I Want You To Meet Kathy Ceceri

 

Kathy with one of her newest books.  Photo provided by Kathy Ceceri.

Educator and author Kathy Ceceri  and I have been colleagues on and off for nearly 15 years, writing for some of the same publications and collaborating on projects. Kathy has always been an inspiration to me — focused and innovative with a powerful can-do approach. It’s not just me. Her work inspires kids, parents, and educators every day.

Kathy has written nearly a dozen books and kids in her hands-on workshops make fascinating things. Really fascinating — like a hydraulic Lego 3D food printer, solar baked oatmeal cookies, a light-up paper cat, or a swarm of gliding vibrobots. Better yet, her goal is getting them to come up with their own creations.

I suspect all of us would like to know more about Kathy. I was thrilled when she agreed to an interview.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

My background is in journalism, although my training was all “on-the-job,” writing news reports, lifestyle and art features, and investigative pieces for newspapers, magazines, and websites.

My training in education was all “on-the-job” as well — I homeschooled my two sons from kindergarten up until college. I have written about kid-friendly hands-on learning projects for Family Fun and Wired.com, and as the “Homeschooling Expert” (yes, that was really my title) for About.com. I currently produce books and articles for Make Magazine and other publishers and lead workshops for kids, families, and educators.

How does starting out as a writer and artist lead to a quest to advance STEAM and Maker learning?

STEAM stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math,” and the Maker Movement is about building, inventing, and exploring in the physical realm (as opposed to creating software). Both these educational trends excite me because as a kid I was always creating homes, environments, and accessories for my dolls and recycling materials into playthings. I was also very crafty, trying a little bit of everything that came along from stained glass to candlemaking to macrame. And my favorite type of reading was fantasy and science fiction.

I studied some art in college but never really applied it until I discovered ways to incorporate it into projects that involved engineering and science. Today design and technology is an area of concentration in many art programs, but not when I was in school! Making robotic systems out of cardboard and duct tape is a perfect expression of everything I enjoy. And it seems to appeal to an audience of teachers and students who want to get started but don’t know where to dive in (or don’t have the resources to start big).

Can you share a project or two in depth? (including a link to instructions?)

Sure! This Tin Can Cooker project from my latest book Edible Inventions dates back to my days at Girl Scout camp.

And these recipes for Refrigerator PIckles and Yogurt in a Mug are family standards.

You can find links to more projects from my books at my website Crafts for Learning.

Are your projects do-able for people who don’t have much in the way of DIY experience.

Definitely. I describe my projects as “low tech/no tech” and I design them to draw on skills and materials that most people already have. As I always say, “If I can do it, you can do it.”

Can you share a story of how hands-on projects can empower kids?

My favorite stories are the parents who come back and say, “He spent the whole weekend working on making his robot better,” or “She went home and taught her sister how to make that project.”  If nothing else, kids who try my books and workshops come away knowing how to troubleshoot, and have a little more confidence about trying something to see where it leads. The nice thing about Maker projects is there’s no one right answer. Unlike math worksheets, there are many ways to set out, and many different directions you can go in. That’s something kids don’t get enough of nowadays.

You are making a difference. Can you give us some encouragement to follow our own passions? 

That’s very nice of you to say! If I’ve followed my passion, it’s because it was the path that best fit the life I had at that moment. I guess my advice is don’t be afraid to promote yourself and your particular strengths and talents. If you’re passionate, sooner or later you’ll find someone who responds to that energy and will open up new ways to channel it that you might not have imagined.

Kathy’s book titles include:

And her newest, due out in March 2017.

Check out Kathy’s site Crafts for Learning for low-tech projects, her workshop schedule, and Makerspace suggestions. Thanks Kathy!

Photo permission by Kathy Ceceri.

Photo permission by Kathy Ceceri.

Leftovers As Love

why we cook for people we love

Ingredients? I’ve got the stinking ingredients.  (Painting by Joachim Beuckelaer, 1564)

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.” ~M.F.K. Fisher

I’m scooping Thanksgiving leftovers into containers with tears in my eyes. Mashed potatoes, turkey, wild rice stuffing, cranberry pomegranate sauce, Aunt Tricia’s pecan bars and her pumpkin parfait are packed into a cooler along with mason jars of peach jam, applesauce, and salsa. They’re for one of my sons, who has a full day of driving to get back to his regularly scheduled life a few states away. He’s got a fantastic career, wide-ranging hobbies, and wonderful friends. I’m entirely happy for him and don’t for a moment want to hold him back. There’s just something about feeding him into the next week that gets to me in a tear-inducing way. I suspect it’s more than a mom thing.

