Archive | Education

Celebrating Important Black Female Artists

This year for Black History Month I wanted to paint a handful of important black female artists. I thought I would maybe do one or two portraits, but the more I researched, the more I fell in love with these amazing women. I picked out 15 important artists overall, and today I’d like to share my first 6 portraits with you. (more…)

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Where does rain come from? (a preschool lesson and diorama)

Our Rain Diorama

Today we learned about rain.

During lunch, Phoebe asked me, “Where does rain come from?” I have been explaining the water cycle to her a lot lately, as well as the principles of evaporation and freezing, but she never asked me this specific question. Until today. I asked her if she wanted the long answer or the short answer. She chose the long answer. So we went for it.

We did two main things this afternoon: we experienced water in its three forms, and we created a diorama to use in imaginative play.

For the real-life experience of a cloud, and a physical experience of the water cycle, I put a pot of water on the stove to boil. While we were waiting, we took ice cubes out of the fridge and watched them melt on our hands, and eventually on the counter. We talked about the differences between solids and liquids, then identified liquids and solids around the kitchen. Milk: liquid. Juice: liquid. Corn: solid. Scooter (our cat); solid…and fuzzy.

Then the pot whistled! I opened the top, kept it on the burner, and we watched as a cloud of steam billowed up and out. Then I emptied our large glass fruit bowl, inverted it over the steam, and “captured” a cloud. Periodically, I showed the condensation on the bowl to Phoebe. Eventually I was able to hold the bowl over the floor while a few drops of “rain” drizzled out.

Cats playing in the pond

We also made a diorama, complete with hills and ponds and the Puget Sound. For sky, we painted with watercolors on printer paper. We each made a house for the diorama. We glued fiber fill to the top as clouds, and strung ribbons and floss hanging down as rain. We gathered together clear, white and sparkly buttons, and put them in a jar that we placed up top to represent the rain held up in the clouds. And we included an enclosed pond and garden (made from a tissue box) to “catch our rainfall.”

Then we demonstrated the process.

Ribbons as rain

THe jar of buttons we used for raindrops

We let the ribbons fall into the diorama. Then we poured the buttons over the pond and garden. We shook the box with the buttons inside, and it sounded like rainfall! Then we put the ribbons back up top, to indicate the rain was no longer pouring. And we turned on a nearby lamp, to represent the sun, and gathered the buttons back into the jar on top of the diorama to represent evaporation.

We also talked a little bit about how the rain soaks into the garden to make the flowers grow, but we didn’t get into depth about it.

Phoebe gathered together toys that she wanted to play in the garden and “swim” in the pond. And I think it will be fun to make more flowers for the diorama another day.

Hard at work

This was our first diorama together. I tried to involve her in the creation of it at every single stage. It was very difficult; my instinct was to make it all by myself and present it to her. But that would not have interested her, and it would have only created a lot of work for me. Once I was able to let it be an imperfect and slow-going project, I also found more fulfillment from it, because it wasn’t about the project so much as it was about us working alongside and growing together. And, when I let go of control, I made room for fun.

Frog and Turtle in the garden

Green Garden flowers, with dirt underneath


What tools have you used to teach the water cycle to your preschooler?

^_^ Erin

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Some Favorite Books for Our 2-Year-Old

Phoebe loves to read, and I try to actively curate her book collection. We are always looking for new suggestions and checking stacks of books out from the library. And some books stick with us for several renewals, while others get returned immediately. I try to balance books that are fun and fluffy with ones that are more challenging for her.

For example, Phoebe looooves any Maisy book we bring home (and we have at least half a dozen at any time). I like the Maisy books because they handle all tons of experiences that Phoebe is grappling with: cleaning up, the dentist, parties, etc. Plus Maisy and her friends are the kinds of role models I’d want for Phoebe: they aren’t stereotypical, they don’t whine, and they are kind and imaginative. “A Sick Day For Amos McGee.” I love this book because it is beautiful. The art and story are well crafted and elegant. It is not a “cutesy” book…it is a quality book, and the more quality books that go into Phoebe’s little head, the better she will understand the nuances and joys of literature. Also, this book is right at her attention level (meaning I can typically finish all the words on the page before she gets anxious).

“Extra Yarn” is a favorite of mine that she’s not overly fond of. So, once or twice a day, I ask her if I can read one of her favorites first, and then read my choice. “Extra Yarn” is at the same reading level as “Sick Day…,” and I love it because of the same reasons: gorgeous pictures, beautifully crafted story, and also because it has a good illustration of creativity and generosity. Even though Phoebe doesn’t like this book and I don’t push it on her, I think it’s important to try to entice her with excellent stories. “Bread And Jam For Frances” is one such book. Phoebe didn’t used to like it, but now requests it a lot. It is above her attention span; we typically read it over three sittings (picking up where we left off). I like this book because Frances models a toddler/kid conundrum, but it isn’t preachy or moralistic. It simply tells a story, and does it with lots of descriptive words and exploration of emotion. Also, I like it when books have tidbits of song in them so I can make up tunes willy nilly.

