Sewing Skirts.

I have a fabric problem. I see something, and I want it, but I don’t have a reasonable idea of what to do with it once it gets home. This means that every once in a while, I cave to temptation and buy a half-yard or a yard of a fabric that ends up sitting on a shelf for months years. In an attempt to get some fabric off the shelf and into proper use, I’ve started sewing skirts for the girls. Everyone who sees them seems to like them, so I thought I’d share a little bit about how I’ve been making them.

My main inspiration is the 20-Minute Skirt tutorial at Whipstitch, and her chart for fabric measurements for different sizes is extremely useful. I also watched the skirt video tutorials by Dana Made It. For little girls’ sizes, you basically sew a fabric tube, and then add some variety of hem and an elasticized waistband. The seams are all straight, and it’s pretty forgiving if you make an error and need to rip something out.

Here are two sets I’ve made recently. First, these little Halloween numbers, which used some fabric I’ve been hoarding for longer than I care to admit. Initially, I thought I’d use it for some ‘real’ dresses, but that’s never happened, so I decided skirts were better than nothing. One advantage of these is that they are really easy for the girls to put on themselves, which is a great bonus on mornings where we’re hurrying to get somewhere on time.

halloween skirts, easy sewing projects, easy skirts to sew

This pair exists because I wanted the fabric in an unhealthy way. I also made a little variation here by using bias tape on the hems, which I really like. I will probably keep doing this in the future because it involves less ironing, and adds a little excitement.

halloween skirts, easy sewing projects, easy skirts to sew

{And the ironing is the secret here – I think it takes more time to iron these before you make them than it does to sew them. The longest single step is the time it takes to thread the elastic in the casing of the waistband.}

My main tips:

  • *Iron. No, seriously, iron. Iron every possible thing, including taking the time to iron the side seam open once you sew it.
  • *Use 3/4 inch no-roll elastic. This way, you can make a 1-inch casing, which is easy, and have plenty of room to thread the elastic without it catching repeatedly and undoing your stitches. I tried using larger elastic, and it looked silly.
  • *To determine the correct amount of elastic, just wrap it around the waist of the intended skirt-wearer. Don’t add anything, don’t subtract anything, and don’t stretch it. Make a circle, and cut it. This will give you enough stretch to make the skirt stay up, once you overlap it a bit to sew it together, but it will also remain loose enough that you should get a decent amount of wear out of the skirt before it’s too small.

Next up: ruffles, and maybe pockets. This is not an obvious skirt for pockets, since it’s so gathered, but I don’t think my girls will care, and I’m not trying to win any sewing prizes. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

For when you just don’t know what to make.

Yesterday, I posted this article from Crafting Connections on Read It, Make It!’s Facebook page. (Go ahead and click ‘like’ while you’re there. You know you want to.) It’s a review of a book about eliminating creative blocks, and they share a simple activity to do when you feel like being creative but have no idea how to start.

Here’s the pitiful part, for me: I am very well acquainted with the “creative block.” Writers’ block and I are close personal friends. A movie about my life would include such memorable scenes as me, staring at my bookshelves, utterly unable to commit to one particular book. There would be a heart-rending moment in a fabric store, where I’d stand, weeping, with The Smiths playing in the background, while I struggled to figure out exactly which sort of cotton quilting weight novelty print to buy.

Unblocking exercise

So, while I know well the feeling of a block, I am woefully unable to overcome this sort of thing. It’s the Internet age, right? Surely, I should be able to Google a solution to this problem – but I can’t.

Thus, I was completely relieved to find out that A) I’m not alone, and B) there are people who actually sit around and think about these things, and therefore are able to help other people deal with them. {For the record, I am well aware that this probably tops the list of First World Problems, so I’m trying to keep some perspective here.}

I set out today to do the activity mentioned in the blog post: drawing circles. I’m completely unskilled at drawing, but I doodle like no one’s business, so this felt like something I could manage.

I found some paper, straight out of the printer, and colored pencils. This is not fancy stuff, y’all. The pencils are clearly labeled CRAYOLA.