There are names for people like me in nearly every language, some of them not very flattering. We lavish attention on people we love, in part, by cooking for them. We’re the ones foisting leftovers on you as you try to leave. We’re the ones who do our best to have (what we believe are) your favorites available when you visit — even if you last said you couldn’t get enough bean pate back in the 90’s. We’re the ones who hardly taste the food we serve, our senses already full from making it. We can be annoying. We can’t help it.

Speaking for myself, it’s not entirely about the people I cook for.* It’s about me too.

I can ignore serious pressing deadlines without a sideways glance when it’s time to cook for our weekly Sunday extended family get-togethers. For a few glorious hours on Saturday I make dishes for two meals the next day, sometimes happily getting up before dawn on Sunday to knead dough or roll out pie crust to complete those meals. I can also ignore my deadlines when we host one of our regular potlucks or, as we did last month, have a house concert here. Actually, I can rely on the Feeding People Excuse pretty much every day, whether I’m working in the garden or harvesting produce from that garden to make a pot of soup. Chopping vegetables is, for me, a more reliable way to enter that lovely state of flow than clattering at a keyboard, although I wouldn’t give up writing any more than I’d give up cooking.

All this time spent in the kitchen hasn’t made me more accomplished than anyone else. I have serious faults that include broiling when I shouldn’t broil, horrendous knife skills, an overly casual approach to measuring, and chronic delight in using strange ingredients when normal ones would have worked better. I’m also (rightly) accused of making enough food for a lumberjack camp. Which gives me all those leftovers to send with you…

But I can say this. The cells of our bodies are built by the air we breathe as well as by the food and drink we ingest. To grow that food, to cook that food, is to be part of nourishing life in those we cherish. This, to me, is one of the most basic ways to demonstrate love.

 

*Yes I ended a sentence with a preposition. I’m breaking rules outside of the kitchen too. 

Dinner To Bring a Nation Together

 

This is Sarah Josepha Hale. You may know her as the author of Mary Had a Little Lamb. Don’t let the demure smile fool you, this woman leaned in.

She was born in 1788 to parents so shockingly progressive that they believed in equal education for boys and girls. Sarah was homeschooled and didn’t marry until she was well over the hill for her era — all of 25. Nine years after their marriage, her husband died of pneumonia while she was pregnant with their fifth child.

This aspiring author and newly single mother sold hats to make money and wrote at night after the children were in bed. A few years later, her novel decrying slavery was published (25 years before the more widely known Uncle Tom’s Cabin appeared in print). On the strength of that novel, she was offered the editor’s job at Ladies’ Magazine, a periodical that later merged with  Godey’s Lady’s Book. While other publications of the era packed their pages with reprinted British articles, Sarah insisted this magazine would be written by American authors as much as possible. Early on that sometimes meant she wrote much of the content herself. She worked as editor until she was nearly 90, also finding time to write close to 50 books.

Her position at the only major women’s magazine in the country gave her a powerful platform — imagine Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, and Beyonce’s influence combined. Sarah’s tastes affected everything from the nation’s literature to its architecture. Although she accepted the era’s norms when it came to gender roles, she used her influence for profound social change. Sarah pushed for children’s rights, women’s education, and the abolition of slavery between pages of fashion, homemaking advice, and recipes.

Sarah Hale, Thanksgiving

As tensions built in pre-Civil War America, she took on another cause.  At the time, the holiday we call Thanksgiving was held at different times in different jurisdictions on any date between October and January in the United States. Or not at all. And in the South the holiday was largely unknown.

Starting in 1846, Hale used the magazine to push for a national day of gratitude. She hoped such a holiday would help to unify the North and South, even prevent a Civil War.  Year after year she wrote editorials asking the nation’s leaders to declare the last Thursday in November a national holiday–Thanksgiving Day. In November 1857 she wrote,

Consecrate the day to benevolence of action, by sending good gifts to the poor, and doing those deeds of charity that will, for one day, make every American home the place of plenty and rejoicing. These seasons of refreshing are of inestimable advantage to the popular heart; and, if rightly managed, will greatly aid and strengthen public harmony of feeling. Let the people of all the States and Territories set down together to the “feast of fat things” and drink, in the sweet draught of joy and gratitude to the Divine giver of all our blessings, the pledge of renewed love to the Union, and to each other; and of peace and good-will to all the world.

Marketing wizard that she was, Sarah didn’t stick to editorials. She shifted popular public opinion by promoting Thanksgiving recipes (including the now traditional roast turkey and pumpkin pie) along with sentimental poems, stories, and drawings of families gathered around the Thanksgiving table. She also wrote hundreds of letters to governors, presidents, and secretaries of state as part of her campaign.

