Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Marbling Paper

I love the look of marbled paper like Suminagashi, but have been put off by the unknown chemicals and hassle of getting pre-made kits- I was especially worried that a kit would turn out to be too difficult for the kids.

Then I saw this post on Inner Child Fun, about how to do paper marbling using just laundry starch and acrylic paints!

I have tons of old acrylics laying around, so all I needed to buy was a $2 bottle of starch, which is useful for so many projects we do anyway.

I set each kid up with a small, flat-bottomed plastic container and poured in about 1/2-1" of starch. Then each kid chose their colors, and I let them drip the paint right into the starch. Then they used bamboo skewers to swirl the paint and starch. We lay cut pieces of watercolor paper on the marbling solution, then lifted them up and put them in a large container of freshwater, where the starch washed off, leaving the paint in beautiful patterns. We set them to dry on an old sheet.

Some things we learned:

  •  The really old (~18 years old!) ones had often gotten too dry or had changed in some way that caused them to drop to the bottom of the starch, which meant that they would not swirl and could not be lifted off with the paper floating on top- I did try sinking a paper to the bottom, and while it picked up some of the old colors, it was a garbled mess, not pretty and swirly.
  • The more liquid, "soft-bodied" acrylics in squeeze bottles worked much better than the more expensive professional paints in tubes. 
  • Lots of small drops works better, because overzealous preschool squeezing of the paint causes huge glops of paint which immediately sink to the bottom.
  • Glitter can be added after the paint and will transfer beautifully.

  • We ran into a funny issue which I haven't solved yet: Our first prints came out great and very little of the paint came off the paper in the wash along side the starch. But as we progressed, more and more of the paint came off in the wash. I tried changing to fresh water and changing to fresh starch. The new starch helped with a certain muddiness that was taking over - all preschool art must eventually become Preschool Gray- but even with an essentially new set-up, we had a harder time keeping the paint on the paper in the wash. Eventually I tried just not washing some, which caused them to stick a bit to the cloth where they were drying, but I just peeled them off, re-washed them and lost no paint.
  • Note that acrylics do not wash out of clothes, and can permanently adhere to many non-porous surfaces if not cleaned up right away with soap and water. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Simple Machines for Preschoolers

Child-led learning. It all sounds so lovely and peaceful. But really? I end up using child-led inspiration for our activities when the kids are at their worst, when nothing I do can stop the cycle of twin-on-twin aggression, when everyone is too tired or sick or grumpy to concentrate on what I planned.

Alex and Anya were having a bad morning, switching off roles of tattler and mischievous imp, with increasing escalation and contrariness towards each other. Alex shouted from the living room, "No, Anya! Don't stick that in the couch! Mama, Anya won't stop and she's ruining our couch!"

When I got to the living room, Anya was scowling at Alex and mumbling something about a lever while gripping a long skinny paintbrush. She had been shoving it into a hole in the couch so she could make a lever to push and pull.

Things were getting dire. I needed something to distract them. Science to the rescue!

I asked them if they would like to learn about levers.  I took the paint brush and showed them how moving the whole thing moved it only in one direction, while if I balanced it on a Lego, I could push down on one end and watch the other end rise. I introduced the idea of pivoting, and that there was specific point at which the brush pivoted, which is also called a fulcrum. We looked at some levers around the house, like scissors, and I had them identify the pivot point.

I looked around for a quick and dirty way to show them the difference in the amount of work that it took to lift things with a lever and without. We had an old box filled with Playmobil parts, and I duct taped the trusty paintbrush to the bottom of the box and had the children lift it straight up. Then I had them add in our Lego fulcrum again and try pushing down to lift it up. I described how when we did it the first way, our muscles did all of the work, but in the second way, the lever did some of the work, meaning less work for our muscles.

I asked them to think about if we would be able to lift more or less with a lever. I asked them if they could think of any outside toys we had that were levers. They struggled with that question a bit, so I asked if they could lift each other up in the air- which backfired, because Anya can totally lift Alex- but then asked if any of their outside toys made it easy for them to take turns lifting each other up in the air. I sat in front of them going back and forth with my finger on a pencil lever held over a Lego fulcrum, and eventually they realized that see-saws are simple levers.

Since Anya's desire to push and pull levers was the start of all this, I gave them plenty of time to play with all our improvised levers and make some new ones of our own- though I did convince her to avoid poking more holes in the couch to do so.

Next we moved on to ramps, which were much easier to grasp- perhaps I should have started with them? I demonstrated how a little car needed me to push it on a flat board, but would move on it's own down a ramp, again emphasizing that in the former, my muscles had to do the work and in the latter, the simple machine did the work.

I was hopeful that if I set them up with a good ramp that I could take a kid-break while they explored. I love doing these projects, but I think we all do better if I can have plenty of downtime between projects!

