In the Kitchen with Sarah Hart

“In the Kitchen” is a series celebrating the family table––the food we eat, the spaces we inhabit, and the people with whom we share it all. Each edition welcomes a new voice to this conversation on kitchen life and food, and today, I welcome Sarah Hart, the talented every-woman behind the Home is Where the Hart Is  Instagram and blog. Sarah is the mother of four boys in the suburbs of New York City, who appreciates the kitchen for the solitude it offers as much as the family togetherness. Her kitchen is a touchpoint to the past and also a place to enjoy holiday crafts, which she’s sharing with us today. Welcome, Sarah!


Spending time in the kitchen during the holidays is one of my most favorite things, especially when the kids are involved. The smells, the twinkly lights, the greens and holiday tunes playing in the background make for a cozy spot to create wonderful holiday memories and traditions.  Because I love the holidays so much, I don’t stop at the Christmas tree when decorating our home.  Instead, I like to add little touches throughout our entire home, especially in the kitchen since it’s where I spend the majority of my time.  Little touches like old Santa mugs that belonged to my grandmother and our elf Chippy really add some cheer to the space.

One of my favorite simple ways to decorate is by drying orange slices in the oven and using them for garland or ornaments.  I usually hang the oranges somewhere in the kitchen, but this year I decided to add them to the garland that surrounds our front door and used the leftovers for ornaments on the tree.  The great thing about these dried oranges is that they will usually last you more than one year if you store them in an air-tight container.

In the Kitchen with Sarah HartIn the Kitchen with Sarah Hart

I have a confession to make before I share this “recipe” with you: as much as I enjoying spending time in the kitchen with my boys, sometimes that time isn’t always the most relaxing. There’s often bickering about who gets to crack the egg or who’s turn it is to stir.  There’s also often a lot of mess, which is totally fine, don’t get me wrong, but it’s nice to have a kitchen activity we can ALL participate in without fighting or tears, and that won’t end with me cleaning flour off the ceiling.  Just make some hot chocolate for back up in case anyone is feeling a little Scrooge-y.

In the Kitchen with Sarah HartIn the Kitchen with Sarah Hart

OVEN-DRIED ORANGE SLICES

I found this recipe from Martha Stewart (who else) years ago that I use as a guideline:

1 navel orange

1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with a nonstick baking mat.  Top with orange slices in a single layer, and generously dust with sugar.  Bake until the peels are dry and the flesh is translucent, about 2 1/2 hours.

Just a few notes here:  I use whatever oranges I have sitting on my counter leftover from my Thanksgiving turkey prep.  Sometimes I line my baking sheets, sometimes I don’t.  I have never dusted them with sugar, but they still look beautiful to me when they come out of the oven.  Also, I find I need to bake them for closer to 4 hours to get them the way I really like them.  But like I said, you can use this recipe as a guideline.  A helpful tip though: let the oranges sit out on the counter for a day or two after they come out of the oven so they can harden up a bit, then you can simply string them up with some twine or ribbon, or insert ornament hooks directly through the flesh for hanging.

Whether hanging from your kitchen window or on your tree, strung up around your front door or displayed in a pretty jar, these oranges are just so festive and cheerful to me.  As pretty as they are though, it’s the tradition behind them and the process of making them with my family that really makes them so special.  Happy Holidays!
In the Kitchen with Sarah HartIn the Kitchen with Sarah Hart


All images and words by Sarah Hart for Cloistered Away. You can find more from Sarah on Instagram @homeiswherethehartis and her blog Home is Where the Hart Is. Thank you, Sarah!

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The Advent season has arrived, and with it so many favorite things: carol-singing, beeswax candles, tree trimming, hot chocolate, Christmas cards, afternoon tea and read aloud, baking, and of course gift-giving. Last year, I created a gift guide for the homeschool that has been requested several times again this season. For new readers, I suggest you begin there, as this list feels like more of an extension of the first. I also articulate some of our gift-giving philosophy in the last post, which might be also be helpful. In short, we purposefully select gifts that fit our family budget, home, and lifestyle. Read: minimal. We tend toward beautiful, well-made tools, toys, and resources that encourage ingenuity and creativity, and those which can also be passed down or gifted to someone else when we outgrow them. When our budget is tighter or when we want to avoid more things at home, Mark and I have often gifted experiences. I referenced several experiences in last year’s gift list if that is where your own family fits best.