Seventeen years later, in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation that Thanksgiving Day be celebrated as a national holiday. He recommended his fellow citizens, “…reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land…”

No, it didn’t help to unify a nation that year. Frankly that’s asking a lot out of dinner. But this year let’s do our best to sit down at the table together in the spirit of peace, union, and harmony. And then, with a nod to Sarah’s enviable energy, let’s get back up to work for profound social change.

Ways of Speaking

faith like a spider

 

Ways of Speaking

 

I’m weary of those who talk

in slogans stamped and packed

by someone else, like

long distance truckers paid to drive

without knowing the weight

hauled onto that dark highway.

 

I want to walk, instead

where I can read the body’s slow knowing.

Where each thing watched long speaks aloud.

 

A spider tossed by the breeze reaches one strand

thin as faith. As it takes hold she dances between twigs

and waits within a design both beginning and end.

When the web breaks she begins again

tiny legs speaking in ways

we’re meant to hear.

 

Laura Grace Weldon

Find this and other poems in my collection, Tending. 

 

House Undivided

political opposites get along

This isn’t an accurate representation of the house I’m describing! CC by 2.0, photo by Michal Osmenda

When I drive into town, I go past a house that never fails to interest me. The house itself is entirely ordinary. I’ve never met the inhabitants. What’s fascinating is the dichotomy on display out front.

Take the driveway. Most evenings a pickup truck with mud streaks from off-roading is neatly parked next to a fuel-efficient hybrid.

Or take the landscaping. For over a decade and a half, the garden bed under the front window has sported a perennial planting — two equally large logos for rival teams Ohio State Buckeyes and University of Michigan Wolverines. This is a brave statement here in Ohio.

But the lawn is my favorite. Each presidential election season a competition is waged right there on the grass. A regular-sized Gore/Lieberman sign appeared close to the street in early autumn of 2000. The next time I drove by, a Bush/Cheney sign was placed directly in front of that sign. As weeks went by the signs were moved like two parrying chess pieces until a much larger Bush/Cheney sign appeared. That was followed by a larger Gore/Lieberman sign. A similar dance of political signs took place for the Kerry vs Bush race, the Obama vs McCain race, and the Obama vs Romney race. (This year, two very small signs….)

The couple in this house surely eat at the same table, sit on the same couch, flush the same toilet, and sleep in the same bed. They’ve managed to live together all these years while holding widely differing opinions. I thought I lived in a household of contradictions but these two are an inspiring example of publicly embracing their differences.

We’re told we live in an ever more divisive country. We tend to choose news sources that amplify our own worldviews. We tend to delete social media friends who don’t share our opinions. We tend to live in areas and move in social circles with people very similar to us. Yet insulating ourselves from those who are different just strengthens the perception that we’re irreconcilably different.

Research shows us that diversity sparks more innovative and energizing approaches to building strong communities and successful businesses.  Diversity can lead to some invigorating soul-searching  and growth on a personal level too. One of the main principles of nonviolence is finding common ground with each other. Across all so-called divides, we truly want the same things. Things like safety, freedom, individual purpose, a sense of belonging, hope for the future, a say in decisions that affect us. We may believe there are different routes to achieve these goals, but the goals are darn similar. That’s common ground.

This house reminds me we can express our differences and still laugh.  We can challenge each other and in doing so, learn from each other. We can get beyond the urge to assert the superiority of our viewpoints by respecting each other, helping each other, and collaborating with each other. This house is who we really are as a nation. May it be so.

“Society evolves not by shouting each other down, but by the unique capacity of unique, individual human beings to comprehend each other.” ~Lewis Thomas

Playing With Logical Fallacies

return logic to politics, make logic a game, free logic game, free critical thinking game, teach logic, teach common sense,

yourlogicalfallacyis.com

Heated political rhetoric is everywhere. It sets us apart from one another and erodes what’s left of civil discourse. It grinds the worthy concept of logic into dust. Not any more. Not when we fight back with a game I’m calling Logic Shrink.

I’m not selling a thing. You don’t need an app, a console, even a board. It’s entirely your game. Play a solitary version. Play it during a get-together with your extended family. Play it with kids, especially teens. Bring it to the classroom, assisted living center, or secret Super PAC meeting. It will entertain.

Afterwards, when the lively score-keeping has ended there will be something new in the room. It may be unfamiliar at first. It’s a state of being that requires no name calling, no slippery slope.  It’s logical thinking.

Now just envision the game being played over and over, from living rooms to sports bars, spreading this thing called logic across all so-called divisions. Even if every snarky pundit huffed off the airwaves the game wouldn’t have to end. We’d just spread nice thick layers of logic in plenty of other places.

