in my garden. It’s like searching for hidden treasure. Tulips have become very common in our nation, but at one time they were treasured like gold! I read that though now we plant our tulips from bulbs, it can take up to seven years for a tulip seed to mature into a plant. That is certainly something to treasure!

images-1History buffs might be interested to know that in the 17th century tulips were such a hot item that bulbs couldn’t be grown fast enough to keep up with the demand. Because the demand was so great and people in Europe, especially Holland, so loved the rich colors of the delicate flowers, tulips became a treasured item that was worth a lot of money. This resulted in “Tulipmania” and the worth of a tulip bulb became astronomical. There are historical records that say that a single tulip bulb could bring in the equivalent of 64,000 U.S. dollars today!

So today, in the middle of a snowstorm, I’m thinking about my tulips and I’m thinking I will order some bulbs to plant this fall!

 

This One is for the Birds!

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Photo Credit: Manuela Vega (Oak Meadow Archives)

In Oak Meadow’s k-4 coursework, constructing bird feeders is a common part of the craft projects related to the science lessons. For the northerners, it’s especially important to feed your feathered friends in winter. If you do this, they will be sure to sing for you all summer long.

Keep regular bird feeders full of seed. Now that it’s wintertime, try something new. Little yellow goldfinches like sunflower seeds, and they will sing their praises for such a treat. “Per-snick-ity, per-snick-ity!” Did you know that birds, in general, like a small slice of apple? Orioles like oranges, too (peeled, of course, and preferably cut in half). The house finch loves cherries, and so do robins. Redheaded woodpeckers, who call out, “Queer! Queer!” have reason for this warble, because they like boiled potatoes. The big, bold, black and white evening grosbeaks like nutmeats and cranberries. Suet tied on a tree will bring many birds, as will corn. And so will this –

Fancy Finch Feeder

Use a piece of wood at least a foot long. Leave the bark on, if you like. Screw a sturdy ring on one end, and then drill several holes down and around. The holes need to be big enough to hold small paper cups. Fill these cups with several mixtures, such as suet and birdseed, suet and nutmeats, suet and peanut butter. Place the cups in holes you made. Hang your feeder near a window (but not where cats can climb). Then watch the rosy finches feed on this Fancy Finch Feeder.

Isn’t wintertime wonderful?

 

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!