Naturally, this guide isn’t exclusive to homeschoolers, nor is it exclusive to Christmas. Here, I have gathered a list of things we currently love or things we’re interested in for our own home. You’ll find it loosely categorized by interests, including gifts for a broad spectrum of ages, preschool to teen. This list, dear readers, is my gift to you this season, as it has taken many hours to gather. I hope it is helpful to you, a gentle guide in a sometimes stressful part of this season.  Merry Christmas!


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[ YOUNG ARTISTS + BUSYBODIES ]

1. Wood Multiplication Ring | 2. Indoor Outdoor Toddler Swing | 3. Wood Working with Children | 4. Wood Carving Tools + Knife Kit | 5. Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors | 6. Camera Obscura Kit | 7. Sarah’s Silks Play Streamer + Play Silks (not numbered) | 8. The Art of Tinkering  | 9. NUN Studio Doll Kits and Pattern Books | 10. Hedgehog’s Filled Sewing Box (or an empty one to fill) | 11. Stick-Lets Mega Fort Kit | 12. Wood Peg People | 13. Kikkerland Animal Multi Tool | 14. Lyra Rembrandt Watercolor Pencils | 15. Fair Trade Peruvian Hand Drum 16. Makedo Cardboard Tool Kit

christmas_homeschool_gift_list_2016_young_naturalist[ YOUNG NATURALISTS ]

17. Bug Bingo (also Bird Bingo and Dog Bingo) | 18. Student Insect Collecting + Mounting Kit | 19. A Child’s Introduction to the Night Sky | 20. Wood Microscope | 21.  Animal Tracks Casting Kit  (not numbered) | 22. The Year in Bloom 2017 Calendar Kit | 23. Sturdy Stilts | 24. Play the Forest Way  | 25. Listen to the Birds: An Introduction to Classical Music | 26. Moon Phases Wall Hanging | 27. Travel Telescope | 28. Flower Press Kit | 29.  John Muir Wilderness Essays | 30. Compact Kids Binoculars  | 31. 59 Illustrated National Parks | 32. Natural World: A Visual Compendium of Wonders from Nature | 33. Audubon Society Field Guides 

 

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 [ YOUNG ENGINEERS + SCIENTISTS ]

34. Mechanica | 35. mini 3D printer | 36. Morse Code Kit | 37. Wood Go Cart Kit | 38. Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World  | 39. Aristotle’s Number Puzzle | 40. MEL Chemistry Experiment Subscription | 41. Rosie Revere Engineer | 42. 52 Amazing Science Experiments cards | 43. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind | 44. Block + Tackle Wood Pulley | 45. Da Vinci Catapult Kit  (or the Ornithopiter Kit) | 46. Tegu Magnetic Wood Block Set | 47. Grimm’s Nature Inspired Math Cards | 48. Leonardo Sticks | 49. The Story of Buildings

christmas_homeschool_gift_list_2016_young_techie_inventor[ YOUNG TECHIES + INVENTORS ]

50. How to Code in 10 Easy Lessons | 51. Who Was Thomas Alva Edison? (or other book from the series) | 52. Kano Computer Kit | 53. Seedling Design Your Own Headphones ( also the punk rock version) | 54. Dover’s Great Inventors and Inventions Coloring Book | 55. Digital Microscope and Camera | 56. Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: First Computer Programmer | 57. Kindle Fire Kids Edition | 58. Osmo Coding | 59. Sphero SPRK + STEAM Educational Robot | 60. GoPro Hero | 61. littleBits Electronic Base Kit | 62. First Computer Patent poster | 63. The Inventor’s Notebook

