Hearting Art

A wonderful woman and friend once told me that the best way to help your little ones fall in love with art is to purchase quality materials. Now. My eldest was two years old when I first heard these words of wisdom and, at that time, I was happy enough to purchase art supplies at the dollar store but, of late, I’ve become really aware of what she was referring to. The masterpieces that my daughter creates have so much more impact when we are working with quality brushes, paint and paper. But I will stand by this statement too: nowhere can you get such awesome sparkle glue as the dollar store and it’s the only place I’ve yet to track down contact paper (without which we would be lost)! So it’s a balance I suppose.

I’ve also discovered another lovely truth about art in preschool. It is so much more meaningful for a child to work on a piece while keeping in mind the individual for whom it is being created. The last two weeks, we puttered away at our watercolour valentines with doilies (guess where I found those…) and she literally sang a song for each of her friends as she painted. Afterwards, she made sure I properly labeled each work so that the correct valentine would go to the intended recipient. She absolutely was injecting her heart into each of the pieces she made.

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Althea also received the most lovely gift from her friend Morgan who worked with her mother to make these pretty little rainbow crayons in the shape of hearts. Nothing compares to creating art for a friend with materials made by a friend!

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Well my heart is full as we start into this Valentine’s weekend! If you are thinking of starting a new medium with your little one, here are a few quality materials I can strongly recommend for beginning watercolour. In the case of the paints, a little dab’ll do ya and you will have these tubes for, well, in my case, it’s been over a decade. With respect to the brushes – remember always to use them with watercolour only since they are costly but worth every cent.

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My recommendation with respect to technique is to wet the paper itself in a sink of warm water and squeegie out the excess with a sponge on your painting surface. This way the colour itself stays relatively dry in the paint pot and mixing colours on paper becomes more of an organic process than a concerted effort. At the preschool stage, colour mixing in this way becomes a lovely process of discovery. We work with primary colours only right now and with these we are beginning to learn about the different secondary colours – orange, green and purple as they suddenly appear in our masterpiece!

Keep refreshing a glass of warm water for your little artist so as to keep the paints themselves from getting  muddled together and also because it’s fun to periodically check  on how the work is progressing. Hopefully, each time you enter the room you will see your little one falling deeper in love with art and with the pride of self-expression it permits.

 

ROAM-ing in the Spring!

springproductToday is the day! I’m relaunching the new and improved Spring Semester of Artsy Startsy and it is entirely focused around the ROAM curriculum and the feedback I’ve received from stay-at-home parents, caregivers, working parents, and preschool instructors. ROAM stands for Readers, Outdoor Explorers, Artists and Musicians. Why these areas in particular? I truly believe that preschoolers have each of these personas inside of them and they require only a bit of time each day with their caregiver to tap into each of these areas of the liberal arts and the natural world around them.

Also, as a caregiver, I have come to recognize that more than any other time, I most enjoy the moments in our day that are spent together with books, in nature, creatively expressing ourselves with art, and listening to classical music. By bringing these joys into our home I believe that I am creating both a peaceful and adventurous environment for my child and for myself. Quality time with my children is priority number one and this curriculum allows me to focus our days around that!

If you’re like me, you like to plan ahead and get yourself prepared for the season well in advance! For this reason, I am offering a sale on the Spring ROAM curriculum from now until March 31st! I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this sale which offers 20% off the Spring Semester and includes 8 full weeks of lesson plans for you and your little one!

I hope you will join us as we ROAM around learning about all sorts of wonderful subjects this spring! Making nature bracelets as the flowers begin to bloom, listening to Vivaldi, exploring the different sounds that the rain makes, touring the acropolis, keeping track of outdoor explorations with nature journals, sculpting with soap and so much more!!!

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When we are not out in the woods near our home, here is where we will be undertaking much of this exploration of the liberal arts together. Our little solarium is where so much learning and quality time together takes place. It is a sacred little space for us! I will share regular updates with you as we undertake the lessons alongside you and your little one this spring.

