Nature Confetti and Mother’s Day Card

nature confetti made from leaves and hole punch

Nature Confetti, photo by Natalie Wise

We love moms at Oak Meadow, and we love to celebrate them! While we wholeheartedly seek to celebrate and serve moms (and families) every day, we particularly love that there is a day set aside JUST to honor this special superhero in our lives.

This nature confetti is a simple, fun project your kids will love to create for your Mother’s Day gift.

First, go on a nature hunt! You’re looking for leaves and grasses that are wide and sturdy enough to be hole-punched. Ivy, Magnolia and slightly dried dandelion and daffodil greens worked great for us. It’s also nice to pick some small buds, violets, dandelions or other flowers/petals to add to the mix.

Heart punches for nature confetti

Then gather your hole punches. Set to work! Let little hands use the bigger punches, and bigger hands use the smaller punches, to create a mix of shapes and sizes. Mix it all together, and spread the love (and confetti) far and wide!

We’ve also created this printable card for you…print it on an 8.5×11 piece of paper and have your kids draw a special Mother’s Day picture for mom in the blank space.

Free printable Mother's Day card for kids
Free printable Mother’s Day card for kids

Thanks, Moms! You are APPRECIATED and you INSPIRE us!

Happy Mother’s Day from Oak Meadow!

(and don’t forget today is the first day of our May Sale! 20% off everything in our bookstore, and 10% off new enrollments through the end of the month)

No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.  ~Proverb

bluebell field in England

Bluebell Field in England (photo used under Creative Commons license)

Happy March Equinox Everyone!

Humankind’s imagination is as vast as the solar system we live in! Out of our imagination comes tools for working, farming, and building. If we let our imaginations soar we become inventors. In fact, inventive thinking and problem solving is something we do everyday. We see a problem and come up with a solution. In the Oak Meadow 5th grade science curriculum, students study technology and design and work on their own inventions.  It’s so much fun to see what they imagine and bring into the world! They construct things that help with a job around the house, create toys for pets, and design many other practical and useful items. Humankind just seems to long for answers to questions!

Long ago astronomers sought answers to the many questions about the universe. When an answer wasn’t in sight, they imagined and created stories or guidelines for their lives. They imagined stories about the stars they saw in the night sky, imagined the sun went to sleep each night, and imagined the world was flat. In future years we have come to understand more about the universe through observation. In observing the rising and setting of the sun, astronomers imagined a great dome over the Earth’s sky and called it the celestial sphere. They imagined the celestial equator as being in the middle of the north and south poles and right above the Earth’s equator. 

During the March equinox, when we have twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness, “the sun crosses the celestial equator, to enter the sky’s Northern Hemisphere. No matter where you are on Earth (except the North and South Poles), you have a due east and due west point on your horizon. That point marks the intersection of your horizon with the celestial equator, the imaginary line above the true equator of the Earth. And that’s why the sun rises due east and sets due west, for all of us, at the equinox. The equinox sun is on the celestial equator. No matter where you are on Earth, the celestial equator crosses your horizon at due east or due west.”

Photo and quote reprinted from EarthSky, written by Bruce McClure in Tonight

So get outside on March 20th and find due east and due west in your environment! It’s the first day of spring!

Citrus Bird Feeder

Create your own bird feeder from an orange!

Create your own bird feeder from an orange!

We have been discussing how animals adapt and change through seasons, specifically Winter.   A few words we have discussed are adaptations, camouflage, hibernation and migration.  When we were researching birds and how they survived Winter we learned that it is harder for them to find food so we decided to help them out a little bit by making some bird feeders to hang on our trees.

orange bird feeder hanging in tree
Orange Bird Feeder Project

The first two feeders we made were hanging for a full day before the birds discovered it but once we put the second set out the next day they came right to it.  We also caught a squirrel trying to steal some seeds! Which led to a great discussion on squirrels and why they must store their food for the winter. It was so exciting for the kids to see the birds eating from their creation.  We even got a picture of it.  We enjoyed this fun and simple craft but our absolute favorite part was getting to watch the birds eat our creation.  