 

How To Play Logic Shrink

The general idea is to watch or listen to two sides of an issue as presented by pundits, politicians, or other talking heads. Using a guide to logical fallacies, players call out any errors they perceive. The first person to call out a fallacy that at least a third of other players agree is correctly identified, gains points. Players who correctly estimate in advance how many fallacies will be committed by each side gain points too.

1. First, print out or otherwise make available a list of logical fallacies. (Here’s one and here’s another but you can find many online or use the graphic heading this post.) As with any game, the players won’t be immediately familiar with all of these fallacies nor the names they’re commonly called. Shorten the list to the most common fallacies for new players or younger kids. Give a little time in advance of each game for players to go over the list. It seems dull now, but it won’t when players use the list to score points. Liven up the logical fallacy list any way you like, perhaps giving an introduction to each as a stand-up comedy routine or asking each player to offer an example of a logical fallacy they’ve heard recently.

2. Locate competing sources. That might be right (Glenn BeckRush LimbaughFox & Friends) versus left (Rachel Maddow, Thom Hartmann, Democracy Now). It might be a political debate. It might be two podcasters squaring off on an inflammatory issue. It’s best if the sources are taped or otherwise turn-off-able, because you’ll be stopping them a few times. Start with no more than ten minutes of each. Maybe five.

2.  Scoring. This is your game so you may keep score any way you choose. Here are my suggestions. At the beginning of each game, guess the number of fallacies each different segment will provide and put that number at the top of your list or other scoring method. Then keep track of fallacies outed. The easiest way? Provide two different colored pencils to each player (helpful for designating which source committed which fallacy), then let players check off each fallacy on the list they hear. They must be the first to call out the fallacy aloud to earn points. You can get more high tech if you’d like, there are all sorts of student response systems (SRS), audience response systems (ARS), and personal response systems (PRS) available for smart phones and tablets. Or hell, make a wall-sized board that lights up when players touch a remote. This game is ripe for geekifying.

3. Disputing scores. This is where it gets, shall we say, energized. Stick to the statements heard and the way those statements fit on the list of logical fallacies.  The goal of the game is only to discover illogical rhetoric. Be the first to call out a logical fallacy, you get five points if at least a third of other players agree by a quick show of hands. Other players can dispute the exact fallacy you claim or that any fallacy exists. (The recording will need to be turned off or backed up a few times.) Everyone should add the agreed-upon fallacies to their overall score sheet, seeing who gets closest to their pre-game estimates. At the end, the closest overall estimator gets 25 points. Also add up scores earned during the game. Grand total wins, although we all know, logic is the true champion.

To recap

  • Pass out list of logical fallacies.
  • Go over them together.
  • Explain scoring.
  • Start the show, stopping when necessary to sort out all the yelling and raised hands.
  • Finish by adding up scores.
  • Cheer for the elevation of reason and logic.

Tell me how you play, and improve on, Logic Shrink. If you come up with a great app or device to use with Logic Shrink, feel free to give me a cut. So far, tirelessly advancing good causes hasn’t paid me a nickel.

Would You Open the Door?

who is a hero?

Image: CC by 2.0 flickr Tom Roeleveld

Like many adjunct professors, Jessamine Irwin spends a lot of time commuting. The other day she way on her way to New York University after teaching a class at Fordham. She got on a New York subway and sat in a seat at the back of the train, near the door leading to the next car. She settled into the commuter’s lull, relaxed and half awake, when she was startled into awareness by a loud noise against the back door of the train car.

She was shocked to see two people between the cars. One, a large man, was shaking the other, as if trying to throw that person onto the tracks.

Horrified, she called out to her fellow passengers, “What’s happening!”

No one seemed to react. At the same time, the aggressor shoved his victim to the other side, and then slammed him with his back to the door of Ms. Irwin’s car.

Almost without thinking, she opened the door and grabbed the victim.

He half fell as she pulled him to safety, away from an aggressor she describes as muscular and over six feet tall. The aggressor, thankfully, did not pursue his victim into the car although that was the risk Ms. Irwin took.

Only after she got the victim into the car did she realize he was an 11-year-old boy.

His t-shirt revealed the name of his school but he was so traumatized by his ordeal that he could barely talk. She used his phone, trying to call his mother, but lost reception.

His arms were bruised from the assault and he’d hit his head against the subway car. He held her hand as, at the next stop, she led him off the train to the transit police. He explained to the police that he’d been play-fighting with a friend and his friend accidentally bumped into the man.  When the boy denied witnessing this,  the man grabbed him and dragged him between the cars.

Some say there’s a difference between those who ignore suffering and those who are moved to alleviate it. We know too little about how to develop that capacity in ourselves and our children. Instead we’re surrounded by news outlets, pundits, and advertisers who spew greed and misery, giving us all a sense of helplessness.

