Sunday, June 28, 2015

John the Baptist's Life in Food and Water Balloon Games? You Bet!

John the Baptist in Food and Water Balloon Games

Three years ago, I recommitted to celebrating our family's Name Days and Baptism Anniversaries.  This year, our local Catholic homeschool community committed to celebrating at least one saint day a month together.  This past week, those two commitments converged and what resulted was a fun, faith-filled party!

I had planned for our group John the Baptist party to proceed, in order, with:

  • an opening prayer
  • a picture book and chat about St. John the Baptist
  • a hands-on Baptism learning tray
  • snacks
  • water balloon fun
  • free play 

However, hungry bellies demanded flexibility in the flow of the day.  Since the Saint Day celebration began right after an outdoor rocketry class that had gone a bit long, it made sense to kick off with food first.

John the Baptist Fare

We opened the celebration with a chat about John the Baptist using food as a teaching tool.  Basically, all the children gathered around a picnic table on which our party fare was laid out and, after praying the Sign of the Cross, I wondered aloud what connection some of our snacks might have to John the Baptist.  Based on the children's responses and some Q&A led by me, we were able to highlight some of John the Baptist's life story.

Among the John the Baptist-related fare were:

St. John's Honey and Fruit of the Spirit

John the Baptist is said to have eaten wild honey and locusts in the wilderness, so I brought raw local honey to put in a bowl and some fruits for dipping in it.  I asked others to contribute fruit, too.  With these as a focal point, we chatted about how John the Baptist lived in the wilderness and how, when he began to teach and baptize people, others thought that, perhaps, he was the Messiah.  However, John said, "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit..." (John 3:16)  We, then, talked a bit about modern baptism,

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Iced Honey-Lavendar-Lemon Tea

Nina helped me prepare a simple honey-lavender-lemon tea by boiling water, squeezing lemons, and then adding the juice of the lemons, some raw, local honey and lavendar to the tea, before refrigerating and icing it.  The honey reminded us of John the Baptist's diet and the sweetness of faith; the lemon reminded us of the sourness of sin made sweet by accepting faith, repenting and practicing Reconciliation; and the sweet fragrance of lavender reminded us of the sweetness of Jesus coming to be with us on earth.  

Unfortunately, I forgot to bring our lovely glass pitcher and some pretty paper cups, so the tea would look lovely for serving.  Luckily, it was just as refreshing served from my friend's plastic pitcher into recycled baby food jars!

Jesus Being Baptized in the Jordan River Juice Wigglers

I made "John and Jesus at the Jordan" using the same juice wiggler recipe that I typically use, but sans any honey or maple syrup since the organic apple juice I chose for it was sweet enough!  (I opted for apple juice because (a) it has no dye in it the way blue drinks would and (b) the Jordan River often looks brown in pictures.)
I wanted to lay the Jesus figurine we have from our Galilee Boat with Apostles Play Set into the river, but I could not find it.  So I used one of the apostle figurines as Jesus instead and, then, stood the Noah figurine from our Noah's Ark Play Set next to him as John the Baptist.  This should have been easy, but - oops! - when I went to lay "Jesus" in what I thought was a cooled and half-gelled "Jordan" river, I took the dish of wigglers out of our fridge too quickly only to discover the Jordan was still in total liquid flow form.  Thus, a wave of it landed all over my fridge and floor.  What a mess! Thankfully, there was still plenty left to gel to act as a focal point for telling what is perhaps the most popular Bible story related to John the Baptist.

Trinity Pretzels

We had both gluten-full and gluten-free pretzels, which, I had initially thought might be used made to make "locusts" a la Catholic Cuisine's ideas.  However, when the aforementioned kitchen mishap occurred, I decided I wasn't up for more food crafting. Thus, the pretzels simply became another way of pointing us to the Trinity, just as John the Baptist pointed folks towards God.

Circle Time

Once the children filled bowls or plates with snacks, they were invited to come sit on some blankets in the shade with me where we prayed grace, read about John the Baptist and took turns using a Baptism Tray.

I had brought both The Loyola Treasury of Saints and Jesus and John the Baptist with me to the party to share with the children.  However, given the young age of some of the children who came to the celebrate, I opted to read only Jesus and John the Baptist since it had more illustrations.  

