Winter leaves

What: Painted fallen leaves, arranged on the wall.

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The veining and shape of the leaves suggested spots to do different colours.

How: We collected fallen leaves from one of the local plane trees, choosing a range of sizes but mostly “the big ones”. Then I gave Kid 4 and Kid 2 each a paintbrush and a plastic takeaway container lid with some dobs of acrylic paint on it, and let them go for it. They mixed some colours on the tray, and others directly onto the leaf. I painted a few as well to get a bit of variety in colour and style. Once they were dry, we arranged them on the wall as if the wind was blowing them along. Kid 4 helped me with the sticking and enjoyed getting up on the stepladder to do it. So there were two activities here.

Note to people in other climates: here, leaves fall in winter – if they fall at all in this evergreen land. It just doesn’t get cold enough before then. So this for us is very much a winter activity. We also don’t get much of what people talk of as autumn colours – again, because even in winter it’s not cold enough to trigger the colour change in most of those trees that are famous for it. So painted leaves can be as close as we get, even if the colours are unusually fantastic.

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The drift of painted leaves lowing along the wall. I think we stuck them on with bluetack. I wasn’t too fussed about what it would do to the wallpaper underneath.

Extras: Talking about the seasons with the kids is something I have to do every autumn and winter – they are barraged with the cultural ideas of “fall” and “autumn leaves” and it’s not always obvious to them that the autumn they experience isn’t like that at all. Though as they get older they’re noticing it more. Our autumns – and indeed, much of our winters – means bright, bright flowers against brilliant hotly blue skies. Bougainvillea, trumpet vine, poinsettia, plumbago, umbrella tree – oranges, reds, corals, pinks, scarlets, light blues, purples all so vibrant. Autumn is also the time when the eucalyptus trees lose their bark and show their trunks in an amazing range of colours. So going on a colour hunt is something we should try doing (though now that it’s winter it’s too late for the tree bark!). There are other things to try with plane tree leaves too. This year we’re making a picture with the plane tree leaves, and I’ll put that up as a separate post once we’ve done it.

Review – Winter is Coming

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Winter is Coming
written by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim LaMarche

 

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The story begins on the title page, in silence, unremarked. Were you watching? Did you see it begin?

About: One autumn a girl goes into the wood, day by day, with her notebook and pencils. She climbs up on a platform in a tree and sits there quietly, watching, listening, drawing and writing what she sees and hears. Slowly the season changes, the animals come and go, they prepare for the cold. Winter is coming. Then one day the snow falls, and winter is here. I love the way seasonal change is described, how the skills of nature observation are blended into the story, the detailed observations of animals. I haven’t bought this one for ourselves, because it’s very North American – the animals that visit, the snow and cold and frost, all things we just don’t see where we live. I’ve been tempted though because it is so good at describing the nature observation, the patience, the stillness and listening and watching, the tracking of changes over time. Anyone who’s learnt about “sit spots” will resonate with this book.

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Each double spread is a different day, somewhere in the passing autumn, with magical drawings of season, animals and watching. Most include the watching spot in the big old tree.

Good things:

  • Nature observation skills
  • Seasonal changes
  • Animals and behaviour observed and described in detail
  • Patience, persistence, stillness, watching, listening
  • Cycle of the year
  • Girl lead character – but really, it could be anyone, any child will be able to imagine themselves in that role.
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A typical page of text.

Grass seed picture

What: A picture “coloured in” with glue and collected grass seeds.

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The placing of glue and seeds is a little imprecise, though if you have the patience to do a bit, let it dry and come back for the next bit you can get more precision. We didn’t.

How: First, I and Kid 3 went out into the garden and collected seeds. We found different kinds of grass – there are several kinds of tussock and weed grasses in our overgrown back yard – and collected handfuls of seeds from each in different bowls. TBH, I did a lot of the prompting and collecting here, including sneaking back out and getting more of the kind that were most different, though Kid 3 thought they did it all. All with lots of conversation about the colour and size and differences. Then we went inside with our loot.

Inside, the bowls gathered dust sitting on the table for a day or two while Kid 3 “played” with them (i.e. talked about them to anyone who came near). Then I drew a picture on a piece of cardboard with big black marker (Kid 3 requested “a house”), and one section at a time we applied glue, then tipped seeds of a particular kind into the segment and spread them around with a popstick. I say “we” because glue and tippy things with a Kid 3 generally involves some “assistance” to make sure results match intentions (both yours and theirs). It took a couple of hours to fully dry, even though it was poked regularly to check.