Spring is right around the corner. So cozy up and start planning the upcoming season with us!

www.artsystartsy.com

 

Jackson Pollock: A Study in Ice

Freezing temperatures followed by a little melting and then some serious ice action is a perfect recipe for breaking your neck BUT (and here’s the great thing) it also offers an excellent opportunity to learn about the art of Jackson Pollock. No really! Bear with me here for a sec!

Check it… who knew that ice cube painting can teach your little one about the science of temperature and melting at the same time that it can be used to create works of art to mimic the “drip painting” style that Pollock is so famous for?

We talked a bit about drips falling off a brush and then we watched as drips began to fall from our own ice cube brushes! We used a quality watercolour paper so that we could truly see the full effect of the food colour paint as it dried.

To make your own drip paintings and to learn about melting – have your little one put drops of food colouring into an ice cube tray. Fill with water (carefully) and at the half way frozen mark insert short wooden skewers. In truth, I knew I would forget them as soon as they went into the freezer so I covered the whole tray with saran wrap and then stabbed each cube with the stick. I know there must be a better way  … it will be an evolutionary process – maybe tin foil and popsicle sticks next time.

In any case! Simple simple and joyful masterpiece that requires everyone to learn the lessons of patience as you wait for the ice to freeze either outside or in the freezer.

Artsy Startsy.CIRCLES ABOVEai

To enjoy more quality time like this with your little Reader, Outdoor Explorer, Artist and Musician check out the ROAM curriculum at www.artsystartsy.com

Overcoming Fears in the Garden

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Alongside my little garden, I have grown a lot in the past couple of months. The CLSC called and I have been getting some incredible therapy for my postpartum depression. My doctor came through and recommended some drugs that helped put me on an even keel and my friends and family banded together around me to lift me up towards the sun. So much of my pain was connected to a fear of the unknown. What would we be like as this new family of four? Would he ever sleep and stop crying? How much was my despondence damaging my kids? Would Althea’s homeschooling education get back on track? Not all of these questions have been entirely answered in my mind but I have regained a sense of hope and optimism when I try to imagine the outcomes.

Today I was in a friend’s garden with our girls. They came across a spider. My first reaction was fear but I held it together for the children. It is an automatic reaction for me to pull away and crinkle my nose when I encounter spiders. However, a few things are true about coming across fears in the garden and elsewhere:

1. It’s ok to get a bit freaked out. I don’t brand my fear as “silly.” When Althea is nervous I don’t chide her or force her to face her fears. I am compassionate and encourage her to be brave without judgement. I am learning to do the same for myself.

2. There is beauty in vulnerability and there is loveliness in the dirtiest parts of life. Without a bit of shit – flowers can’t grow. Be in the dirt. Get dirty. It helps you improve yourself.

3. How you react to fear directly impacts how your children will. When I saw the spider – I encouraged the girls to touch and examine it with a sense of wonder. By doing so – I also learned to see this creature with new eyes.

Ok. End of self-sermon. All in all, summer is doing me good. Munching away on fresh greens in my friend’s garden today made me feel so joyful. The baby whined and fussed much of the time we were over there and my nerves were on edge occasionally because of him but I wasn’t in despair and I knew that he would likely nap later in the day. I am looking forward to harvesting all the good stuff I am planting in my new life amongst the sun, the shade, the bugs and, yes, even the shit.

Postpartum Depression in a Small Town

IMG_20150209_203820I have been crying every day. I am totally overwhelmed since the birth of my second baby. Do I love him? Oh yes. Do I wish life were back to the way it was before he came? Absolutely. How can both of these feelings be true at the same time? I feel sudden rage and then calm acceptance like I am on a random and nasty seesaw. The simplest tasks seem monumental. I am stuck in a paralysis that I don’t particularly seem to want to pull myself up out of.

So there it is and this feels like a terrible admission but here’s the truth – I really don’t like my life right now. The vision that I had of how we would all be together once he arrived and what our days would look like with a new baby and a preschooler at home has died. I am mourning the loss of that vision. I can’t just put Vincent down while I do a preschool craft with Althea. He needs me in a way that I don’t remember Althea needing me when she was very little. Moreover, Althea has become much needier herself as she struggles to figure out her new role in the family and has begun to regress to patterns and behaviours I was sure she had gotten past. Add some new normal preschooler manias to the mix and I barely recognize my little girl anymore. I miss her very much.