As we read, I paused often to discuss the significance of certain events within John's life.  I also opted to wrap our reading up before the final pages of the book in respect for our younger and more sensitive children.  I did not feel that some were ready to process the gruesome death John the Baptist faced, but rather concluded by saying the John the Baptist left this earthly life and entered Heaven.

After the story, I brought out a Baptism Learning Tray.  It was absolutely beautiful to see how engaged the children - young and older - were in the presentation I gave, which was quite similar to the one I offered my own children when I first put together a tray like this in 2013.  It was equally as heart-warming to witness each child take such care in baptizing our "baby", who they collectively named Jeffrey Andrew John Jesus.

John the Baptist's Life in Water Balloon Games

Finally, it was time for the water balloon games that the children had waited so patiently for as all our balloons were filled!  Each game was designed to remind the children of a part of John the Baptist's life story.

Mute Like John's Dad

Before the first game, I asked the children if they recalled who John the Baptist's parents were - Zacharias and Elizabeth.  We recalled how an angel appeared to Zacharias and told him that Elizabeth would have a son and that they must call him John, how Zacharias thought his wife was too old to conceive a child, and how Zacharias then was struck dumb until after John's birth.  In memory of the birth of the conception of John, the children were challenged to move water balloons from one bucket to another, making sure each child touched each balloon and not talking at all

That done with relative ease, they then were challenged to move the balloons back to the initial bucket without using their voices or their hands!
Leaping in the Womb

Before our next game, the children recalled the story of the Visitation.  We talked about how John and Jesus were cousins and how when Mary, withchild with Jesus, and Elizabeth, carrying John, met, John lept in Elizabeth's womb.

To recall this story, the children were challenged to hop, with a water balloon betwixt their knees, as fast as they could.

Two Tunics

For our third game, we recalled how John the Baptist was a great teacher who pointed the way toward Jesus.  We remembered how he said, "Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." (John 3:11)

Then, in teams, we attempted to toss and catch water balloons using large tee shirts.  It was so much fun!

Baptism with Water

Finally, we discussed again how John the Baptist baptized people in water while Jesus came to baptize us in the Spirit.  In honor of this, we had a free-for-all balloon baptism battle!

After that, the fellowship, fun and water play continued.

What a fun event it was!  Perhaps something we enjoyed will inspire a future faith-based event for you and yours.

What are some of your favorite John the Baptist books, activities, games and resources?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Paint (Collage) and Read: Matisse

Paint (Collage) and Read: Matisse 

Who does not love color?  Lots of color!  We certainly do and, right now, our hallway is bursting with it.

Paint (Collage) and Read: Matisse
I love all the children's art so much that I am having a difficult time taking it down, so I just keep adding more to our hallway gallery.

Alongside the children's Picasso- and Kadinsky- inspired works are ones inspired by Matisse, Monet and more.  The Matisse ones include both collages and paintings since we've explored Matisse twice this year.

Collaging Time...

Paint (Collage) and Read: Matisse
Jack's color choices show his love for orange and precious metal "treasure" colors.

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Earlier this year, the children and I were introduced to Henri Matisse during a library Art Adventures program.  There, the children listened to Henri's Scissors, viewed print outs of some of Matisse's art, chatted about the artist and his style, made collages and read The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse.  

Paint (Collage) and Read: Matisse
Luke was asked to read  The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse to his siblings and others once collaging had been finished.

The collages were inspired by Matisse's "painting with scissors" style.  After illness caused Matisse to be confined to a wheelchair, he took to making cut-outs of papers that had previously been painted by his assistants.  Matisse directed his assistants to arrange these cut-outs in bold, bright, eye-pleasing - and sometimes huge! -  compositions that he envisioned.

Paint (Collage) and Read: Matisse
Matisse used cut-outs to create vibrant "outdoor" scenes to surround himself in during his confinement.  Nina followed suit by creating a warm sunny day on what was actually a quite brisk, snowy one!

The library program lasted only about an hour and was one that could easily be replicated by any family, playgroup or co-op. Plus - bonus - collaging projects are inexpensive, open-ended and can likely be done with materials that you may already have at home:  construction paper, interestingly-shaped and textured paper scraps, scissors and glue!

Paint (Collage) and Read: Matisse
Luke explored abstract shapes, contrasting colors and varied textures with his collage.