The issues of our time are serious indeed. But unnoticed acts of kindness are what allow life to flourish as we nurture the youngest and tend to the oldest, share with those in need, and weave the web of mutuality that holds us together. Most of these acts are not as dramatic as Ms. Irwin’s. But she, like so many perfectly ordinary people, show us what humanity is capable of doing.

If faced with a similar crisis, I’d like to think that you and I would open the door too.

Moving to the Hinterland

The car stereo shorted out repeatedly during our move to the country, defaulting from quiet public radio to a station transmitting evangelical hellfire at top volume.

I guess that was the first sign.

Though my husband, Mark, and I had long dreamed of raising our children in the country, we’d come to love the benefits of our busy suburban community. Along with a group of neighbors we’d established traditions including full moon walks, bike parades, Halloween get-togethers, even pig pen parties. But difficult circumstances — everything from a bully next door to a gun-toting gang  harassing our oldest son at school —  motivated us to leave. And because Mark had a home business without a commute, we were free to move farther away.

We scrounged the means to buy a rural place and found one we could afford.  As we carried our belongings into our new home we savored the pastoral refuge we’d found – a pond, fields, forest, and a low hill where we envisioned building a barn. We couldn’t wait to meet the neighbors.

The next day one of them walked over carrying a towel-covered dish. I’d always greeted new people on our old street with homemade bread so I was heartened to see her.

“This is my husband’s favorite,” she said. “It’s cherry pie.”

Her hair was sprayed into stiff curls, her face thick with make-up. Her expression seemed deeply unhappy. Three silent girls accompanied her. None of them wanted to meet my children when I offered to call them in from the woods. She stayed only long enough to ask if I’d found a nearby house of worship. I said we were still attending our former church. She asked its denomination, twice. I realized it was better to change the subject than tell her we attended a Unitarian Universalist fellowship.

On the way out her youngest child noticed a painting from India on our wall. The girl looked at me and spoke for the first time since she’d arrived. “Pagan idols!” she said in horror.

A few days later another neighbor walked over. She brought cookies and promptly asked about our church affiliation. While her toddler rampaged through the house she suggested we remove the sign on our lawn promoting the library levy. “No one around here supports the library,” she said softly. “It’s an agent of Satan.”

I was confused.

She explained that the library had “that Internet thing,” exposing children to “evil and filth on the screen.” I nodded at her concerns but gave examples of greater good brought about by the net. Words like “awareness” caused her nostrils to flare. She informed me that worldwide violence was a preordained sign of the End Times. Just then her tiny child ran into the room, assumed a firing stance and yelled, “I kill you.”

As this first month in our bucolic country home continued, more neighbors stopped by, usually in an advisory capacity. A minivan pulled in while I was putting up our Halloween decorations. The driver cautioned me that such décor would mark me as a devil worshiper.

“It’s not worth the effort anyway,” she said, “no one trick or treats around here.”

We commiserated about the reduction of household chocolate this represented. She leaned an elbow out the van window and went on about the holiday boycott. As we laughed I experienced a surge of hope, thinking I might have found a kindred spirit. She said there was a movement underway to halt even the October 31 “harvest parties” at school to which children wore costumes. I let out an ill-advised laugh and said something sarcastic. The relaxed expression on her face changed. She retorted that her pastor did not support anything which pleased “the desires of the devil and his minions” and backed out of the drive.

A brief conversation with neighbor who lived a few doors down revealed that our families had attended the same Presbyterian church when we were growing up. She invited me over. This seemed promising. When I brought muffins she nodded as she took them, saying that God had told her not to bake. As she ranged around the kitchen smacking insects with a fly swatter, she gave me a who’s who of the area.

“Don’t talk to the lady in the yellow house, she has a hyphenated name, probably a feminist. And next door, they’re Catholic, you know, so-called Christians.” She went on to list those in her own family who were going to hell because they were still Presbyterians rather than members of her non-denominational church. Finally she noticed I had gently protested each of her denunciations. The fly swatter stopped. I tried again.

“Aren’t Christians meant to see Christ in each person?” I asked gently.

She kicked me out of her house.

We’ve been here nine years now. We cherish the simple pleasures of raising cows, chickens, and bees on our land. And yes, we’ve found friends nearby with whom we can discuss politics and religion openly (even though our views don’t necessarily align). We’ve developed new traditions including potlucks to which we invite friends from urban and farm community together.

All the while our most fundamentalist neighbors have served as amazing teachers. They’ve truly given us lessons on finding that spark of divinity in everyone.

But sometimes I have to admit to myself, “Christ, good disguise.”

