Circle Times

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Empty Pot - a Story for Planting Seeds

It's gardening time in Texas.  My boys and hubby have been digging and tilling and building a garden in the back, and little starter seeds cover our kitchen table, just beginning to push their way out of the dirt.

We focused in on SEEDS for our group homeschool class this week - we looked at all kinds of seeds, did some planting, some sequencing of a plant's life cycle, some seed art...

As I was planning, I happened upon The Empty Pot - which is a great story to tell with gardening activities.  My Kinder-2nd graders were amazed at the end of this one, and they were quick to explain what they thought the story meant.  They referenced back to it several times later as we were planting or doing our seed art.  This one's a keeper.

Yes, that's a pumpkin seed stegosaurus
I simplified it a bit so that I could tell it more comfortably, but the full text can be found here at Stories to Grow By.

I use an outline just to learn stories so that I can be freed up to have some fun telling it to my group (I like to add the fun details in the moment...and there's less to memorize that way).  My outline went sort of like this:

- A great emperor in China is aging.  He wants to find a great leader to take his place when he is gone.  Someone who is honest and good.  Because he has always loved gardening (his castle is surrounded by beautiful plants!), he decides to hold a gardening contest.

- He makes a proclamation that he will give out seeds to every boy in the kingdom.  The boys will have 6 months to grow their plants and return them for judging.

- In the kingdom there is a boy, Jun, who is known for his gardening.  Everyone in his village asks to have some of his veggies and herbs.

- The day the seeds are passed out - boys come from all over the kingdom.  Jun carries his home so carefully....chooses the best pot, the finest soil, the perfect position for sunlight...

- Several weeks pass and the plant does not grow.

Transformative Storytelling...and Story Crafting! A Workshop with David Sewell McCann

I try to couch most of our lessons, at home and in class, in a good story.  At first I was intimidated by trying to memorize stories.  It has always been hard for me to memorize - poems, prose, piano pieces - memorization is hard for me!  But I notice how much more intimately a story connects with the boys when I can tell it, instead of reading it - how it comes alive and how their eyes sparkle at the telling of it - and how they remember it and refer back to it weeks and months later.   I believe in the need for kids to hear stories with no they are building those strong muscles in their minds, creating their own mental images.  More and more studies I read are stressing the importance of laying this strong foundation with kids before beginning to teach them the "decoding" part of reading.  Still, it is hard for many of us to take that leap of faith away from the picture book - we almost feel naked, telling a story with nothing in our hands!

What has helped me lately is to create a simple outline of a new story on paper, and to hightlight any key phrases that I want to keep as they are.  Going over this once or twice usually plants the story in my mind firmly enough that I can then be freed up to have some fun telling it to the children, adding any details as they come to me (I feel, in many ways, I'm still learning to create those pictures in my mind, too!)

Until a few weeks ago, that was my relationship with stories.  I liked learning good ones written by other people.  I never dreamed of creating my own.

But then our community was blessed by a rare treat - one I never imagined I could host in my own town!  David and Lisabeth Sewell McCann (creators of Sparkle Stories) were visiting and David offered this incredible storytelling workshop for the parents in our town.  Our focus for the morning was How to craft your own fairy tale.  The process was so enlightening to me and has given me courage to begin telling our boys my own tales.  So I wanted to share some of my notes from the morning...maybe you will find some good stories hiding somewhere inside you, too!

David started with a powerful story he had created for his son when he had a difficulty in school.  He told it so vividly, I saw it like a movie in my mind, and I noticed how P's active little body just melted into the pew when David started speaking.  Everyone, really, was riveted by it - several of the mamas later told me how moving it was for them, too.  When the kids went out for their play and we started our parent workshop with him, he told us about the transformation that had happened, not only in his own son, but in the entire class the next day after he told his son this story - how his son's new-found bravery helped his entire class to be brave in the face of difficulty.  When the seed of a story is planted, it can take root and grow far beyond what we imagine!   

We learned in the workshop a creative process to use when creating a story.  It's simple to remember with 4 A's:   

Friday, February 15, 2013

You Are Loved! Super Sneaky Valentine Tote Bag Adventures

We got this idea from our friends at Sparkle Stories - it was so much fun!   I'd definitely say this sometimes feminine holiday has been re-claimed for my adventuresome boys.

First, we made our "You are loved" totes out of brown craft paper and filled them with home-made valentines, cut hearts out of old watercolor paintings, fabric, yarn creations, name it.

P wanted to take his first one to our next door neighbors - So we snuck over, oh so stealthy-like, to hang her bag on her door, rang the doorbell, and ran away.

The best part was running into P's bedroom and watching, all 3 of us, through the blinds, as our neighbor came out in her front yard, found the bag, and went to show her husband (in the front yard) with a huge smile on her face as she took out all the treats.  P was watching her, kind of amazed that his little treat had brought someone so much joy, and said, "I need to make more bags!  This is fun!"

So we did.  The neighborhood was overtaken with Love Totes on Valentine's Day, from some super cunning cupids in disguise.  A couple of our neighbors (older boys) saw us and joined in the fun, too. 

The Valentine Audio Book from Sparkle had this and all kinds of good Valentine fun - I love it that it taught the boys something about giving and a lot about community.

“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”
Lao Tzu

Watching to see if treats are stealthy!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Eskimo Learning!