Extras: You could do this with spices, or left over garden seeds from different kinds of plants – grass seeds have some commonalities, but seeds from the daisy/lettuce family or from the salvias or poppies or brassicas or umbrella herbs (parsley, celery, dill etc) can all be quite different in shape and kind while being similar within the family. You could draw patterns or shapes instead of a picture. And if picking the seeds together just doesn’t work out, taking a mixed bowl you’ve prepared beforehand and sorting or sieving them into different kinds might be fun too (depending on seed type).

Cinderblock wall garden

What: A miniature garden in a small space, at kid height, planted in cinderblocks.

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New polkadot seedlings freshly planted. I have to work water into the soil each planting because of the drying effect.

How: The cinderblocks are stacked carefully against an existing small wall by our front door, where it’s easy for kids to remember to water them and also where school water bottles get tipped out daily. I made sure block holes were lined up so there’s a good 30cm of depth (the key depth for success), and filled them with good quality potting mix. Each time we plant I usually have to top up the soil a little as well, as it settles and drains out over time.

We’ve planted them with various seedlings over the seasons – beans that climbed up strings, a spider plant that came home from daycare, herbs that became snail food. It doesn’t matter – they’re in a very easy to see place so that they can be managed and interacted with regularly. Our current incarnation is Kid 6’s adored polkadot plant, with leaves in spots of several kinds of pink and white.

It’s wise to pick plants that don’t mind a bit of dryness, because the cinderblocks pull water out of the potting mix so the soil can get quite dry over time (re-wet it thoroughly every planting and dig the water in). Also make sure it’s plants that are good in pots, as the holes in the blocks are not wide. I tend to avoid plants that attract bees because ours is right by the front door, but your mileage may vary.

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The full block wall. It’s not a large thing. The bamboo stakes are leftover from when we grew beans and peas.

Extras: This makes a space where you can do all those lovely garden-interaction things regularly – talking about flowers, scents, colours; looking at bugs and snails; watching something grow; measuring it as it grows; whatever it is you want to do. In theory you can grow your own after-school snacks, which takes a bit of planning, discussion and responsibility, but I found that in small spaces like this the results aren’t that reliable, garden beds are better for that sort of thing. It’s not impossible though. Another option is mint leaves to pick and stick in water bottles on your way out the door.

Poster of the Month

What: A group-drawn-and-designed, parent-led poster that features seasonal things about the month we’re in.

How: A big sheet of butcher’s paper, or a leftover page from an A2 visual diary, whatever works – plus a big black marker, and textas or crayons as suits. I laid the paper out on the floor and we talked about the month – what the name of the month was, what happened in it. That included

  • festivals or special events or birthdays,
  • trees that flowered or flowers we found in the garden or fruit that was in season,
  • what the weather was going to be like and what would change,
  • relative lengths of days and nights.

Kid 3 had no idea about any of this, but was pretty clued up on the idea of birthdays and excited to hear about coming festivals. Kid 1 was only mildly interested. The main point of the activity was to start giving a sense of time passing and repeating, putting markers and waypoints into the endless Now, and kid 1 wasn’t ready for that but kid 3 was.

Once we’d identified the things that were important about the month – and I was very flexible and child-led about this – I drew some very generic pictures and kid 3 and kid 1 coloured them in. Kid 3 added some of their own pictures too along the way, when so inspired. The conversation helped to steer that so that the pictures were related and not totally random.

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The posters were pretty random and very simple. Plus things like yellow flowers got added even though they aren’t in bloom til October, because, well, Endless Now. All parts of time get drawn simultaneously.

Extras: It helps that I have a detailed knowledge of the local seasons, so I could lead on ideas like the equinox or solstices, or predict which trees we’d see flowering. If you’re Australian, there are websites and now even apps with local Indigenous knowledge for your area that you can tap into for this, and garden centres and clubs will often have “what to plant” or “what to harvest” or similar lists that you can use as well. My being steeped in Druidry meant I always included the sun’s path, the solstices and equinoxes, when relevant, and also acknowledged the local Aboriginal seasons (which are way more accurate than the “official” ones), but whatever floats your boat.

Other activities that relate to this would be anything that works with the months of the year, or just working with the idea of what a month is – thirty days is an uncountable number at this age! – or more specific seasonal activities.

