Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring, farms and art

We love visiting farms in the spring. Witnessing nature's slow and gentle awakening is a great way to shake off the winter slumber and connect with the rhythms of the seasons.

I see people of all ages at the farms, from babies to grandparents, getting a glimpse at the newborn animals, taking in the scent of the freshly sprouted flowers and getting a hand on the first vegetables. It is a time for renewal and celebration.
The more farms we visit, the more I notice the arts in every corner. Farming is a cultural practice, and we humans tend to weave the arts into most of our daily life. With each festival and celebration of nature people sing, dance, tell stories, paint, and the list goes on.

We got to taste the sugary sap straight from the maple tree.

We started the season with a visit to the Natick Community Organic Farm for their Maple Magic Day. We first filled up our bellies with pancakes at the neighboring school and danced to a lovely folk band. Then, we toured the farm and learned about different sugaring techniques throughout our history.

We learned about Native American sugaring techniques. We were greeted by the beat of the drums and smoke from a branch of sage, followed by some good old story telling...

We heard an old Native American tale, about how the first people were able to get maple syrup just by snapping off a branch from a maple tree and letting the syrup drip into their mouths. People were no longer fishing in the fields, collecting berries from the forest, farming or hunting. They were all just laying there with their mouths open. Well, when Manabozho (a benevolent spirit) saw what was happening he thought it was no good. Soon all the people would be lazy and fat! So he went to the river and filled a very large basket with water. He then poured the water on top of the maple trees so that it would thin the syrup. From then on, people would have to work very hard to make syrup from the tree's sap.*

*I tried very hard to remember the tale as it was told on the day of the visit, but I had to search our handy internet to fill in the big gaps in my memory. I found a close version here.

We also learned about the techniques used during colonial times. Which were also laborious despite the introduction of cast iron.

After visiting the modern day shed for making syrup, with electricity and steel, we went home with some delicious organic maple syrup, which we have enjoyed with delicious homemade pancakes. Yum.

For those of you in Massachusetts, here is a list of farm/spring 2012 events:

March 31 - Woolapalooza From Sheep to Sweater and Everything in Between, Drumlin Farm

April 1, 7 - Easter Egg Hunt, Winslow Farm Animal Sanctuary, Norton

April 27-29 - Daffodil Weekend Festival, Nantucket

May 20 - Spring Spectacular, Natick Community Organic Farm

Visit any time the Turtle Lane Maple Farm for a Free Tour, North Andover

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Eric Carle Museum

A few weeks ago, we visited the Eric Carle Museum with my little one's class. The building is spacious and modern, with Scandinavian design and wide spaces.

The wonderful bursts of color left us inspired and ready to roll our sleeves up at home.

We spent time in the art room, where the children were invited to think about art and make their own creations, and we visited the galleries with one dedicated to Eric Carle's work, and two other illustrators.

In the grand entry we admired these large paintings. I'm hoping to get a large canvas and make a collaborative painting with my girl.

In the art classroom, we were mesmerized by this simple, yet wonderful light catcher, consisting of colored water in zip lock bags , hanging in a circle and held by nylon. (Ready, set, GO! Just run and do it!)

Each child received a lovely "I am an Artist" booklet. They then picked at random an adjective and a noun to draw on each page. Here is a happy flower, with rain.

With the large windows, simplicity, space and inviting work tables and corners, the space came close to the classroom of my dreams. Sigh.

I love the way the artwork was displayed in a rainbow of colors, simply placed in filing sleeves and held together with metal rings.

To top it off, even the highchairs in the dining room were beautiful!


So, if you happen to visit Western Massachusetts, head on over to the Eric Carle Museum. If not, I hope you are inspired by the bright colors and ideas collected during our visit. 

Here are some of our favorite Eric Carle books. Please, do share yours.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Little Things and a Favorite Fall Book

I should start by sharing that a little bundle has kept me away from the computer for the last month or two... Between the last weeks of pregnancy and the beautiful first weeks of bonding there has been no time or reason to come close. As we settle into our new life, I found a few minutes to write a short post.

With his arrival I have put some thought into creativity and nature for the youngest people: new babies. He has been born into a family that loves the arts. We love music. We all love to sing and even if at times we may not have perfect pitch (especially when sleep deprived), he's been hearing his sister and mama and papa singing non-stop. My husband plays the guitar for him and you can watch him stop to listen. Dancing and the various forms of bouncing have introduced the little one to rhythm out of the womb. For now he cannot see farther than the distance from his eyes to my face as I hold him, but soon he will surrender to looking at lights and contrast, and it will be a good time to introduce black and white art and images. The fun has just begun!

We also have noticed that like the rest of the family, the littlest one has better days when we spend time outside. Getting a little fresh air from walking around the block will help him sleep better and fuss less. He even has made his first trip to the city farm to pick a pumpkin!

As we spend many more hours inside, we have turned to reading with even more fervor than before. Here is one of our favorite fall books.

