This week is our first week with Classical Conversations.  My eldest just turned five and is not ready for kindergarten but eager to learn so we’re trying it out.  Having graduated from and taught at a Classical Christian school I’ve been curious about this homeschool spin off.  What better way to learn than to participate?  The kids loved their first day at school and can’t wait until next week – so so far so good!

Cycle 1 Week 1 includes memorizing the classification of living things as well as learning the “Oils.” “Oils,” (the word is actually a picture) are the five basic shapes of drawing as taken from Mona Brookes, “Drawing with Children.”  In order to help explain what classifying is I came up with a sorting game that uses the letters in the first few lessons of Sigfied Engelmann’s “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.”

"Sorting Game"


First I printed out all the letters and made enough for three children.  I explained how we were going to classify the letters.  First we put all the letters into the largest bucket.  Next I asked them to look through these letters and find any that had a curved line.  Two of the kids even got into a tussle about whether or not the lowercase letter “t” had a curve at the bottom.  I reminded them to each make their own decision about their own letters and then told them that scientists also sometimes disagree when classifying living things.  (I wanted to say that when grown-ups disagree about sorting through where animals go they don’t yell at each other but know that’s not true!)  The next bucket (which looks like it’s a no-smoking bucket) was for letters with no straight lines.  Finally came letters that were a circle shape.  The game was a huge hit.  This along with a little handout of a picture of bears that I showed them helped make a bit more sense out of the terms we are memorizing this week.

The idea to include sandpaper letters came from Elizabeth G. Hainstock’s “Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Years.”  And yes, I know that these two educational philosophies of intense memorization on the one hand and self guidance by sensory experience on the other are polar opposites.  I’m looking for via media.

"letter manipulatives"

Melting Crayons

Wax Painting

My recent artistic endeavors have been inspired by the fact that Toys R Us offered four packs of crayons for a dollar.  Since nothing in our house stays pristine for long it seemed only natural to blast their factory blessed grandeur into oblivion with my hair dryer.  I showed the kids how we could hold a crayon in front of the blowdryer set to hot.  This quickly melted the tip of the crayon creating a sort of waxy paint.  You can also hold your crayon directly to the paper while melting it for an even more painterly effect.  Of course painting with wax is a long and glorious tradition that includes the stunning Fayum portraits but this was a way even my 2 year old could join in the fun.  To finish we added watercolor washes.  For another interesting effect you can melt the wax once its is on the paper with the hair dryer and brush it at the same time.  Needless to say – if you try this DO BE CAREFUL!  To be as obvious as a McDonald’s coffee cup lid, this project is hot and could burn fingers young and old.

Architecture for Small Hands

I’ve mentioned Froebel before on this blog and his “gifts” or system of projects that he created for young children.  One of the gifts was “peas-work” – using small sticks and wet peas to create structures.  Today I gave my children (5 year old, 4 year old and 2 year old) a plate of marshmallows and toothpicks.  I built them a model structure:


At first they came up with some of their own ideas (the antenna on top of the house was an invention of my son’s) and then they sought my help to build their own houses.


(Four year old boy with help)


(Five year old girl with only a little help)

The two year old was just happy to poke the marshmallows with sticks.


This project took about 30 minutes including eating time.  After they ate their marshmallows we took turns naming shapes and trying to construct them with our toothpicks.  After a few shapes the kids began suggesting objects as well such as a swimming pool.  This led to an interesting discovery as the two year old used toothpicks to represent people in an imaginary pool, the four year old created something like an oval, the five year old built a rectangle to be a view of the pool from above whereas I drew a side view of the pool with the water in it.  It was fascinating to see how we each interpreted the subject differently with only a few sticks!

“Black Walnut”


Spurred on by “The Kids’ Nature Book: 365 Indoor/Outdoor Activities and Experiences” by Susan Milord I gathered a bag of black walnuts and one of acorns with the kids.  Once home I did a little more research and realized that getting to the heart of the black walnut meat is a long and messy process.  We gave them to the squirrels  for breakfast the next morning and laughed at how noisy they were!  I gave up on the acorns too after boiling them probably twenty five times at least and still finding them bitter.  I certainly am glad we don’t have to live off the land.


This is a painting of the tree from which we harvested the nuts.  I spent quite a while on the sky with different washes, mixing blues and oranges and a bit of payne’s grey here and there.  The same night after the sky dried I used a round brush to paint the tree branches and some details of the leaves with black ink.  It was my original intent to leave the painting alone but the next day I felt compelled to add more detail and color to the leaves.  The result is this pleasing almost Chinese-brushstroke effect.  I’m surprised how well it all turned out considering my one-year-old was climbing in and out of my lap (what’s left of it since I’m 37 weeks pregnant) as I finished it up!


Here ere are some ways that I’ve been incorporating my love of art and a desire to teach letters and numbers and all that good stuff to the kiddos.  I’ll continue to give an update on what books, CDs and projects I find helpful over the year.  Art and the Everyday isn’t just about making art to hang on the walls, it’s about making art in every season of life and encouraging a vision that sees daily activity as art.


1. Snack Sorting and Drawing


I showed my one year old the different shapes and encouraged her to practice saying them.  My two almost three year old was able to match the shapes to my drawings and with help was able to continue the pattern.  My four year old was obsessed with drawing her food.  She is still convinced that a semi-circle is pronounced, “See-my-circle.”


2. Cutting, Gluing, Colors

This was not a project we did with my one-year-old around.  I filled yogurt cups with a bit of glue and water and gave the kids cheepy watercolor brushes to paint the paste with.  Each child had a pair of scissors, a paper with colored circles on it and long strips of construction paper that I instructed them to snip into smaller pieces and glue on the appropriate circles.


3. Lines and Circles


I’ll save for another post why we were focusing on lines and circles.  Here I cut out pictures from old magazines that had clear circle and line elements and encouraged the kids to first draw on the pictures and then to either trace or draw these shapes free hand onto their scratch paper.