Orange Bird Feeder hanging on tree
Orange Bird Feeder hanging on tree

Materials

  • Cutting board
  • Oranges – one orange makes 2 feeders
  • Knife
  • Yarn
  • Skewer – worked best for me but a toothpick would work, anything sharp enough to penetrate the orange
  • Bird seed
  • Helpful material: a wet towel – this one gets a little sticky! 
  1. Cut orange in ½ right down the middle horizontally (so that you are cutting in the middle of the top and bottom). The halves will act as bowls for the seed.
  2. Take out the orange segments and enjoy a delicious snack. I used a knife to carve/loosen the slices and then had my eldest scoop out the insides with a spoon. This part gets a little messy.
  3. Using the skewer punch 4 holes in the peel of the orange bowl. Its best to evenly space your holes.
  4. Weave yarn through holes in orange. We pressed the yarn through the skewer, as if it were a needle and pushed the skewer through the hole.  It helped when we would twist the skewer.  Once we got the yarn through the hole we would use our fingers to pull it through.  Weaving through each hole.
  5. Pull yarn so that you can knot the two ends together.
  6. Once tied pull the two sides even so that you can evenly hang your orange bowl.
  7. Fill with bird seeds. Its best to fill outside or near where you plan to hang your feeder.  We dropped one of our feeders on the way outside and bird seed went everywhere!! Eeeeks!!!
  8. Make sure to place feeder somewhere you can observe the birds eating their treat.  It’s so exciting to catch them in the act!
orange bird feeder project close-up
Orange Bird Feeder project

Time Is Always Right

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

https://www.nationalservice.gov/mlkday

On October 14, 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize. He was the youngest man to ever receive it. He was just 35 years old and so committed to his cause that he donated the prize money of over $50,000. to the Civil Rights Movement. His protests and his “I Have a Dream” speech are world famous, and his accomplishments are still celebrated today. You can learn more about the 1960s and the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, by watching the excellent video The Sixties from Annenberg Lerner. In Dr. King Jr.’s honor, the United States Congress designated a federal holiday in January each year to be a national day of service.

To take part in this day, plan what you and your family may do to promote King’s values on January 15, 2018. It is the Martin Luther King Day of Service.

Each year I plan to mentor students in my community that experience challenges in school. It’s a service that I enjoy very much! Share with us what you and your family plan to do in the comments.

Nature Craft: Pine Cone Christmas Trees

Christmas Tree Pinecones

Christmas Tree Pinecones

Editor’s note: We are thrilled to welcome Veronica Dantzler to our team! She will be sharing original, recycled- and nature-based crafts with us, full of color, creativity and fun. You can follow her on instagram here.

Christmas tree pinecone ornaments on tree

Pine Cone Christmas Trees 

Materials:
Pine cones

Optional materials:
Paint (tempera is great)
Pom poms
Holly berries or any berries that grow in your area (I’m honestly not sure what ours are called but they grow every winter and they are a beautiful red. Editor’s Note: We caution against using bittersweet berries, as this is a very invasive plant and moving berries spreads it, especially in New England)
Clay
Beads
Yarn
Ornament hooks
Glue gun

There are so many things you can create with a pine cone. I have grown to absolutely love them! This craft requires no glue because of the awesomeness of these natural pods.  Simply decide which option
you want to make, gather your supplies and decorate! Push in pom poms, holly berries, lace, some beads and wrap – pushing the beads in as you go to make beautiful homemade ornaments.  You can paint them green for Christmas tree pine cones, white for snow covered trees or leave them natural.

White pinecone trees with berries
White “snow-covered” trees with berries

They are all beautiful and an easy craft to set up for your family. We made ours into ornaments by either using a glue gun to attach an ornament hook or by tying a piece of yarn to the top.  We also used them to make a centerpiece by sticking them into a piece of clay (to help them stand) and sprinkling some glitter to make them sparkle and shine.  The options are limitless!

Christmas tree pinecone centerpieces or placecards
Christmas tree pinecone centerpieces or placecards

Pinecones take paint fantastically. Tempera paint works wonderfully. Paint if you desire. We painted our holly berry ornament white so that the red would pop and we painted one of our forest trees green, spread some glue and sprinkled some glitter.  Let dry before you add your  pom pom or berry “bulbs”.

Bead-and-yarn "garland" on a pinecone Christmas tree
Bead-and-yarn “garland” on a pinecone Christmas tree

Pick your decor.

Pinecone tree centerpiece
We used pom poms on the green tree and we made clay balls for the other two trees in that set.