Unblocking exercise

Verdict: THIS STUFF WORKS. Wow. I sat down with the girls this morning, and just started making dots. (Mine were ovals instead of circles, just so you know.) It was weirdly calming, and it also intrigued Bethany in particular. She started giving me ideas of what the ovals might be: raindrops (it’s raining); polka dots on a dress; eggs in the grass. Then, she had me draw some ovals on the paper she was using to draw a garden.

And, I kid you not, while I was doing this, about five ideas of things I’d like to make sprang into my mind. I didn’t even cover the whole page, and I already feel better.

Unblocking exercise

My free advice for this rainy Friday? Draw some dots with your kids. Something good is bound to happen.

 

Shaving cream!

preschool sensory activity

Here’s a moment of mothering honesty: my kids have watched way, way, way too much TV in the last few days. It was the end of Daddy’s winter break from school, on top of the frigid weather, so there was just too much craziness, and I gave in pretty much every single time they asked for another program.

Today’s post is all about great sensory stuff you can do with shaving cream. Yes, I did all of this in one day with both of them. No, I would normally never do this. However, today I was determined to cut down on the TV watching, so I knew I needed something pretty spectacular to divert their attention from the evil box.

sensory activity

We already had the can of shaving cream from our snow day activities. When I bought the shaving cream, I knew I’d want to let them use it for some more playtime, but I hadn’t really thought that out very far. Today, I brainstormed a bunch of different ideas, and you’ll see some of those below.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you decide to try this:

  • -Less is more. No, seriously. It takes one TINY squirt of shaving cream to give you a nice surface for writing or drawing. Any more, and you just get mountains. You can see in the first picture up there that Bethany had mountains, and she wasn’t really a fan of how it felt on her hands.
  • -Think about the surface you’ll be using. I have oilcloth on my table all the time, but you could also use a vinyl tablecloth. Alternatively, you could put the shaving cream on a metal cookie sheet, which would be easy enough to wash off in the bathtub.
  • -Have warm, wet rags nearby so that your kiddos can wipe their hands as often as necessary.
  • -This is not an activity I recommend for times when you need to keep your kids occupied while you do something else. It’s too easy for them to wipe shaving cream in their eyes, or to smear huge globs of it somewhere it shouldn’t be. Ask me how I know

Shaving cream writing practice

Once the girls had spent some time just playing in the shaving cream and smearing it everywhere, I tried doing a little bit of writing practice with Bethany. She is occasionally interested in writing letters, so that’s what we did. Here, you see my ‘D’ on the right, and hers on the left.

Shaving cream is excellent for this, because you can immediately erase any mistakes and make corrections. It’s also easy to do some hand-over-hand work, particularly on the harder letters, like ‘N.’

Shaving Cream sensory activity

This was a surprise – I looked over, and Clara had made a ‘D,’ too. Then, she lost interest and went back to flinging shaving cream off her hands.

{By the way, I used to do this in the classroom. First, I’d give out one small squirt of shaving cream per kid, and then allow a bit of a free play time. We’d then practice sight words or spelling words. You could also use it for basic letters and numerals, geometric shapes, parallel/perpendicular/intersecting lines, types of angles – you get the idea. When you’re done, wiping the shaving cream from the desks also cleans them. You will want to make sure you can send your students immediately to the bathroom when you’re finished so that they can wash hands. As a bonus, your classroom will smell like a barbershop.}

Shaving cream sensory activity

Now, let me reiterate that ordinarily I would have let that be the end of our shaving cream fun for the day. Since today was spectacularly awesome (haha), we kept going. Next, I gave the girls some of their plastic animals to use. I started with the ones most likely to live in the snow, but eventually just gave them each a bunch to help make a snowy scene.

Shaving cream arctic snowscape activityIf you were aiming for accuracy, you could plan in advance, find animals specific to the habitat you’re studying, and talk about the sorts of landforms you might see in the area. We just had fun putting animals in the ‘snow.’

sensory activities for preschool

Finally, we did some color mixing. Before you accuse me of insanity, you should know that I did think I’d taken leave of my senses before we were done with this. This is the sort of thing better done outside, or after you’ve covered your children with large tarps. We did neither of those things, and survived, but there was a big mess involved.