Another related activity is that around the same time I tried introducing a day-to-a-page nature journal, where we wrote down the weather and any birds or animals or flowers we saw that day and which could be used in multiple years so you’d see what you wrote down last year on the same page. But that was a bit much for the kids at that age so it got dropped pretty quickly. It would be worth reintroducing now they’re older and observing and writing or drawing independently.

Rearranging flowers

What: Flower arrangements, using leftover / regifted flowers from a hospital stay.

How: When my mum got back on the plane home after an extended stay in a capital-city hospital, she didn’t take her bunches of flowers with her. One of the arrangements had been put into a large block of Oasis, the water-holding stuff that holds flowers and stems and leaves in place. I took all the flowers and greenery out, divided it into two as-equal-as-possible piles, and cut the Oasis in half so that each child had a piece. Then I let them at it.

Two cream-coloured bowls each have bunches of orange and yellow flowers stuck in them with big green leaves pointing out. The arrangements are very random. A small child looks on, out of focus. The table is very messy.
The two final products. The styles were quite different in the end.

Kid 4 and Kid 6 both quite liked the activity, regardless of gender assumptions, and we had plenty of conversation about whether you put tall ones together or in front of short ones, grouping colours (or not), what shapes different things were, what shape the arrangement was, how many flowers there were on some stems. Kid 4 put things where they wanted without a lot of consideration, until they were “done”. Kid 6 spent a little more time thinking about it and making reasoned choices, but not a lot more. They were both delighted with the results and had a great sense of achievement and ownership in making the arrangement, greater than I’d thought they would.

Extras: It’s really about the conversation and the visual results, so I guess doing this again I might think about what items I wanted to put on the table for them to arrange, though the idea is to re-use what’s available rather than getting new stuff so there’s not a lot of buying choice involved. We could be more specific about ordering from tallest to smallest or grouping by colour, and soon the older child will be starting to look at colour relationships. There’s also viewpoint – considering which way the arrangement was meant to be looked at (all around? just from one side? which side?). And also the idea of testing – put something in, look at it, decide to change it, take it out again and put it somewhere else. Both kids are at this point not very good at this – once something is done, it’s Done.

Review: I Wonder

Written by Annaka Harris, illustrated by John Rowe.

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I Wonder, written by Annaka Harris, illustrated by John Rowe.

About: This book was written to provide an example of admitting “I don’t know”. It’s big on emotional intelligence, honesty, the idea that some questions are bigger than we are, and that some ideas are so big that nobody knows the answer to them. There’s a great sense of wonder and mystery, beautifully underscored by the luminescent and spacious semi-realistic artwork. A great gateway-to-science book.

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Then, she notices there are butterflies everywhere! “Mama, where did all of these butterflies come from?”

Good things:

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Wonder and mystery
  • Luminescent beautiful artwork that could easily stand alone from the book
  • Supportive parental/adult relationship with a present parent
  • Gateway to science and natural philosophy
  • Admitting “I don’t know”
  • Includes change – the idea that things in life (including ourselves!) change and don’t stay the same

Citrus prints

What: There’s a huge pile of lemons under the lemon tree at the moment. So when the kids saw Mister Maker doing citrus prints on TV, it became one of our summer art projects.

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Mid-activity.

How: We used a few different sizes of lemon, cut in half – I had helpers for the cutting to make sure there were several halves per paint colour. The paint was my standard acrylic, thinned with a little water and put on small styrofoam fruit trays for easy stamping. I picked three fluorescent colours this time. We each stamped over our page and let it dry, and then worked back into the design with permanent markers to emphasise the citrus shapes. Kid 6 insisted they wanted to do theirs exactly as they’d seen on TV and used a plain black marker, which gave quite a striking effect against the fluorescent paint. I used a range of coloured markers on mine to play with various effects. Kid 4 ignored this step completely.

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Kid 6’s final product.

Extras: While we were waiting for the citrus prints to dry, both kids helped me use up the rest of the paint with some finger painting. Kid 4 carefully built a complicated Star Wars narrative around theirs, layering in the story stroke by stroke. Kid 6 discovered that the paint was thin enough they could layer in the image handful by handful, and covered their whole page.

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My print, with multiple colours of marker and a variety of shapes drawn back into the print. I also allowed my shapes to overlap, something the kids weren’t quite sure was acceptable.