 

Originally published a decade ago by Geez Magazine: Contemplative Cultural Resistance. Our early months living in this community were actually much more harrowing as well as more strangely amusing. Here’s more on that. We’re still here on the same little farm and can truly say we appreciate all of our neighbors. (I don’t ask if the feeling is mutual…)  

Oil & Gas Pipeline Closing In On Our Township

oil and gas pipeline through rural areas

No! No! No! 

Pipeline Protest 

 

Its name is Nexus,

from the Latin

meaning to bind, fasten, tie.

The pipeline, nearly as wide

as a kindergartener is tall,

will cut through

dairy farms and backyards,

hurtling high-pressure

danger for profit. Always profit.

 

Maybe it’s another wake-up call,

like the one Bush offered

by invading a sovereign nation;

brutalizing the Iraqi people

we claimed to be saving.

Brutalizing ourselves.

 

Of course we keep hitting

the snooze button.

Waking up isn’t easy.

Birds flounder

in oily waters

and we’re desperate

to sleep a little longer.

 

Today you and I stand

amidst hand-lettered signs:

Windmills Not Oil Spills,

Eminent Domain=Greed,

Fuck Fracking.

Cold wind brings tears to our eyes.

 

Fear brings us here. Anger too.

And bone-deep grief

for this lovely lovely planet.

Awakening shows us a million ways

to climb past despair.

I want us to do it for love.

 

Laura Grace Weldon

 

Originally published in the Blue Collar Review. Find more poetry in my collection, Tending. 

 

  • Here’s more about the Nexus pipeline including the route and blast radius in Ohio.
  • Here’s an article I wrote about how fracking might affect my family, and yours.  (First published on Wired.com.)
  • Here’s a glimpse at just how shady the oil and gas industry can be. More than 100 letters sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency (FERC) in support of the pipeline are fakes, using names and addresses of Medina County residents who did not write them or sign them. A FERC project manager said the falsified letters would remain on the docket.
  • Here’s recent disheartening news. An appeals court, using a 65 year old Ohio law meant to facilitate the construction of utility infrastructure after World War II,  has ruled against the rights of property owners. This means pipeline surveyors are free to intrude on the yards and farms of 65 landowners who have actively objected. Yesterday armed security guards stood by as surveyors took measurements on a horse farm just south of the fairgrounds, a farm that’s bordered on three sides by wetlands and park property. As resident Paul Gierosky said in a recent article, “NEXUS is no more a utility than I’m an astronaut. This pipeline is not a public agency designed to service the people along its route. It’s a for-profit company that’s going to sell the gas to a foreign country.”
Image: Garry Knight, CC by 2.0

Image: Garry Knight, CC by 2.0

30+ Ways To Immerse Kids in the Arts

how to immerse your kids in the arts

Experience Music Project CC by 2.0 Nicola

Artistic passion is second nature for young children. They draw and paint eagerly, sing unselfconsciously, choreograph their own dances, and act out dramas using whatever is nearby as props. Unless they have models of creative expression and time for artful play,  kids tend to shut down in the early elementary years.

It helps when we include the arts in our conversations as naturally as we talk about what to eat for dinner. It also helps when kids see us pursue our own creative endeavors. As with anything, it’s what we pay attention to that we magnify.

There are endless ways to keep the arts alive in our children’s lives. Here are a few suggestions.

 

Sketching & Painting

make art fun and accessible

~Keep open-ended art supplies available. Make it easy to grab colored pencils, paints, and other materials. Try to stay relaxed about clean-up. It reduces stress if you can set up designed bins for supplies, plus a shelf or tabletop where projects can wait to be finished.

~Take a sketchbook along on outings. Our perceptions are awakened by new places. Try materials such as pastels, watercolor pencils, and charcoal. Use them on different papers against surfaces like tree bark or stone. Notice how texture, form and color abound in the natural world. Draw your impressions of light and shadow through trees, on the water, and along the street. It’s also fun to collect leaves and flowers, pounding them with a rock to release color onto the paper.

~Learn together. We’ve enjoyed Mona Brookes’ books, Drawing with Children and Drawing for Older Children and Teens. We also got plenty of mileage out of Mark Kistler’s Draw Squad

~Draw rebus pictures.  Rebus pictures inject light-hearted personality to lists, notes, and stories in a cartoonish way. Rebuses, if you don’t remember from preschool, are simple pictures used to replace the occasional word. Even a quickly rendered image is pretty easy to recognize. On the rare occasions my dad and his brother wrote cards to each other, they injected some levity with rebus images.

~Ask others to contribute a drawing. A friend of mine enjoys asking people she meets to add a quick drawing of an imaginary creature to her sketchbook. She’s been collecting these sketches for years, keeping them between the pages of her own drawings. They provide a glimpse into friends as well as strangers, inspire her art, and help her family recognize imaginative powers in people of all ages.