I grabbed the remains of the (poorly constructed) dollhouse that I built for Anya a couple of years ago and duct taped two boards together. One side we propped up in the couch, the other was to let the cars run on after they built up speed on the ramp. I was going to have them measure the length that each car got on the board, but all of them went much further, so I settled for giving them a piece of tape to mark the farthest any car got on the rug a couple feet out from the ramp.

They tried a ton of different small vehicles, and seem to realize quickly that the cars with motors never built up speed- we had a good but brief talk about how those cars are designed to go forward powered by the motor, and that the wheels could not move freely with gravity, like simpler cars could. I did have to remind them to not fling the cars down the ramp, but rather than phrasing it as a rule, I explained that we were measuring the work that the ramp was doing, and that if we used our muscles to propel the car, we wouldn't be measuring just the work of the ramp.

They also experimented with pulling the ramp farther out or pushing it in, changing the angle, and the behavior of the cars going down it. Very cool to watch them exploring!

Eventually Anya started wandering off, but I thought we could milk the ideas I had introduced just a bit more. As we were walking to the backdoor, I asked them to look around for more levers and ramps. Alex, who was still very into rolling things down ramps, went flying over to the fridge and announced, "Ramp!" proudly at the magnetic marble run. Yay!

Anya and I went ahead outside while he played and Anya peered around and told me in that condescending preschooler way, "Now, Mama, the slide, right here? That is a ramp, Mama, did you know that?"

She also decided that the rocking horse was a lever, pointed out the see-saw to me, and told me that we should use a ramp to get the snowballs on top of each other for a snowman.

Science FTW!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"Tis a gift...

Spring break means many adventures with cousins who are off school; we went to the Milwaukee Zoo all day Monday (started with tree climbing at 9:45 in the morning and didn't get home till almost dinner time!), then on Tuesday drove to Madison for the Children's Museum and an afternoon with our extended family.

It was awesome exciting and more action that we usually have all week smashed into 36 hours.

But there's something to be said for simple pleasures at home.

This morning we ran some quick errands while still in pajamas, then came back and worked on our project for the rest of the week, "Making Our Home More Beautiful" which is my happier sounding re-framing of "Clean the Shit Out of Our Pigsty".

I was amazed at how much the kids have changed in the past couple of months. I took them into our very messy utility room, where they aren't usually allowed without a grown up, and had them take turns sweeping the room, with the non-sweeping one putting dishes in the washer for me nearby. Then I taught them our to use the lightweight string mop I bought for the occasion, and they went to town, mopping the whole area twice, and  probably almost effectively as I would have done on my own- and this is a floor that is filthy, since it had a soda (?) spilled on it and not cleaned up AND it is where everyone tromps in after being in the yard or (shudder) the firepit.

After they were done they were excited to keep helping, and they collected laundry, put it in, measured soap, started the machine, carried clean laundry out. I supervised, but stepped in for physical helping very rarely.

By the time lunch rolled around, everyone was still cheerful, and it had turned into a beautiful day. I let them loose outside with the hose on slightly and a watering can with instructions to water certain areas of the garden, then went inside. 6 months ago, They would have done all of the following in the first five minutes:

  • Turned the hose up so high it would have drained our well and overheated our pump.
  • Sprayed each other in the face with blasts of the icy well water.
  • Started a screaming fight with one another over control of the hose
  • Blasted all the delicate new plants with the water and ignored the plants I asked them to see to.
  • Ran into the front yard without permission or worse, into the yard of the decidedly unfriendly dogs who are behind an invisible fence next door.

But now? They watered all the plants, pulled some dandelions, then came up with an awesome imaginary game involving making a mudpit for the pig statue in the garden and baking mud pies. No fighting, no destruction. They came in together when they were cold and with just a reminder from me, did NOT track mud through the house, but carefully stripped off their muddy clothes and put them in the washer (and Alex even added more dirty stuff and started the machine) got washed up, and are now hanging out with snacks on the couch together.

I know there is no age at which the parent child relationship stops having periods of being fraught, but the last year has been hard. I  dislike discipline of any sort  and yet have become takes-no-guff authoritative parent, which involves maintaining boundaries all. the. time. Sometimes it felt like I was trying to do the impossible, trying to tame ferocious little beasts- and of course I know there is an entire realm of parenting philosophy that disagrees with any sort of authoritative boundary setting, but that is not my bag! Sometimes I felt like they were like some sort of powerful duel force of erosion, wearing down my very soul. But today? When they seem to understand why I want there to be boundaries and rules, where they know they can discuss those rules and we can work together to create and enforce them, when we can finally start approaching our home and our world as a team? Today is a good day, and I think there may be more good days coming.