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[ YOUNG FOODIES + WRITERS ]

64. The Forest Feast for Kids | 65. Water Garden Fish Tank | 66. Williams Sonoma Junior Chef Set | 67. Camden Rose Tabletop Play Kitchen | 68. Food Anatomy | 69. Lyra Ferby Pencils | 70. The Foodie Teen | 71. Odette Williams Pinstripe Linen Child’s Apron Set | 72. Solid Wood Tea Set | 73. Opinel Le PetitChef Set  | 74. How to Be a Blogger and Vlogger in 10 Easy Steps | 75. Tombow Brush Pen (or in assorted colors) | 76. Kindle for Kids | 77. Olive Wood Mortar and Pestle | 78. I Am Story | 79. Handlettering 101 | 80. Cursive Alphabet Tracing Board | 81. Rory’s Story Cubes | 82. Woodland Pencils | 83. Leap Write In! | 84. Spilling Ink

 
doing_less_homeschooling-2a simple path to nature studyEach afternoon, indoors or outdoors depending on the weather, I read aloud with the kids, while they flip through nature books, illustrate and paint. We’ve always had a simple approach to our study and enjoyment of nature, beginning with simply playing [and hiking and camping] outdoors when they were young. I use the term study loosely here since we aren’t often researching Latin names or classifications of plants and animals, although my oldest three have done so more as they grow, simply from their curiosity. For now, the primary focus of this time is merely to learn to pay attention to the world around them, to observe details in the things and places we experience, and even the illustrations we notice in a book.

Children can craft their own exploration through well-illustrated books just as well as they can in the outdoors, so I try to leave a variety of well-illustrated nature books available on the table for them to thumb through whenever. Ideally, these books compliment their outdoor time, even if they aren’t exactly the same in content and timing.  Together we might talk about a certain animal or ecosystem as they pop up in our stories or research something new we find outdoors, but for the most part I encourage freedom and curiosity in their nature studies, both indoors and out. I simply ask them to choose something that interests them, sketch it as best they can, and add color. For the older ones, I encourage more labeling, but for Olive, who tends to grow frustrated that she can’t draw as well as her older siblings, I simply encourage her observation and drawing skills.

For young children, I’ve also noticed drawing is far less intimidating when sketching from a book than trying to sketch a living thing, so I also keep a variety of drawing books around to help encourage them to notice the elements of shape in illustrations. A how-to on one bird will easily translate to another. A cat might have the same shape as a fox with different details. Sketching one leaf, will help you sketch another. And so on. Notice and alter the details, I encourage.

We haven’t ever kept a nature journal in the traditional sense, although I admire those who do. For now, notebook-ing is an easier commitment and process for us. After their artwork has dried, we simply slip it into a page protector in a binder to preserve it. Naturally, their notebooks also reflect their whim––opposed to a more orderly and processed study––revealing a starfish on one page and a rabbit on the next. But I’m okay with this right now, as it fits into our day in a less stressful way, giving exposure to a variety of living things perhaps they’ll order in later years.

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For those of you interested in beautiful resources, here are some of the ones we are using and enjoying in our home, often in those afternoon table scenes I share on Instagram:

DRAWING + JOURNALING REFERENCES /

Draw Write Now series (for young children) 

Drawing With Children (teaching parents to teach their children to draw)

The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling  (for older children and adults)

Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You (for older children and adults) 

The Curious Nature Guide: Explore the Natural Wonders All Around You (wonderful for cultivating simple connections to nature from home)

ILLUSTRATED BOOKS /

Nature Anatomy

Farm Anatomy

Animalium

Natural World: A Visual Compendium of Wonders from Nature

Botanicum (pre-ordered and so excited to add to our study of plant life)

Nature’s Day: Discover the World of Wonder On Your Doorstep (wonderful for younger children) 

REFERENCES FOR PARENTS

Last Child in the Woods (re-reading this now; so good)

Play the Forest School Way (a wonderful resource of playful activities with nature, geared toward ages 4-11)