There is more television watching in my house than there has ever been in the past … well… except for that Six Feet Under marathon we did before we had kids but I digress. As an organized type A parent who wants to introduce my child to new stories, outdoor experiences, arts and music every day – I am discovering that not only do I not have the energy or time to do our old activities, I can barely find out whether she wants to watch Clifford the Dog or Napkin Man and select the channel before racing off to quiet her wailing brother.

Of course all of this is completely normal and is going to pass but right now it’s so hard to imagine the future as anything but dismal. Why am I sharing this on this blog? Why am I telling this to all my friends and family? Because I’m learning that while I feel emotions of guilt – I am not ashamed of who I am right now. I am horribly horribly saddened and wish it were otherwise but I don’t see this as a personal failing. I understand that there are environmental and hormonal reasons I am suffering. I am learning that suffering is not something to run from but something to acknowledge and work through.

So what kinds of resources can a person in small town Aylmer find to help them with postpartum depression? Not a lot truthfully. I am on two waiting lists for counseling help. One with the CLSC and one with the Ottawa Hospital. It’s not clear if the latter will even accept Quebec patients and so I have to acknowledge that this may be a 6 to 7 month wait for the CLSC to contact me. By that time I’m quite certain I will no longer need the care. Such a shame but this is the truth about mental health care in this region.

So does this mean I have to go through this alone? No. And while they are not specifically focused on postpartum care, here are the resources in my small town that I have found particularly helpful to get me through this difficult time:

Clinique parents-enfants (Sharon, our pediatric nurse, helped me to diagnose the depression using the Edinburg Postnatal Depression Scale and has reached out countless times since to see how I am progressing)

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Nourri-lait (Sylvie, an experienced lactation consultant, worked to help me battle a bad case of mastitis and gave me a space to talk about the stress of not sleeping)

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Christ Church Playgroup (My dear friends at the local playgroup who hold my new little man, make jokes, and talk about all sorts of things that have everything and nothing to do with the little beasts who live in our homes and make our lives both rewarding and horrifying).

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Otherwise, I have been seeking aid through my guy’s Employee Assistance Program counselors, my OBGYN, my yoga studio and of course my family (mom is a gift and a treasure!) and friends who have been there or who have suffered in other ways (my sister calls them my “me too” people). So there. That’s what’s going down. If you are going through any of this kind of issue well – me too. I hope this post may be helpful if you live nearby. I am blessed with friends and family who understand that sometimes I need space and sometimes I need their ear or loving arms right away. It’s a fine balance right now and I am walking the tight rope, holding my arms aloft and trying to see the platform on the other side. All my love to you all.

Wild Winter

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Oh. My. Goodness. What a wild winter we are having! My sister-in-law lives in Boston and so I am not allowed to complain about the snow and – quite frankly – I don’t really mind the stuff. (Right now the three bright red cardinals at my feeder look very fetching against the blankety white backdrop). But brrrr…. it is cold!!! And we feel a bit trapped indoors especially now that our little one arrived early. We have had about a month to get to know each other now and I will admit – he’s damn lovely! Here is our little Vincent Amos. He is named loosely after both Vince Neil and Tori Amos. Yes. I know. But – can I just say in our defense? – it was the closest my man and I could come to a good compromise that wouldn’t completely tarnish our child forever. Winter 008

So yes. A crazy wild winter so far. The stress was high in January. In the day or two surrounding Vincent’s birth our furnace broke, some truck driver ripped off my bumper while we were doing our big stock-up-before-the-baby-arrives grocery shop, I got the bloody show, Chad’s car broke down, and then I went straight into labour on January 15th with Vincent arriving on January 16th in the morning. Glaaaahhhh!!  But you know, I think about women giving birth in war torn countries and can’t bring myself to feel too sorry for myself. All my friends, family and neighbours have been blessings in my life. How does anyone do this having kids thing without an awesome mom who lives 10 minutes away? Truly. I don’t know.