Painting Time...

Paint (Collage) and Read: Matisse
Warmth and joy emanate from Nina's abstract Matisse-inspired work!

A couple months after the children enjoyed the Matisse-inspired collaging experience, Luke and Nina tried their hands at another Matisse-inspired work during a painting class taught by a friend of mine.

Matisse was inspired by impressionists and launched a new style of painting called fauvism, in which unnatural colors and bold brush strokes are used, often to express emotion.  Matisse, an abstract modern art, also explored the use of negative space.

Paint (Collage) and Read: Matisse
Nina had picked her bright, happy palette and stickers and was awaiting the "go" signal to paint.

Modeling after Matisse, the children were encouraged to use unnatural colors directly from the tube and to paint in an abstract way using distinct negative space. To do this, each child was asked to think of an emotion and, then, to paint an image on a paper canvas which was previously lined with masking tape that would later be peeled off to create negative space.  Foam stickers were also available so the children could add these to their paintings to make interesting shapes of positive or negative space.
Paint (Collage) and Read: Matisse
Luke ignored the fact that there was tape on his paper as he painted an impression of Minecraft right over it.

Luke chose not to use any stickers and went for an impression of Minecraft in bright greens and blues, contrasting with blacks and browns.

Paint (Collage) and Read: Matisse
Luke's piece looked a lot different in the making than it did once the tape was taken off and the abstract, negative space aspects came into play.

Nina's artwork was quite different than her brother's.  In fact, each child's work was completely unique, which is something I appreciated about the class our friend Sandy led.  While the styles of the masters were introduced and basic techniques were taught, there were no cookie cutter projects there.  Experimentation and personal creativity were embraced.  

Paint (Collage) and Read: Matisse
I found it interesting that Nina chose to paint around her tape first and then to continue on with her artwork while Luke had simply painted right over his tape.

Nina's mood on the day she painted like Matisse was reflected in the bright, happy colors and stickers that she chose to work with.  Her artistic choice was encouraged and she opted to leave the stickers she had attached to her painting on it as another joy-filled layer of texture in her work.

Reading Time...

Paint (Collage) and Read: Matisse
Luke has mastered reading well enough to be asked to read to others at a library program, but he has not mastered reading while turning pages and holding a book forward for peers to see.  I ended up having to help him hold the book open so everyone could see the beautiful illustrations.  We thought it appropriate that I assisted him, just as Matisse had assistants with the production of his later works of art.

After we were introduced to Matisse at the library program, we took out a couple books about him.  We revisited these and took our a few more titles after the painting class my friend taught.  Among our favorites were:

Many may have heard how Matisse "painted with scissors".  But, did you know he painted with light as well and that he did so for a chapel in France?  I did not until I read Matisse the King of Color, which became my favorite Matisse-related picture book. 

Matisse the King of Color chronicles the true story of a friendship that bloomed between a young nurse named Monique and her elderly patient Matisse, which ultimately resulted in the construction of a chapel at Vence, a place of worship in southern France known for its brilliant stained-glass windows which were designed by Matisse.  

Part biography, part story of friendship and part testimony to the striking evolution of Matisse's work, through illness and into his final years, this picture book engages as much as it inspires.  Bright, cheerful illustrations which draw heavily from Matisse's own collages, illustrations, and paintings draw the readers eye.  A touching story of friendship  and the healing powers of creativity keep the pages turning.  Art.  Relationships.  Service.  Faith.  They all play a part in this pleasingly crafted picture book.

Colorful Dreamer: The Story of Artist Henri Matisse was another fast favorite.   We all enjoyed its visual richness as it depicted Henri Matisse's dreary reality in pencil shares of black, gray, and white contrasted with the vivid works of his imagination in striking, full-color collage, paint, and pencil.  We also appreciated how the lyrical text of the story encouraged readers, like Matisse, to never give up on their dreams. 

In the book, readers learned how Matisse's parents expected him to learn a trade when he grew up, how being a law clerk bored him, and how he continued to dream of a colorful, exciting life.  His dreams came true.  When Matisse started painting and working at his craft of creativity, he overcame his boredom, persisted through hardships, and became one of the most admired and famous artists in the world.  In doing so, he proved that it is never too late to embrace one's calling and find happiness!