Basically, I squirted shaving cream into three cups of a half-dozen-sized muffin tin. (I bought this at the dollar store, and use it for activities exclusively. That way, my muffins don’t taste like shaving cream.) Then, we squirted food coloring into each, making them the primary colors. Here’s a helpful hint: I have no idea how you actually do this and get red. I can only imagine it would take entire bottles of food coloring. The best we could get was sort of a dark orange.

Shaving cream color mixing activity

From there, we scooped the colors together in the empty cups to make the secondary colors. This was a LOT of fun, even though our colors were a little bit off. While we did make a lovely mint green, our purple looked like brown, and our orange was not terribly distinguishable from our red.

I think if I were to do this again, I’d stop while I was ahead, let them admire the pretty colors in the muffin tin, and then rinse it out. Instead, I foolishly told the girls they could ‘paint’ with the dyed shaving cream. From there, I ended up with red-dyed skin, ruined clothes, and something close to a migraine. There are no pictures, thank goodness.

In all seriousness, we had a blast. I had all of these materials on hand, and all of it was inexpensive enough that I was more than willing to just let them do what they wanted. If you’re wary of a messy sensory activity for preschoolers, a little bit of shaving cream on a safe surface is a good place to start, and then the fun that you have – never mind the kids – will probably convince you to give something else a try.

 

Counting.

Clara, who is two, is kind of a hilarious counter. She’s got one and two pretty well down, but from there things deteriorate. Sometimes, it’s “one, two, seveneight, nine, ten.” Sometimes, it’s “one, two, rumphteen, rumphteen, twenty.” Needless to say, she’s not in charge of the family finances.

There are a variety of schools of thought when it comes to teaching counting. Math has never been my area of teaching strength or interest, so I don’t claim any expertise here other than what I’ve seen work in my own classrooms and household. I’ve taught second graders who couldn’t count, and I have a four year old who basically taught herself. The one concept I’ve held onto as essential, though, especially if you’re attempting to work with your own children, is one-to-one correspondence.

This is the idea that each object, when counted, is “one.” Thus, when counting beans, each bean is counted separately. If you’ve watched an early counter try to do this, they can get confused pretty easily. They might smoothly move beans one through five, touching each once as they count, and then count six and seven for a single bean. Alternatively, they might move two beans as they count eight. My personal opinion is that this is largely developmental. You can help a child learn to do this more efficiently and accurately, but they won’t do it entirely independently until they are ready.

counting with toddlers

Clara has watched Bethany count things, so she tries to imitate with her own methods. I started to wonder what would work well right now, since her fine motor skills are not the strongest. (Side note: yes, we are thinking about developing those, too, but sometimes it’s best just to focus on one area to prevent unnecessary frustration. If our goal is one-to-one correspondence in counting, then I don’t want to stack a fine motor activity on top of that right now. There will be time enough for that later.)

As with all such issues in the year 2013, I turned to Pinterest, and found this tutorial at The Activity Mom. Her toddler was a lot younger than Clara, but it seemed like the perfect idea.

helping toddlers count

However, I didn’t have any cool plastic balls, and I don’t leave anywhere near the dollar store, so I improvised with what I already had on hand: toilet paper rolls. I sliced them up, and put them on a piece of string tied onto our Learning Tower. If you were really thinking ahead, you could paint the pieces and make this less monochromatic.

Counting with toddlersThere are some ideas that take fifteen times longer to execute than they will actually be used. This is the opposite of that. It took me about fifteen seconds to put it together, and Clara went back to it repeatedly over the course of the evening. It’s also easy enough to remove and put back up as she’s interested in it. I’ll be honest: the best part was Bethany’s excitement when Clara actually moved one piece at a time to count it. :)

For the future, I’m thinking that Cheerios or rigatoni on a thinner string might be a good fine motor activity, and we could put enough of either on the “abacus” that Bethany could practice counting past twenty. I’ll update when we give that a try and let you know how it goes.