~Encourage studies of the same area over a period of months. Lie on the living room rug or sit on a park bench. Look at this place from many angles, in different light, and then express that viewpoint in pencil, clay, collage or other media.  The study can be expanded. Draw the scene as it might have looked thousands of years ago, or to a creature that sees only temperature, or from a worm’s eye view.

~Draw the same thing repeatedly. You might choose to draw faces, or lamps, or shoes. Draw the tree in your back yard as it appears in different seasons and times of day. DaVinci did all sorts of studies of this sort. He drew page after page of noses, bird’s wings, and running water. This is a daydream-y exercise that invites you to find all sorts of nuances in your subject. You may not only become proficient at drawing salt shakers, but may notice salt shakers wherever you go.

 ~Doodle. This non-directed activity is a great way to allow your brain to idle while creative impulses emerge.

 ~Let art serve as a diversion. Keep different art resources reserved for travel or situations with long wait times. The Anti-Coloring Book series and Klutz series as well as anything by Keri Smith are marvelous diversions. Keep a few on hand for variety.

~Pair art with writing. Encourage young children to dictate the story behind their artwork. They’ll love to hear you read it back. Offer to do this even after kids are old enough to write well — often you can print or type faster than they can, allowing their imaginations to fly more freely. Put together homemade books (or books using photo sharing sites) along with a memory or story. Take a nature journal outside. (Here’s more on keeping a nature notebook.)  Illustrate a funny saying, quote, or family joke. Make postcards and greeting cards to send (grandparents love these). Write about a dream and draw an impression of it.

~Share art.  Share paintings and drawings on social media. Frame and hang them on your walls in an ever-changing gallery. Or go big, setting up a children’s art exhibition at a local coffee shop, church, store, or recreation center.

 ~Express your feelings. We don’t have a lot of creative outlets to express our reactions to bad news, personal disappointments, fear, excitement, or anticipation. Channel them into art. This is downright therapeutic, whether you’re four or ninety-four.

 ~Get abstract. Take away the burden of recreating representational images. Paint a favorite smell, a new idea, a mood, a strong impression left when waking from a dream nearly forgotten, a taste, a laugh.

~Let kids explore art museums their own way. These institutions are meant to be enjoyed. Rather than make a museum trip an ordeal, stop by often to take in a new exhibit and don’t stay long. Let your children stroll along as interest leads them. You might decide to look for something specific on the way (one of my sons liked to spot animals, another son made it his quest to find anything airborne—birds, planes, angels, flying carpets). Making galleries places for discovery makes the collections more accessible and allows our children to feel comfortable there. Especially as kids get older, museum visits are more enjoyable when friends are along, We were often surprised to find that our 10th trip to a museum, where my kids clamored to see favorite sculptures and new exhibits, was the first trip for their friends. Teens are more likely to go for their own reasons, perhaps to sketch a particular work or to volunteer as docents.

 

 Music

let the arts come alive for kids

~Start early. Listen to music as you nurse your babies to sleep, imagining the wonderful association that child is making between sound and comfort (whether Bach or the blues). Make music paired with storytelling available to kids for bedtime listening, quiet time, or travel — especially those by storytellers such as Odds Bodkin (who started my kids’ love of Homer’s Odyssey) and Jim Weiss. A great selection is available at Gentle WindChinaberry, and your local library.

~Sing. Singing is wonderful for the mood as well as the body. When adults and older kids sing  here and there through the day, young children are empowered to make singing a more natural part of their lives. Sing silly songs about your daily activities, make up lyrics together, sing whatever song is in your head at the moment. (Yes, my teenagers were embarrassed by my singing tendencies. I just tried to sing more quietly.)

~Show wholehearted enthusiasm for sing-songy names, rhymes, and clapping games. These are timeless introductions to the arts and invaluable for early childhood learning.

~Dance. Turn up the tunes and move. There may be no more powerful incentive to get kids dancing. To expose kids to all sorts of dance, don’t forget dance videos, dance performances at fairs and art-in-the-park programs, and movies that incorporate dance from old musicals to the newest Bollywood releases. Several colleges and arts organizations near us offer student dance performances several times during the academic year with cheap (or free!) tickets for kids.

~Play for your own enjoyment. Drag out your old violin, teach yourself to play the harmonica, heck, learn to play an instrument that’s entirely free — spoons! Do it for yourself and the background sound of your home changes, instantly, to music played live. Once kids get accustomed to your playing they may not seem to pay much attention, but you’re building memories that they’ll later cherish.

~Gather musicians together. Combine instruments, however unlikely, for improvisation and fun. Get together a jam session, choir, or band with people in your family, neighborhood, church, or arts group. Help your community set up an annual Porchfest. Or just get together with your guitar-playing neighbor to share some tunes. Collaboration really does amp up the playfulness.