Henri's Scissors was the first book we heard about Henri Matisse and is one that we all quite enjoy.  This book summarizes Matisse's early life, and, then, explodes with vibrant color as it spotlights Matisse's "second life", when old and ill, he found great joy in "painting with scissors" through collaging with shapes cut from brightly-colored paper and transforming his sick room into a mystical garden filled with flowers and birds.

Simple text sprinkled with quotes from Matisse himself and clever, eye-capturing design are hallmarks of this book as it depicts how Matisse's work continued to evolve until the day he left this world.  Sensitive, moving and inspirational, the story is a keeper!

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse was the title that Luke was asked to read to peers at the library.  The illustrations are a beautiful combination of line-drawings, color, and texture within a printmaking style.  The poetic text describes how Matisse, though raised in rather dreary surroundings, found inspiration in his mother's painted plates, fabric weavings and the movement of birds. 

The book tends to wonder more than it authoritatively tells about Matisse's life, which makes it a strong choice for balancing more straight-forward biographies.  Readers come away impacted by the hues, patterns, and iridescence that inspire Matisse's creativity.  It is definitely a book that leans more towards exploring natural and nurtured creative art than towards learning specifics about an artist.  And it is lovely.


Of course, there are many more Matisse books we have yet to enjoy!  I have no doubt we will be revisiting this child-friendly artist again and pouring over some of these then:


Visit other posts in this series:

Who are some of your favorite artists to explore with kids?  What favorite books have you read together about them?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Check Out This Flexible, Fabulous (and Vetted!) Library Collection of Streaming Media {A SmartKidz Media Review}

There are times in life -- especially in homeschooling life -- when you want something engaging, educational and independent for your children to enjoy.  That is just what SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers by SmartKidz Media has been for us!  We received a full year's subscription to this pre-vetted, online streaming digital media library in exchange for an honest review.  It sure has been a blessing for us so far!

Why We Chose SmartKidz Media

Between my husband's sometimes odd work schedule, my own work hours as a tutor, the need for our house to get some much needed attention and a desire to have occasional chill time, there are moments in our family's lives when I simply seek something that all three of our children can enjoy quietly without the need for me being right next to them.   Since we do not have television services, nor own any handheld devices, and since we keep tabs on computer-use, when my children are set free with screen time, it is a big deal for them.  Thus, often, when I seek relatively still, quiet, yet engaged activities for the kiddoes, screentime comes into play. 

I prefer the children's screentime to have value beyond just "babysitting" or brain candy.  So, I was excited when we were given a chance to review the SmartKidz Media Library for HomeschoolersIt includes a huge array of online streaming digital media offerings under such headings as:

  • Animals & Wildlife Collections
  • Documentaries & Culture Collections
  • Health & Fitness
  • History Titles
  • Lifestyles & Cuisine
  • Science
  • Travel & Adventure: World Wide Discovery Collections
  • Cooking Instruction
  • Classical Music Collections
  • Cultural Music Collections
  • Cultural Music: Vol 2
  • Jazz and Blues Classics Collections
  • Relaxation Music Collections
  • Mighty E-Book Collection
  • Sign Language Collection
  • Special Needs Learning
  • Living Skills
  • Singing
  • Fun Zone

In short, the SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers
is an ever-growing library of on-demand, streaming media that can inspire or enhance learning endeavors and can be used on almost any multi-media device (computers, tablets, smart phones and other mobile devices) that are capable of runnng Flash version 10.2 or higher.

SmartKidz Media:A Perfect Fit for Us for Now and for the Coming Academic Year

When we received our log-in information for SmartKidz Media, logging in was a breeze. I gained access to the media collection within minutes and began browsing it to see all it had to offer - videos, study guides and more!

I was delighted to see the music and fine art selections, which I previewed and intend to use in the fall when we begin a new Art-Music-Poetry study with a friend.  There are lovely audio selections from classic composers and beautiful visual montages of the works of famous artists.

I was also happy to see the quick-find study guides, which are jam-packed with facts,examples and helps on a huge variety of academic subjects.  I am recommending
SmartKidz Media
to a tutoring student of mine that I think will enjoy it as a whole, and, in particular, find this section helpful.  I also am planning to direct my oldest to this section of the collection more in the fall when we refocus on traditional, subject-based learning skills.