And, as we finish 2013, I’d like to thank those of you who stop by to see what we’re reading and making. I’m excited to see what 2014 brings! Happy New Year!

 

Snow Day!

Because I am kind of a goose, I looked at my phone over the weekend and saw that snow was forecast for this week. My excitement was short-lived, when my husband pointed out that I was looking at the forecast for Asheville, not Atlanta.

It did make me think of some of our favorite snow books, and convince me to give a Pinterest craft idea a try. So, we’re just going to pretend today is a snow day. By the way – my apologies to those of you who live in places where snow is a nuisance and a threat, not a once-every-two-years source of excitement. This post might not seem quite as fun to you.

First up, our favorite snowy book:

children's book about snow

Kazuno Kohara (author of one of my favorite Halloween books) wrote and illustrated [amazon text=Here Comes Jack Frost&asin=0312604467], which is best described as a delightful romp through the snow, as cheesy as that may sound. Jack Frost, the personification of frost and ice, teases his human playmate, and they chase each other through a snowy scene until the first mention of springtime warmth. Then, Jack Frost disappears, promising in a whisper of the wind to return the following winter. The book is just plain fun to read, and the playful language really attracts the young readers in this house.

Kohara illustrated the book solely in shades of blue and white, which makes the perfect segue to today’s craft activity. If your children or students are a bit older, they could even use this activity to create art pieces based upon the illustrations in the book.

winter sensory activity for kids

To continue our little adventure in the snow, we made snow paint. For our recipe, we used this tutorial at Growing a Jeweled Rose.  We mixed white glue and shaving cream (the el cheapo variety), and then added white glitter. However, in the future, I think I might just forget the glitter, because even though we added a ton, you couldn’t really see it while we painted.

winter sensory activity for kids

Once we had the paint all mixed, we used paint brushes to paint on blue paper. This was a TOTAL hit, and a very calm post-dinner activity. I was impressed with how easily the girls adapted to the stickiness of the snow paint. Also, unlike the tutorial I used for inspiration, the girls were far more interested in the process of painting with it than in actually creating a snowman or snow scene. We just rolled with it, and they had fun experimenting with the paintbrushes, their hands, and a spoon to get the snow paint onto their papers.

winter sensory activity for kids

One of the neat things about the snow paint is that it dries somewhat like puffy paint. Very soon after you apply it to the paper, the glue starts to form a sort of ‘skin’ over the shaving cream, and you can touch it without anything sticking to your hands. After about an hour or so, you can actually smoosh the paint a bit and it will spring back. I think it goes without saying that the girls thought this was amazing.

If you’d like to continue your snow day with some more great reading, here are two more of our favorites.

books about snow and winter

I have never been a fox in the snowy woods, but I wonder if Tejima, author/illustrator of [amazon text=Fox’s Dream&asin=0590451049] actually has been. The amazing woodblock prints are enough of a reason to read this book, and the story makes it even more beautiful. The plot is fairly simple, in that the lonely fox dreams about some sort of companion, sees some semblance of this dream in the icy woods, and then meets a real-life version by story’s end. However, for young children, it’s a relatable way to describe the human experience. (I’m not exaggerating – it’s an encapsulated existential dilemma that resonates with preschoolers.) If you can find this, read it! You’ll be enchanted.

children's books about snow

And I’d be fired as a book blogger if I didn’t mean the ultimate classic in snow books: Ezra Jack Keats’ [amazon text=The Snowy Day&asin=0140501827]. Every child on the planet should read this book. Young Peter makes his way outside to explore in the snow, and has all sorts of adventures alone and with a friend. He tries to keep a snowball in his pocket, and faces the unfortunate consequences of taking that snowball into a warm house. Ezra Jack Keats obviously remembered what it was like to be a young child, and innately understood how to communicate that feeling in words and pictures. You read this book, and feel like you’re walking along with Peter, watching your footprints appear in the snow.

Frankly, some good books and a fun time snow painting made our pretend snow day pretty great – and it was a lot easier than having to shovel the driveway.

{The book links above provide a tiny bit of compensation to Read It, Make It! if you make a purchase through them. Thanks!}