~Consider hosting house concerts. This is something we’ve started doing in our humble living room. For more information,  look to the folks at Concerts in Your Home.

~Get young kids involved in music and movement programs. Around us, most music-movement programs are prohibitively expense. We found a music therapy practice near us in Ohio that also offers active programs for kids of all ages at a very reasonable price. Widen your search terms to find one near you. Or find a musician or new music  grad interesting in hosting such a program.

~Check out music that sparks learning in a variety of subjects. Musicians United for Songs in the Classroom shares all sorts of songs as teaching tools to engage the learner.

~Take in live music whenever possible. If you live near a college town or urban area your choices will be larger. Often you can find free or low cost performances at festivals, ethnic fairs, period music celebrations, student and faculty recitals, and brown bag lunch concerts. It will likely help younger children if you talk beforehand about what to watch for and listen for. Young children may enjoy a concert more if they are allowed to bring along a small stuffed animal or toy that can dance on their laps, draw their impressions of the performance on a small sketchpad, or enjoy a normally illicit lollipop.

~Incorporate music into all areas of learning. Talk about the meaning of song lyrics, notice how musical style historically reflects the culture from which it emerged, look for the links between music and math, read about musicians, and watch some of the many extraordinary movies about the lives of musicians.

 

Theater
fun with the arts

CC by 2.0 Barbara Hobbs

~One word, puppets. Whether your characters are socks or fancy puppets, young kids have all sorts of fun putting on puppet shows. Doing so, they’re  also teaching themselves the elements of performance.

~Attend plays.  Children’s theater performances are cued to a short attention span, as kids get closer to the preteen years they’re more likely to enjoy longer performances. Many kids enjoy a play more if, beforehand, you read a synopsis or a picture book based on the play.

~Start a playwright’s club. We did this with young children while their older siblings took part in a book club. The kids made up stories together, then acted them out. We usually did this outdoors where trees and park benches served as scenery, scarves and sticks served as props. Older kids in a playwright’s club may be eager to write scripts, build sets, make costumes, and put on performances. They can also script and perform puppet shows, videos, animations, or other productions.

~Take part in community theater. Encourage interested kids to take theater workshop classes and, as they get older, try out for roles onstage or behind the scenes.

~Check into apprenticeships and mentoring experiences with musicians, artists, actors, costumers, stagehands, dancers, vocalists and others in the arts field. Simply ask people involved in the arts if they have considered taking individual students, offering a workshop, or allowing young people to shadow them for a day. You’d be surprised how many people are eager to share what they know with the next generation.

 

Arts in general

~Balance arts adventures. When you journey any distance to see a music performance, attend a play, or ramble through galleries make that stop one of several anticipated events.   Try to spot murals or other public art on the way. (When they were little my kids knew we’d arrived when they waved at the Guardians of Traffic pylons as we drove over the bridge to Cleveland.) Take a break in an ornate big city library, eat a packed lunch in a park, stroll through an open air market, pick up unusual snacks at an ethnic grocery, and let your child’s curiosity help guide the day’s events.  If part of the day incorporates a lot of sit down time (including the ride to and fro) be sure to balance that with movement, exploration, and sensory adventure.

~Take art walks. Identify a theme of interest. An architecture walk may focus on particular structures such as houses of worship and the meaning reflected in different styles of buildings you encounter. A sculpture walk may follow a map of the city’s historical district, but pay attention to unexpected things your children identify as sculpture. Try a “found art” walk with a camera or sketchbook, capturing what each person on the walk finds interesting. Or take a collage walk, where you and your children pick up objects to use later in an assemblage. If you are going with a group on an art walk you may want to find an expert to lead the walk.

~Use the brain-building tool of compare and contrast. Casually use it every now and then. Compare favorite TV shows to plays, puppet shows, and dance performances. Contrast an ethnic festival where one is exposed to the games, food, dances and music of a culture to the presentation of that culture in the media. When discussing any aspect of the arts it can be valuable to look at it from other viewpoints.

~Arts opportunities can be surprisingly cost-effective.  There are free and reduced price admissions, workshops, and programs in many areas. As kids approach their teen years it helps to get beyond age-narrowing classes to find (or create) collaborative arts engagement where teens paint murals, play music, put on shows, plan festivals, and more with other members of the community. Learning about culture takes place best in the midst of culture.

Somewhere not far from you there are plays in rehearsal, movies being filming, musicians practicing, sculptures being shaped, and dances being choreographed. Art is alive even in the most remote communities, although sometimes it takes people interested in energizing cultural affairs to get people connected. You may be one of those people.

involve kids in the arts early on

Keep the arts fun!

Portions of this post are excerpted from Free Range Learning