Wild + Free (their monthly bundles always include a beautiful section for nature study by Kristin Rogers)

The Handbook of Nature Study (intimidating in size and text, but a great reference for older children and adults)

SUPPLIES

LYRA Rembrandt Polycolor pencils

Stockmar primary watercolors

110# cardstock paper (cheaper than watercolor paper)

1″ recycled binder 

page protectors

doing_less_homeschooling-5doing_less_homeschooling-3 I have a personal drive and eagerness to try and do everything, and of course also to do it perfectly (some of which I wrote about here). It is our cultural assumption that more is always better, that quality and quantity can pleasantly co-exist. And perhaps in some instances they can. That is not my story. More often, doing more things taught me how to skim well, how to cut corners and brush over details. Sometimes that type of learning or living is necessary and fine, but this was the whole of my living. And after while, the lack of balance left me wanting and exhausted, even at times, isolated from my own need.

How does one ever do it all? Sitting just outside my back door, I watch the leaves break loose and float through the sky. How frustrated the trees would be if they tried to accomplish their annual cycle in a single season.

I mentioned on Instagram a couple of weeks ago in regards to homeschooling “what I wish I could tell my younger self again and again is: do less. You don’t have to conquer everything at once, to learn all the things in a week or a month or a year. Keep some room in your day for the unexpected, and watch how your children grow and flourish with room. And watch, Self, how you will grow, too.” I’d like to say that I live daily from this revelation, that I am always confident in what we are or are not doing, but the truer statement is I still have to encourage myself in this truth. 

I don’t have to do it all to offer my children a quality education. And neither do you. There are and will be areas of learning we skim and some we skip entirely. There will be areas that feel organic to our home culture, easy to expand on and delve into more deeply. There will be areas that I will always need and prefer a scripted path to follow (math). But in different weeks and months and years, we will have capacity to learn something different. What I can now understand on this journey is that as my children grow so does their capacity to learn. 

There is freedom in this journey for everyone to bend as each home needs it, whether your family uses a boxed curriculum or none at all. But on occasion, I begin to lose heart or soul or patience and need to reevaluate what brings quality to this journey in our home. Here are a few small thoughts that I have returned to when I have lost perspective or possibly my way: 

  • Teach your children to read as soon as possible. This may take one year or four, but in the process you will introduce them to more teachers and also show them how to learn. 
  • Open the door to nature and you will teach them about order in chaos, and also how to restore their souls.
  • Leave space in the day for them to make something with their hands–maybe a meal, a fort, a puzzle, a garden–and you will teach them about purpose the joy of creating.
  • Practice something hard daily, and you all will learn something about perseverance. 
  • Talk about all of it often.

You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to measure yourself by someone else’s standards, even your own. You simply need to look your child in the eye and listen. In response, you might offer them a book, a pencil, an encouragement, or even perhaps a door outside. When in doubt, take a gentle look into the mirror and do just the same.

handmade_gift_for_the_fall_table-5handmade_gift_for_the_fall_table-6 handmade_gift_for_the_fall_table-2handmade_gift_for_the_fall_table-4Although I love sharing and receiving gifts for special occasions, my favorite gifts are the ones shared for no reason at all. Don’t you love receiving random gifts from others? Maybe a stranger in line before you purchases your coffee or maybe a friend drops by a new candle or a neighbor leaves you a baked good. While small, these thoughtful acts can shift the course of our day. They gently remind us we’re seen.

This last weekend, my sister and I arranged bare branches, succulents, and candles across our backyard tables for Liam’s birthday, when she had the lovely idea to wrap some grasses I had purchased for our yard and use them, too. I tend to always keep some craft paper and twine around the house for these sort of ideas, and with several hands to help, we had added just the right mixture of textures to the table for early fall. These hand-wrapped plants would also be the perfect way to surprise a friend or a neighbor with a little gift for their own table this season.