As all the leaves take flight, one leaf holds on tight... "I'm not ready yet." A beautifully artistic and poetic book portraying the magic of  late fall, as well as a a great way to talk about fears and how challenging taking a leap can be for all of us.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Nature and creativity intertwined

This summer we've visited farms, ponds and the ocean as much as possible. In our daily trips, I have loved observing the little one and her friends invested in their free play. Story telling, inventing, negotiations and creating (spaces, structures, scenarios, characters...) often reach a peak while outdoors, while most quarrels are avoided or die out pretty quickly.

Paths to get lost in... Codman Farm. dance..
...or just to be a chicken.

Making forts at the Boston Nature Center

Takes teamwork!
Feeding the chickens at Natick Cooperative Farm
Working together...
and feeding the pig.
Running through a field of flowers,
And taking a big leap!
Creating an island... at  Walden Pond,  
after complaining that they had no buckets or shovels to play with!
All they needed were some sticks to create trees, surrounded by a large ocean
and an island made of rocks, in the shape of a flower.
Finding these places has been at times a matter of living in the area and knowing what is available, finding out through friends or just spending a little time on the internet. It has been definitely worth providing as many opportunities for the little one and her friends to play freely in the great outdoors. They have expanded their horizons, getting to know about farm and animal life, our food sources, wild life and habitats, or just about how to explore creativity in nature, with no need for a shovel or a bucket.

I continue to work on learning from observing their play, keeping my distance and trying not to interfere, or to keep my interjections to a minimum. I see my role as the one who does the listening, planning, food preparation and chauffeuring... In return, I get to practice mindfulness. Being in the moment is the gift these children bring to me.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Drawing and Writing Caddy

I bought this utensil caddy as an impulse buy for my little one's birthday party this past spring. After the party was over I was going to put it away, knowing it would probably not get much use... but as it sat on our kitchen table I remembered being inspired by a beautiful Writing Caddy on the blog Playful Learning.
So I filled the utensil caddy with some basic drawing and writing tools and ever since, the little one has used it non-stop. It has visited the coffee table, the kitchen table and even our patio table. The time she spends drawing and practicing her letters has increased greatly. And she is loving her independence!

Some materials I've included:
Paper, in basic white, as well as other colors and in an array of sizes
A small notebook
Colored Pencils
Thin and thick markers
Hole Puncher (much loved item after this activity)
Letter Stickers

The possibilities are endless!

So, if you have a utensil caddy laying around, or if you find one on sale in these futile summer days, give it a try!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

3D Art: Contact Paper and Construction Paper Strips

This was one of the most fun activities I have ever done with children. It was exhilarating to observe this group of three four year old girls as they navigated a new concept, inspiring each other with ideas and building upon what they had learned from observing their work.

I laid out a large piece of contact paper on our art table with one inch strips of construction paper. I chose colors that reminded me of Joan Miro's work: red, black, white, yellow and blue. Back in the fall we had been very inspired by the book Yellow Square, and explored 3D art with different shapes of paper, folded and cut in interesting ways.
Previous Fall Project: Shapes and Glue over Recycled Book Cover

 We began by re-reading the book. They were as interested in it as they had been in the fall. I then introduced the activity by talking about how we usually work with collage materials and contact paper on a flat surface or in 2D. I explained this time we were going to use the strips of paper and shape them so they would stay up, creating a 3D piece. I demonstrated how this could be done with a simple upside down "U" shape as an example.

As soon as they set themselves to work one of them figured out how to make a circle.

And they were off, immersed in a rhythm of creativity that gave me goose bumps! Circles were being weaved into balls. Paper was being bent into different shapes. Narration was gaining momentum, with comparisons to playgrounds with slides and structures. Even geometry made its way in, with references to straight lines and curves, pointy angles and circles.

Finally, as impetuous as they had been while at work, full of concentration, inspiration and creativity, and without one dispute(!), the three artists knew they were done and quietly moved on to pretend play. As for this observer, I was left with eyes wide open for the wonderful piece of art created in front of me and in awe of the magic of creativity in childhood.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bubble Painting

This week we tried out painting by blowing bubbles. I mixed some dish-washing liquid, water and a little glycerin into small bowls and added about a teaspoon of paint. I found these bubble solution recipes that might come in handy for those who need more accurate proportions... I usually just play it by ear.
I then hunted around the house for any wands or blowers I could find.

We then headed outside with trays and sturdy white construction paper and just started blowing bubbles!
The artists ranged in age, from 4 to 10, and all enjoyed the activity equally.
Some of the wands made bigger bubbles that ended as larger circles on the paper.

While others made smaller bubbles clustered together, filled with color.

The afternoon was filled with wonder and delight, squeaks and laughter, and was the best way to stay cool on a hot and humid day. Next time I hope to try it out with larger cylinders and wands, and see what giant bubbles look like on a large piece of paper.