White Berry Ornament
We simply pushed in our berries to make our white tree ornament and added a hook.

Yarn- and Bead-wrapped Ornament
Tie a piece of yarn to the top of the pine cone (or glue it down with a glue gun) and thread some beads and wrap pushing the beads into the pine cone as you go.

Enjoy!

NORAD Tracks Santa!

Image from https://www.noradsanta.org/

Now that December has arrived, the holiday spirit is in full gear and children and families around the globe are excitedly making their special preparations. If Santa is celebrated in your home, you might like to join the NORAD Tracks Santa countdown that begins every year on December 1st.

This particular event hosted by NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) has a wonderful story relating to how tracking Santa actually began. According to the NORAD Tracks Santa website:

On Dec. 24, 1955, a call was made to the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. However, this call was not from the president or a general. It was from a young child in Colorado Springs who was following the directions in an advertisement printed in the local paper – the youngster wanted to know the whereabouts of Santa Claus.

The ad said “Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct and be sure and dial the correct number.” However, the number was printed incorrectly in the advertisement and rang into the CONAD operations center.

On duty that night was Colonel Harry Shoup, who has come to be known as the “Santa Colonel.” Colonel Shoup received numerous calls that night and rather than hanging up, he had his operators find the location of Santa Claus and reported it to every child who phoned in that night.

Thus began a tradition carried on by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) when it was formed in 1958. Today, through satellite systems, high-powered radars and jet fighters, NORAD tracks Santa Claus as he makes his Yuletide journey around the world.

Every year on December 24, fifteen hundred volunteers staff telephones and computers to answer calls and e-mails from children (and adults) from around the world. Live updates are provided through the NORAD Tracks Santa Website (in seven languages), over telephone lines, and by e-mail to keep curious children and their families informed about Santa’s whereabouts and if it’s time to get to bed.

Photo Credit: NORAD Tracks Santa
Photo Credit: NORAD Tracks Santa

If you visit Santa’s Village, you will discover there is even more than just the tracking of Santa on Christmas Eve. In Santa’s village, there is a Theater to watch movies, an Arcade to play a new game every day, a Music Stage for listening to Santa’s favorite holiday songs, and a Library to learn about Santa, his magic sleigh, and holiday traditions. There is even a gift shop you can visit!

For the past 62 years, NORAD Tracks Santa has provided a magical delight to families all over the world. If you are a Santa “believer”, then you just might like to join in these annual festivities!

The Nutcracker Ballet

Edgar Degas painting - "Dress Rehearsal of the Ballet"

One of my favorite traditions during this time of year is watching the annual production of “The Nutcracker Ballet”. This grand holiday tradition dazzles and delights the audience with spectacular choreographed dancing, beautiful costumes, glorious scenery, and pyrotechnical magic as the brilliance of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic music is brought to life. “The Nutcracker” production is a very special performance for me, as it always brings back warm and wonderful memories of a magical family event during my children’s early home schooling years.

If 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 and the Mouse King. 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.

If you are also interested in sharing a little history of this special ballet with your children, 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 in both children and adults. It is a memorable and magical event that every family should enjoy together at least once, if not every year as a family tradition.

Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys? Huh?

I’ve been thinking a lot about turkeys lately! If you are in the United States, you might be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. It is a celebration of thanks commemorating the first harvest feast the Pilgrims had in 1621. Today families often gather to have a big feast of foods and that meal might … Continue reading "Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys? Huh?"

I’ve been thinking a lot about turkeys lately! If you are in the United States, you might be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. It is a celebration of thanks commemorating the first harvest feast the Pilgrims had in 1621. Today families often gather to have a big feast of foods and that meal might include a roasted turkey.  So, I’ve been thinking about turkeys.

One of my first thoughts led me to wonder where the word “turkey” originated. Why are they called turkeys? An article in the Atlantic Monthly had a good explanation. You can read it here. I was pretty surprised to find that the origin of the word is debated by etymology experts.

Then I was wondering if turkeys can really fly and I started to investigate. Sure enough, they can fly! This investigation led me to thinking about the wishbone in the turkey at our family Thanksgiving celebration. It’s the “wishbone” that is the bone that connects the wings of birds allowing them to fly.