Finally: “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.” This book is wildly beyond Phoebe’s attention span, and I don’t try to read it with her every day. But I have always wanted to read this series with her throughout her childhood. So, when the moment is right, typically after a bath or nap when she’s snuggly and compliant, I’ll crack open a chapter and read to her.

^_^ There are so many more books we love and for so many more reasons. But one thing I think is important: I want to only keep books in our home that *I* find enjoyable, because no matter what we’re reading, Phoebe will pay the most attention to how I feel about the literature. And if I can instill a love and understanding of good literature and art in her from an early age, that is a seed that I would hope to blossom beautifully in years to come. POST SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE BOOKS!!! I’m always up for more suggestions. Haha! Our library always has a stack of inter-library-loan books waiting for me whenever we come in!!


Posted using Tinydesk blog app

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Have Fun Cleaning the Bathroom Floor with Your Toddler – Non toxic and Easy!

Today Phoebe and I cleaned the bathroom floor and it was a LOT of fun! To clean the floor with your kiddo, all you need is:
– Baking Soda
– A spoon or scoop (I used a tablespoon for Phoebe)
– Vinegar
– A scrub brush
– A mop

First, we took off our socks and rolled up our pants. Then I let Phoebe take a scoop of baking soda and sprinkle it on the floor; ie: she dumped it in a pile on the floor (which worked just fine). Then I poured a little vinegar on the baking soda & scrubbed a section with the scrub brush.

Phoebe LOVED this chore. She absolutely loves scooping things. And once she realized that the baking soda would fizz, she started standing in it and letting me pour the vinegar over her feet.

After I’d scrubbed enough of the floor with our HOMEMADE, NONTOXIC, ECO FRIENDLY and SUPER EASY cleaner, I got out our mops. We have a miniature mop for Phoebe (purchased from the Montessori Services website). It’s the one in the picture. I ran some water in the tub & showed her how to use the mop to clean up the floor.

Admittedly, once the tub water was running, she just wanted to climb in and play in the water. Which was perfect! I finished the floor, rinsing my mop right in the tub with her. And afterwards, we snuggled up with some blankets and read Maisy books. And I could tell: she felt satisfied, and her emotional bank was full.

And, to close, just another picture, from earlier today. ^_^ Bathroom antics.

By Erin

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

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How to do Dry Brush Painting

I’m posting this brief tip for my friend, Missy. Hi Missy! :waving:

The basic ideas behind dry brushing are:
– Don’t rinse your brush or let it touch water
– Use a little paint & apply it slowly & with layers

It’s helpful to use a stencil brush or other stiff, durable brush.

I start with a tiny amount of paint.

I brush the paint onto my stenciled area, brushing inwardly. This helps contain the paint. And because I add no water, bleeding and running are reduced.

A little paint doesn’t yield much, but that’s ok. You can always experiment with how much paint to use. Or just take it slow.

The direction of your brush strokes is key in containing the paint. Especially if your paint is overly wet.

Take the stencil away, and voila! A brush stroked tree!

Dry brushing lets you do cool texturing or layering of different paint colors, if you want. It’s a fun technique to play around with!

By ekwetzel

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

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Simple Montessori Bell Mobile

Phoebe is now 3 1/2 months old, and the original mobile I made for her, the Pom Pom Mobile, is no longer very interesting for her. When I put her under it, she is bored. She knows how to make it spin. She knows all its pretty colors. She’s very familiar with the baby in the mirror.

These days, Phoebe is learning how to grasp and hold things, and she needs a mobile that will help challenge her in these areas.

I give you: the Simple Montessori-inspired Bell Mobile:

simple montessori bell mobileI use the term “mobile” very loosely here. Truly, it’s just a jingle-bell on an elastic that’s hooked to the ceiling. Let me walk you through the features of the mobile…

Except for the bell, the mobile is black. I used black string and black elastic because I wanted to create a lot of contrast against the nursury’s while ceiling in order to draw attention to the bell.

simple montessori bell mobile elastic

The bell fits easily in Phoebe’s hand. When she hold it, she can shake it like a rattle, and when she lets it go or knocks it, it jingles.

simple montessori bell mobile elastic

The elastic is important because it allows Phoebe to pull on the bell without pulling it out of the ceiling, and it also makes the bell jump around in a fun and unteresting manner once she releases it.

I created several knots in the string that hooks the bell to the ceiling so that I can adjust it as Phoebe needs different heights. For now, I’m keeping the bell low and easy to grasp or knock with her fists.

simple montessori bell mobile elastic

The bell is easy for Phoebe to reach

simple montessori bell mobile elastic

A simple knot connects the elastic to the string

simple montessori bell mobile elastic

Several knots at the top of the string make it easy to adjust the bell’s height


I made the Bell Mobile last night and introduced it to her this morning. Even though she was distracted by teething pain (yes, at 3 months old she’s already teething), she liked it immediately. When Phoebe sees something new and interesting, she gives this cross-eyed look, puts her mouth in an “ooo” shape, and bobbles her head back and forth. That was her reaction when I showed her the bell. (Mom thinks, “Yay! She likes it!”)