It is amazing who you will meet in your own neighborhood.  What first stood out to me about our friend Nicole was that she was light-years beyond me in conservation skills - in making use of things that most of us would throw away.  In not wasting a thing.

I asked her about it and she told me about growing up in an Eskimo village - stories of fishing with her dad in a kayak and seeing baleen whales swimming nearby, of ice fishing, and of preserving meats with salts.  She told me about a culture that had such respect for life, even for animals that were caught for food - a cold, fresh drink of water was offered to any animal caught for dinner - to show respect for it.  And nothing of the animal would be wasted. 

So she came to share all of this one morning with the home school kids in our neighborhood.  She brought a yo-yo made of caribou hair, rugs, jewelry made from polar bear claws, and showed how the mouth parts of a baleen whale were used as brooms.  She told some traditional eskimo tales and taught the eskimo alphabet.  It was SO interesting!

And here are the kids, all gathered round with their favorite Alaskan artifact...

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Shortest Day

One thing I love about being a mom (and now about homeschooling) is a deepening connection with the natural world, and simple observance of the seasons that I seemed to neglect before I had little people to share it with.  I love days like today, spent with good friends, out to the park with no agenda but letting the kids play in streams, ponds, and on trees.  And how the kids thrive in that environment, how they are so nice to be around.  And how the mamas can relax.  And how I come home from those days feeling like I went for an expensive massage.

The kids feel it just as much as I do - there is certainly some healing there, some deep restoration, and a feeling that maybe God designed all these things to bless us (and that maybe we are missing out on the fullness of life when we are stuck indoors under our fake lights and surrounded by fake textures.)  My mama-friend and I were talking today about how we are just as excited as the kids are to get outside, to learn about the seasons, the phases of the moon, the reason for the shape of a bird's beak, or how caterpillars become butterflies.  All that is infinitely miraculous (to me, just as much as the kids) and I just might never get tired of learning about it. 

Today was winter solstice - we've been noticing the shortened days and how our shadows are crazy long (which makes for some mean games of shadow tag!)  And today we celebrated the shortest day of the year by spending almost all of it outdoors, soaking up the beauty.  We brought hot cider and cocoa, picnic lunches, and it was fantastic.  I needed this day, the slowness of it, the good conversations, the ease of just sitting back and watching the kids explore in their element!

Ultimate Jungle Gym

running water!  (translate, "time to build a dam!")
sipping hot solstice cider

Relaxing with my snugglebug

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday Crafting - Salt Dough Ornaments and Orange Clove Pomanders

The holidays lend themselves so well to great textures and aromas, and wonderfully messy, smelly, sensory art projects.  These projects were especially nice because the kids (all Kinder-2nd graders) could do them almost entirely independently - even measuring and mixing dough themselves for some real-life math.

One recipe worth sharing is for
Salt Dough Ornaments:

1.  Mix equal parts All-Purpose Flour and Salt, then gradually add water, stirring, until the mixture is pliable like play-dough.

2.  Roll and cut the dough with cookie cutters, putting a hole in each one using a drinking straw (You'll thread a ribbon here later for hanging.)

3.  Bake the ornaments at 200 degrees for 3 hours.  This will dry them and prevent them from becoming a moldy science experiment :)

4. Paint!  We used watercolors, then followed up with watered down glue and glitter.  Beautiful!
completed ornaments!
The second project you see at the bottom of this page is one of my favorites from childhood - and orange clove pomander.  These smell so lovely, and the orange oil and cloves work together to preserve this ornament so it will last for about a month, adding some nice, natural potpourri in your home or car. 

The instructions for the orange - clove ornament can be found here at Entirely Smitten.

The cloves push in so easily, the kids did not need toothpicks or any help from grown ups (except to tie the ribbons.)  These make beautiful homemade gifts (even with the quirky clove-face-smiles that all my kids seem to add to theirs!) 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Give Gifts in Secret! A Saint Nicholas Day Tradition

I want my boys to know Saint Nicholas' story because it such a powerful picture of transformation and generosity.  A wealthy and powerful man who could have easily lived a life of ease -  but who chose, instead, to serve God by giving away all of his wealth to those he saw in need around him.  There are so many good stories from his life to share.

Here are some of the activities and resources we found for our Saint Nick Day fun:

  • This year the boys set out their shoes the night before our celebration in hopes of a visitor in the night.  There was a little wooden puzzle car and old fashioned taffy and Christmas coins waiting for each.  They were so excited about this, and it certainly made the story come alive for them.   (It also bought me 30 minutes of extra rest, as they were happily chattering with one another in the living room that morning!)

  • We started our day by lighting a candle and telling the story of Saint Nicholas and the 3 young girls.  I love this version of the story, called The Good Secret.  There are a host of other options for classroom use on the same website, here. We also have a book we've enjoyed for many years which has beautiful pictures - called
  • Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend

  • These are some nice Saint Nicholas coloring pages available for you to print at home.  My boys colored while I told them the story above.

  • Bake Saint Nicholas Cookies!  There are many traditional recipes.  I went with standard gingerbread, cut simple outlines of hearts, houses, and Saint Nicholas himself and the boys used red and white icing to decorate.  There are actual Saint Nicholas Day cookie cutters to make this even easier, or, in a pinch, you can use a knife to trim the dough into Saint Nicholas shapes.  (The "Small Nick" design here is a simple one for kids to decorate.)