The project is simple enough for the smallest of hands and the materials needed are quite simple, too: craft paper, twine, scissors, and a small plant or cutting flowers from a garden. You might also consider drafting a brief note to attach or adding a drawing/painting from your child. Discuss together with your children who might like a new plant for their table, or who might simply need a gift from a friend? These small gifts can remind us all to pay attention to those around us, especially to those around us who may need a reminder that they’re seen.

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There are a thousand thousand reasons to love this life, everyone one of them sufficient.

― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead


drawing and listening to an old Sheryl Crow CD

journaling

chopping peaches for dinner

learning to kayak

daydreaming

cleaning the kitchen together after dinner

snacking on an early summer nature walk

making salsa from our garden

sketching in the mountains

sifting through recipes in a library cookbook

sanding wood for home projects

saving seeds from our garden

playing with sparklers, talking about light in darkness

reading and listening to books

writing a play and creating characters for it

reading in a hammock


I realize most everyone in the northern hemisphere has begun their fall routine and been whisked into the hubbub of pumpkins and fall leaves and school supplies. With Liam turning 13 this month, our home and time turned largely to finishing home projects and preparing to celebrate this life-transition for him. As a result my homeschool posts have lagged a bit, although honestly I’m still piecing together what this upcoming year will look like for our family, even as we’ve already begun it. It’s comforting to remember my ducks don’t always need to be in a row to begin our school year, but I do intend to write about our goals and such very soon. For now, I need to pay tribute to our summer of learning, both formally and casually––and also resume sharing our monthly recap in images and books here.

As with many homes, our homeschool tends to take a laissez faire attitude in the summertime. Routines relax. Home projects and travel ensue. Late evenings feel inevitable. After the energy and work Springtime requires of us, it always feels welcome to shift a bit. Still our family lives together best with a little bit of structure in the summertime, a loose expectation for the day. This summer we focused on daily practice of math facts, spelling, and reading (for Olive), some of the weak spots that can easily be lost with too long of a break. The rest of the day was given to play, reading, exploring, and home projects. And probably too much to the latter part than any of us like. Below I’ve linked to the books we read, independently or together. It takes so much time to write reviews for each, so if you have any questions about any of them, let me know.

As for myself, Eligible was a fun, quick read, but if you adore the original Pride and Prejudice, you may be saddened by some of the short-comings of this modern re-telling. Although a witty premise, it sometimes seemed to try too hard. Gilead is soulful and rich. And A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is both beautifully crafted and heart-breaking, as anything written around late-1990s Chechnya might be.


BOOKS WE READ THIS SUMMER

Liam | Little Britches | The Phantom Tollbooth | Where the Red Ferm Grows | The Hiding Place | Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Fatih | Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine PactHarry Potter The Sorcer’s Stone | Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets | Harry Potter and the Prisoner of AzkabanWarriors: Rising Storm | Warriors: A Dangerous Path | Warriors: The Darkest Hour

Burke | Call It Courage | The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring | A History of the US: The New Nation | The Story of Napoleon | The Louisiana Purchase | Diary of an Early American Boy | The Life and Work of Robert Fulton | From Submarine to Steamboat | Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine PactHarry Potter The Sorcerer’s Stone  | Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets | Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban | Warriors: Rising Storm |  Warriors: A Dangerous Path | Warriors: The Darkest Hour

Blythe |  The Hobbit | Pollyanna | The Story of Napoleon | A History of the US: The New Nation | Diary of an Early American Boy | The Louisiana Purchase | The Life and Work of Robert Fulton | From Submarine to Steamboat | How to Train your Dragon | Survivors: The Empty City | I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916 | I Survived the Japanese Tsunami of 2011 |

Olive | Rapunzel |Hansel and GretelWilliam Carey: Bearer of Good News | Palace of Versailles | Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered the Egyptian Hieroglyphs | several Junie B Jones books | Frog and Toad | Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin | Lewis and Clark: Explorers of the American West | Lewis and Clark: Into the Wilderness | The Life and Work of Robert Fulton | From Submarine to Steamboat