When the weather cools again, I think the family fitness videos will be fun to check out, too!

But, enough about what I have plans for doing in the future,  What about what we have been doing now?
I thought as I continued browsing the site.  Might there be information connecting to turtles, whales, rocketry or any of the other topics we've been enjoying field trips and experiential learning with?  It was not as easy as I had hoped to find this out.  On the site, I could find no easy search box for topics included within the collection nor could I find any material on, say, turtles, while navigating through the different sections of the site.  I did, however, find navigation easy.  On the site, there is an organized header index strip as well as many click-through images to make navigation a breeze.  In fact, it was these things that ended my introduction to SmartKidz Media and began my children's forays into it!  

When my children saw me clicking around the different SmartKidz Media sections, they wanted a go at things. and, well, since then, I admit, my kids have used SmartKidz Media without me more than they have with me.  To me, this  is a win! 

I just love how
SmartKidz Media offers me a chance to concentrate on other things, happily satisfied that my children are safely engaged in enjoyable, entertaining learning of their choice that they an seek and use independently!

I also am thrilled with what my children have to say about SmartKidz MediaLuke, nine, just told me:

I really liked their Mysteries from Ancient Times and Nature's Treasures videos...
 I liked their subjects like Egypt, Easter Island, Mayans, the Incans and, I especially liked how they began the first video with Atlantis.  I think it was the perfect thing to start with.  It's a mystery that leads interest into all the other mysteries...
From the Nature's Treasure videos, I really liked the way they explained everything.  For example, how copper and tin create bronze.  I chose these videos first because of the pictures that they showed.  They looked cool.    When I clicked on them, they were cool!  I really wish they would put up ones about lesser-known gems, too. 
I also liked their Animal family videos.  they showed how it would be to be a baby of something, like a baby lion, a baby elephant and a baby polar bear.  I'd like to be a baby lion the most, because it seems the easiest.  They don't have to tunnel for the winter to hibernate.  They don't have to go get their food like some other animals do.  Their dad's are lazy and their moms get their food. 

They have videos about wars, but I wish they had ones about the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  I am excited that they are adding more media and hope they will add these!

There is SO MUCH there, it is hard to believe.  It would be good to have a type in thing where you type in and it finds what you want so you don't have to browse.  I wish my mom would let me use it even more than she does.  I would check out the war videos next!

Nina, eight, said:

I like the animal shows, like the dolphin.  (I picked it) because the dolphins looked so cute.  I learned that dolphins catch fish by driving them into the shallows near the land and then the fish jumped up on the land and the dolphins went onto the land and ate the fish.  Just one or two minutes... (We watched ones about) diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, pearls... Mom, right now, you are hitting gold.  Whenever you press a key, you are hitting gold.  Because gold is in the computer... It does not rust easily... (I want to to use it more) to check out more videos!

Her comment makes me smile as I recall bedtime chats and conversations in our mini-van that started with, "Mom, you know what...?" and continued with the children explaining facts that they'd learned while using
SmartKidz Media.  I also was amused when they would be chatting away with each other and I'd asked them where they'd heard about the things they were talking about.  SmartKidz Media!

I so appreciate anything that feeds my children's appetite for discovery and makes them bubble with smiles and energy as they discuss new ideas.  Even my youngest, Jack, four, does this with
SmartKidz Media.  For example, he has told me:

I liked elephants.  It showed elephants and said African and Asian.  They were eating, being in water...  I watched one that was showing a rhino... I want to watch more that we haven't seen!

Without question, my children will be watching more  SmartKidz Media (and I will, too!)  There is just so much there to explore out of sheer curiosity as well as with connection to the children's self-directed learning and to topics I have slated for them to enjoy during independent studies, family learning and learning projects with friends. Having used SmartKidz Media since mid-May so far, we have only scratched the surface of what is already available in the collection, and there more is being added all the time.  I am delighted that we'll have access for a full year to it all. 

With the exception of the lack of an easy topical search box, t
he SmartKidz Media Library for Homeschoolers has proven a perfect fit for our home education style, so far!  I think it could prove equally as beneficial to others, not matter what your style is:  structured, delight-directed, unschoolish, parent-directed, homeschoolers, afterschoolers, you name it.  There is so much there and the way it is presented offers complete flexibility to meet your needs.

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