So, I help her get the bell into her hands a few times so she gets what the purpose of it is, and then I leave her under it to come blog.

Phoebe starts to cry.

“Huh,” I thought. “I used to leave her under the Pom Pom Mobile, and she’d amuse herself forever. Well, for 20 minutes, at least.” But, of course, this is a different mobile. This is a new mobile. And it is a challenging one. So, I laughed at myself, and went in to lie next to her, helping her explore her new toy. I adjusted the height of the bell to make it easier to grasp (I’d hung it too high, originally). I steadied the bell and let her reach for it, or I guided it over to her little hands. And she loved it. Grasping the bell and shaking it was her favorite thing to do.


This is what you need:– A bell that fits your baby’s hand. I bought a package from Michael’s. I figure there are other projects I can dream up that will make good use of them. This package of 14 bells, size 25 mm, cost $3.99.

– Black elastic. I bought the thinnest Michael’s had: a 1/2 inch braided elastic, 1.5 yards long. $1.69.

– Black string. I had this lying around the house.

– Scissors. (duh)

Just knot the bell to the elastic, and the elastic to the string. I tied the string into a loop, and then knotted one end to the elastic, that way it was easier to create varied lengths on the other end.

And that’s it! Simple. Easy. Cheap.


My friend, Emily, educated me a little bit today about the bell-elastic concept. In her own words:

“Bells are really for before they have the motor control to grasp on purpose, so if they happen to knock it, it makes a nice tingly sound, which is good feedback. Then they get better at “aiming” their flailing arms to make it jingle on purpose. So then once theycan aim, you use a ring mobile to practice grasping.”

Thanks Emily! Next project: ring mobile!

By ekwetzel

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Sophie the Giraffe, Teether Toy

vulli sophie the giraffe teetherI’m not the kind of person that likes to buy things because they are trendy or popular. On the contrary, I’m the type of person that avoids trends. If something is popular, I tend to think everyone likes it just because everyone else likes it and not because of any inherent merit in the object in question. This is why I avoided Sophie the Giraffe, a teething toy by Vulli.

Sophie. Is. Everywhere.

I see her in Baby’s R Us in the checkout aisle, in all baby stores I enter (except for the consignment shops). Amazon keeps pushing her on me in my recommendations. And it doesn’t stop there! I see her in pictures on mom blogs and photos that friends post to share online. Sophie is a craze. Everybody has a Sophie. It’s like Tickle Me Elmo all over again!

Then Phoebe started to teeth early, at 3 months, and we had no teething toys. My friend, Amber, recommended buying Sophie (even though I would have to pull for her new because NO baby consignment shops have carried her). Amber said she was worth the investment. We had some baby shower money left over, so we decided this expensive toy was worth pulling for. And Amber was right.

My daughter is only three months old. She is just starting to learn how to grasp things. She can grasp rings pretty well, but – lets face it – rings are easy.

When we got Sophie out of her box, Phoebe immediately reached out for her and grabbed her. Successfully. I was astonished. This little toy is so well designed, perfectly ergonomic for little baby hands. The long giraffe legs are excellent for little grasping fists. The long giraffe neck with a curve and grooves allows my daughter to easily hold Sophie with one hand and even flail her around.

vulli sohpie the giraffe teether toy

Plus there are tons of grooves on Sophie for my daughter to run her gums along. She gums on the legs, gums on the head, gums on Sophie’s pointy nose. Sophie squeaks, too, which is cool, but Phoebe isn’t really old enough yet to figure out how to make that happen. I use the squeaks typically to draw Phoebe’s attention to Sophie as I hold her up in front of my baby’s face.

And, oh my goodness, when I take Sophie out and present her to Phoebe, Phoebe flips out. Her pupils dilate (seriously…they dilate…every time). She smiles, and she reaches for the little giraffe toy. She drops her, picks her up, holds her with one hand, then the other, then both. She sucks and gums and gums and gums the giraffe. It’s awesome.

Once when I had Phoebe on the changing table, I took Sophie from her so that I could change her shirt, and Phoebe through a little tantrum in protest. Her first tantrum. That’s how much she likes this toy.

Was I paid to write this review? Absolutely not. Does Sophie solve all your teething problems? Hahahaha…NO. Is Sophie an EXCELLENT teething toy that I think every baby should have? Yes. A thousand times yes. She’s worth it. Buy 1 Sophie instead of 3 other cheap toys that aren’t even half as great. Seriously, she’s totally worth it.

(Amber’s on twitter. Hi, Amber! Thanks for being awesome!)

By ekwetzel

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