Myself | Gilead | The Way of the Happy Woman | Skin Cleanse | Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice | Carl Sandburg: Selected Poems | A Constellation of Vital Phenomena 

Read Aloud | North! or Be Eaten | Trial and Triumph | Of Courage Undaunted | Paddle to the Sea | The Wind and the Willows (our own copy was purchased in a used book shop, but I love Ingpen’s illustrations in this one)

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Rolling beeswax candles is perhaps one of my children’s favorite activities for the home, a task that needs tending more often in the autumn and winter seasons here. Most days, rolled candles array our mantle or tabletop, ready to light whenever the mood of our home needs a little twinkle––whether a family meal or a hum-drum school day. And every Friday night, when the kids set the table for our family Sabbath meal, the candles neatly wedge between our food and plates and flowers. I keep spare sheets in our bureau near the dining table, to quickly roll in a pinch, as they also make the perfect handmade gift for a loved one, a new neighbor, or a seasonal celebration of any sort.

With a little guidance, even preschool children can help with this activity. I’ve purchased this set several times and have never had any trouble with broken sheets or brittle-ness. And of course they always smell divine. It’s a nice starter set, as it includes everything you need, but I do recommend you also purchase an extra spool of wick, as we tend to run out of the pre-packaged wick before the wax sheets. I’ve considered contacting the same company to see if they offer an option to purchase only the wax sheets, but I haven’t done so yet. It seems silly to keep purchasing the same set when we have wick already.

We usually half the large wax sheets into smaller squares, which I recommend unless you’re looking to create particularly long or wide candles. I also encourage my children to keep their fingers straight and to roll slowly like dough––gentle, but tight rolls––as they initially want to use their finger tips to push and sometimes fold the wax instead of rolling it. This has happened a couple of times, and we’ve simply massaged the wax back together into a roll.

Sometimes I prefer the tidy, smooth lines of a tapered beeswax candle, which you can purchase nearly anywhere now. If you prefer the same, especially for special holiday meals later in the season, I’ve purchased and loved these. This fall, I hope to melt and dip our own candles with the kids, a more occasional activity as it requires more time and clean-up. I would love to hear if you have any favorite beeswax sources, for sheets or lumps of wax? I’m sure other readers would like to hear, too.

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Last weekend, Olive and I built a couple of small vintage-styled poster frames together for their room. We’ve had a few Cavallini posters around our home, tightly rolled up, waiting to be hung for a while, and I finally decided to do something with them. It was such a quick and easy project, I thought I’d share it here with you, as it would be a perfect way to add some pretty visuals and freshen up your your school or play space for the new school year. Either way this project is easy enough to do with your children or during a nap time.

The supply list is minimal and inexpensive. We used pieces of scrap wood leftover from the girls’ loft bed project, but you could easily use small wood dowels, too. And although we only used one piece at the top, opting to let the poster hang freely, it’s possible for you to attach a wood piece to the bottom of the poster for a more tidy finish. I found this spool of the thin rope at the dollar store, although a sturdy baking or jute twine will work well, too. We used regular transparent tape this time which worked well-enough, but I’d recommend double-sided tape for a firmer finish, to keep the poster from dangling off of the wood.

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SUPPLIES WE USED:

  • 1 -2 wood pieces/dowels cut to the length of the poster (2, if you plan to use one at the top and bottom)
  • thin rope, jute, or sturdy baking twine for hanging
  • double-sided transparent tape
  • a drill
  • measuring tape (optional)
  • poster
  • pencil
  • scissors

STEPS:

  1. Measure and cut the wood to match the length of the poster. Decide whether you want the wood to overhang or to be flush with the poster edge.
  2. Mark a dot on each end of the wood piece, approximately 3/4″ from the edge.
  3. Drill a hole through each dot.
  4. Cut two feet of rope, threading each end of the rope through each hole in the wood.
  5. Before tying off the rope, use your finger to create a triangle with the rope, estimating how long you want the poster to hang from the nail.
  6. Double-tie the rope and trim off the excess.
  7. Using the double-sided tape, adhere the poster to the wood, so that the front of the poster meets with the back of the wood piece. Repeat for the bottom part of the poster, if doing so.
  8. Hang it on the wall!