Wcareere’ve been trying to keep some semblance of normal in our house and for this bookish household that means “keep on reading!” So I am finishing up My Brilliant Career as part of my ‘Reading the Classics from A-Z‘ objective. (I am at the Letter F – for Franklin). Great laid back reading and perfect for balancing my hormones out. I had started reading a book about a communist work camp and thought better of it about day 3 after having Vincent home. I just could not cry any more than I already was crying with the hormones you know? But “Career’ is about the life of Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin and her coming of age in the Australian bush lands. Absolutely worth picking up and a nice distraction from the chill.

Althea is also adjusting well to the arrival of little man (“when is he going to play with dinos though please?”) and reading is a big part of keeping us on track and bringing joy and connection into our pre-nap and bedtime rituals. Here is Althea’s “Wild Winter” book shelf!

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Preschool Adventures in Advent

 

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Whereas we seemed to spend every waking minute of the fall exploring and adventuring, only the sunny and snowy days are pulling us outdoors now. The rest of our energies are bent toward a semi-hibernation.

Unearthing the Christmas box from the storage attic revealed a trove of bright lights and colourful toys that make being indoors less of a drag. Advent is a special time in our home. We celebrate many of the European advent traditions in our home with mulled wine, the lighting of the advent candles on Sunday, and opening our little German advent calendar (with pictures not chocolates thank you!) every day. These small rituals bring a sense of joy and of preparation that fit very well with the spirit of Christmas – waiting for Christ’s teachings to be reborn in our hearts – and with the overall sense of expectation we are feeling now that the baby is less than 2 months away from joining us in our home!

I’ve got to say that since having Althea – we have returned to that preschool Christmas decor that is so kitschy but also so welcome in the gray days of winter. Bright wooden manger figures, colourful paper chains, gingerbread gummies and the vintage porcelain Christmas tree inherited from my grandparents home are right in line with the kind of Christmas we are looking for this year. Lots of light, lots of magic and simple, simple, simple.

The added bonus of all of these crafts and advent activities is that they fit very well with Althea’s preschool learning too. Fine motor skills, colour identification and, with the introduction of our advent calendar, identifying numerals as part of the process as we count down the days until Santa passes! You see? I can still bring on the “fun” while focusing on the fundamentals. Haha! Or… rather… Hoho!

Prenatal Practice

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I’ve found it hard to carve out time for just me and my new little one. Now that I’m heading into the last trimester I know that I need to spend some time getting to know him especially since he is definitely attempting to communicate with me. His movements tell me when he likes a particular piece of chocolate I’ve eaten, when he needs a good stretch and when he wants to let dad know he’s listening to his voice. With my first child, I was aware of all these things at all times and was in a state of semi-awe for the majority of the pregnancy. I made sure to slow down and touch base with her regularly when she was in the womb. This time – not as much. So. I decided. It’s time for me and my little guy. We joined a prenatal yoga class in our community at Centre Yoga Aylmer. Last night was the first session.

I stumbled along the stone-lined path leading from the parking lot to the studio located in a small heritage home in my town. It was dark and the rain was coming down so I wasn’t actually sure I had the right spot but when I opened the door and was greeted by three women with beautiful round bellies – I knew I had found the place. Several of the women had been to the studio before and eagerly requested that the instructor light the wood stove in the corner of the room to ward off the November chill outside. These same women just as eagerly clamoured for it to be turned off as the class got under way. Squats, push ups, salutations and hip openers had us all working out our “sitali breathing’ (cooling yoga breaths) as we remembered that everything is heavier and harder right now.

So good to be together with these women and with my baby. And what a cute little studio right near home! Next season I think Althea and I might check out the family yoga classes on the weekend while daddy bonds with Vincent.

Celebrating a Season

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My little outdoor explorer made many valuable discoveries this beautiful Autumn season!