So what do Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys all have in common?  I was amazed to find out that many dinosaurs, including the newly found “Mud Dragon” had wishbones. Yep! The wishbone is actually called the “furcula” and is found in birds and in DINOSAURS!

Next time you eat a turkey and find the furcula, remember that scientists have found that the wishbone dates back more than 150 million years!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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

P’Chum Ben

In the U.S., Halloween is a spooky holiday full of horror films, scary masks, fake blood, and haunted houses. It takes place at a time of year when many regions of the country are undergoing that seasonal shift from crisp, early autumn to the bare, dark branches welcoming winter. The air turns colder, the wind … Continue reading "P’Chum Ben"

In the U.S., Halloween is a spooky holiday full of horror films, scary masks, fake blood, and haunted houses. It takes place at a time of year when many regions of the country are undergoing that seasonal shift from crisp, early autumn to the bare, dark branches welcoming winter. The air turns colder, the wind seems louder, and one can almost hear voices in the air…

But in many countries outside the U.S., this time of year is not as much about how well we can frighten each other as it is about taking the time to commune with one another and honor the cycle of life – birth, death, and return.

Halloween is certainly connected to ideas of death and return, but it manifests in gory images of witches and zombies wandering suburban streets. In other cultures, particularly ones rooted in the many strands of Buddhism, autumn is a time to pause in remembrance for our loved ones who are no longer with us, and gather for meals and services with those who are.

In Cambodia, the holiday P’Chum Ben (which translates to Ancestors’ Day) is a 15-day celebration which takes place at the end of September each year. It is one of the most important holidays in the Cambodian religious calendar. During P’Chum Ben, it is believed that the souls of relatives who have passed away come to the temples (called pagodas) to receive offerings of food and prayers from their living family members. P’Chum Ben is not to be missed, and much time is taken by all to visit the pagodas and to show respect for their relatives and ancestors.

As with the American Halloween, there is one spooky element to P’Chum Ben: it is believed that some of the dead receive punishments for their sins and suffer in hell, far from the sun, with no clothes to wear or food to eat. It is believed that those souls who are suffering have become hungry ghosts whose tiny mouths cannot take in all the food they need. Those who greet spirits at the pagodas believe that the food they bring can be directly transferred to the dead, and some people throw the traditional sticky rice into the fields as a way to reach the ghosts. Ultimately, P’Chum Ben is an opportunity for these spirits to commune with their living relatives by receiving the offerings, and hopefully gaining some relief for their pain.

Photo of a P’Chum Ben celebration in Cambodia, courtesy of pkocambodia.org. Unlike the American tradition of wearing black to a funeral, Cambodians traditionally wear white – a lighter, more celebratory color.

I traveled to Cambodia in high school with a group of students and teachers, to learn about the country’s traditional art forms. On the trip, I developed a strong interest in Cambodian culture and a love for the country’s arts, landscape, and people.

Several years after my trip, a close friend who had also traveled there, and held his experiences in Cambodia close to his heart, unexpectedly passed away exactly one week before his birthday. In my grief, my confusion over why this talented poet, photographer, and humanitarian had died so young, I found solace in our shared connection to Cambodian culture and Buddhist beliefs in karma and reincarnation.

Each year on November 7th, the day Johnny died, I take time to look at his photographs from Cambodia and reread his poems about visiting ancient Khmer temples. A week later, on his birthday, November 14th, I connect with our mutual friends to speak about Johnny and draw attention to the ways he touched so many lives while he was with us, and the ways he continues to make an impact after his death.

No matter your belief system, or what holidays you celebrate when the weather turns cold, autumn is undeniably a good time to gather with friends, family, and loved ones, to celebrate life and others who lived before us. It is a good time to pause and ask yourself what you do believe, what brings you comfort, and how you can bring comfort to others.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer. Poem by John Harrity, from a chapbook of poems printed by his family. In the photo, Johnny is playing the chapei, a traditional Khmer instrument similar to a guitar.

Here are some ways you can integrate this attention into your daily life this autumn:

  • Make a meal traditional to your family, culture, and ancestors, and bring it to a gathering of loved ones to share
  • Look through old photo albums of relatives and take the time to learn about their lives
  • Journal about your feelings regarding the loss of your loved ones
  • Build a shrine with photos, candles, and objects for a loved one who has passed on
  • Research the ways other cultures, different from your own, celebrate and honor the lives of their relatives and ancestors