  1. Acorns hurt when they land on your head.
  2. Leaves are most beautiful when the sun shines through them both outdoors and in! (See our beautiful stain glass leaf window inspired by The Artful Parent above).
  3. Many pumpkins in the pumpkin patch look promising from a distance but may actually be smelly and broken when you try to pick them up.
  4. Outdoor picnics can and should continue into the fall. (Gumpy Gump recommends that you always leave your apple core for a local squirrel).
  5. Beaver dams are awesome and beavers will hide in them for a very long time despite you calling out “Helloooooo! Beeeeaaaavers!”

We did have some rare rain days here in the Gatineau Hills. Days where we focused on learning our letters and exploring sensory bins inspired by the Preschool Journey curriculum over at Teaching Mama. Favs included the “Ocean” bin with blue water beads, the “Apples and Acorns” bin and (of course) our “Clouds and Cars” bin with a smash up derby that took place in the cloud dough heavens! We also learned that these are best explored with friends where we learned to take turns, to giggle and to generally enjoy the controlled chaos. (Word to the wise mama – keep close watch on these sensory activities especially when they involve beads or jello… gah!)

Despite the occasional bouts of rain we learned to run in our rubber boots on grassy trails and that a hot cocoa and good book cannot fail to warm the spirits. Al’s Dada installed the cute picture book rails you see above and we promptly filled them with some of our fall selections from both the library and our own collection.

Top Shelf

  1. All for Pie and Pie for All
  2. If I Were an Owl
  3. Angus Lost
  4. Mouse’s First Fall

Middle Shelf

  1. Very Hairy Bear
  2. Who Loves the Fall?
  3. Autumn Leaves

Bottom Shelf

  1. Duck at the Door
  2. The Busy Little Squirrel
  3. Bear says Thanks

 

Books in our Basket

Poetry makes up a definite part of our lives at home. When Althea was very little I would read her Tennyson while she was finishing up lunch in her high chair. Admittedly, this was the first book on the shelf within reach and mostly I read the poems to keep myself from the supreme boredom of waiting to see if she would spit the peas or try the mashed banana. It also felt good to be reading poems again after so much time with the “What to Expect” books that formed a neat pile on my bedside table. But this was the start of poetry with my little one.

hickory-dickory-vollandIn my childhood home, nursery rhymes were a daily pleasure. I can recite many of them by rote and was surprised when my husband found that impressive since I just assumed that everyone knew these rhymes by heart. Nursery rhymes are a first introduction to poetry since they teach the valuable skills of pattern and rhyme in language and tell us stories about the world around us through the lens of a child’s eye.

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The nonsensical poetry of Doctor Zuess, Al Perkins and Lewis Carroll is particularly fun as Althea gets older since it’s all about the rhythm of the words on the page and little to do with life’s lessons or even real words or worlds. Lord knows we get enough about life’s lessons at almost all times.  It’s nice to know that poetry is a space that can be free from all that on occasion, particularly in the world of children’s literature.

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A year ago, I read somewhere that waking your child with poetry after a nap is a lovely and gradual way of bringing them back into their day. I’ve found this allows us to skip some of the cranky-ass behaviour I was seeing when it was just up – pee – downstairs. Now, Althea and I take a little time together as she lies in her bed to read a poem or two from one of those great old childrens’ compendiums of literature that you can find at garage sales if you dig hard enough. When I ask, “Do you want a poem?” and she nods sleepily, calls out for “orange book” and laughs at all the funny bits – I’m just so happy! Who says kids can only enjoy picture books? It’s absolutely not true! Don’t believe it for a second!

inthewildAnd now I have discovered the joys of contemporary poetry written specifically for children! Some of this has been hit and miss but I’ve got to say the beautiful combo of David Elliott’s poetry and Holly Meade’s illustration is a consistent hit around here. We have read In the Wild and On the Farm and we have now ordered In the Sea from our library. If you can find them, I absolutely recommend them. Here is a little sample from In the Wild:

Big yet moves

with grace.

Powerful, yet delicate

as lace.

As to color, plain –

an ordinary gray.

But once we start to look,

we cannot look away.

When peaceful, silent;

when angry, loud.

Who would have guessed

the Elephant

is so much like a cloud?