 

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Childhood art is magnificent, isn’t it? Children have a way of seeing and coloring the world in the early years without the constraints of reality, without the pressure of perfection. I’m not exactly sure why or when the majority of us quit producing personal art, and I’m sure the response will vary. Although I imagine for many of us, we simply decided we were not good enough. This is the primary reason during our academic year, I aim to have the kids paint or draw a little something everyday––not that they become famous artists, but that they develop a habit of making time for creative work.

In those early years, I dreamed of creating keepsake books for each child with their childhood art, and so I kept an archival box for each of them and stored my favorite pieces, labeled with their name, the date, and the title if it had one. But nearing a decade later since beginning this endeavor, I have yet to scan or print one book. Which begs the question: when exactly do busy mothers find the time for scanning, organizing, and printing? Is it after children are grown or is it in the odd hours of the day, wedged between work and meals and books and errands? It’s hard to know sometimes.

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My children have always kept notebooks of some sort during their school years, often in partially lined composition notebooks, where they could easily write and illustrate what we’ve read through the practice of narration or copywork. But they grew frustrated with how paints would bleed through pages, and alternatively when they painted on thicker paper, I grew frustrated trying to keep random pieces of their work together in a cohesive way and off the floor and countertops. So last year, I moved to keeping their notebooks in page protectors in binders. Life. Changing. And I knew at the beginning of the year, I wanted to create a book for each of them of their work. Throughout the year, when they seemed sloppy or disconnected from their art or something they had written, I would remind them, “I’m going to print this at the end of the year, so do your best!” It was a simple way to encourage quality both in their writing and artwork.

In the spring, I began looking for printing options, when I discovered Plum Print, a company that would scan, design, and print for me. I knew I could scan everything and design a book on my own, but I returned to the time factor again and the fact that we already DIY most everything else in our life. For this project to actually happen, I needed to delegate a bit of it, even if it cost a bit more to do so. I wanted my children to see their work as valuable and to inspire them to have a different view of their work for the future. I also love having a simple way for them to share it with friends or family. More practically, I cleared the clutter that these sort of papers create in the home and made room for the new school year. Hello, empty notebooks.

The process was delightful. Since I was ordering four books, I received four different boxes on my doorstep, one for each child. From there, the instructions were simple:

  1. Load the art into the included bag (with the option to include 3-D art and photos)
  2. Fill out the brief instruction card: title for the book, instructions for pagination or selecting the cover, option for captions, etc.
  3. Close and seal the box with enclosed strips.
  4. Place the included pre-paid FedEx label on the box.
  5. Drop off at a FedEx location.

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I did not include every piece my children created this year in their books, but again selected their best work, including at least one sample from each book or person they studied––a practical choice for sticking to a budget, as the price varies on the size of the book and the amount of pages. I also chose to have my kids’ books assembled in a specific order, since I wanted their nature studies together and their scientists together and so on. This took a bit more time but was as simple as deciding the order and then paginating each piece on the back in pencil. I should note, you also have the option to have your child’s artwork returned to you for an additional fee. I didn’t opt for this, but that might be helpful for parents who aren’t quite ready to part with the original pieces. You can also include images within the book, ad I selected one image from the school year of each for their title page. The rest of the book I reserved just for the written and illustrated work.

Plum Print sent me an email when they received my boxes and then another one when each book design was ready for preview. I tweaked a few things, like fonts, background design, and a couple of pages that were in the wrong books. They promptly made the changes and the books went to print, arriving at our door a couple of weeks later.

The kids LOVE them! I wish I had had my camera ready when they first flipped through them, with bright eyes and giddy expressions. Olive squealed “this is the first book I’ve ever made!” And I can relate. There’s something about seeing my own work printed onto a page and bound professionally that makes my heart soar, too. It feels weightier, and somehow more precious.  I love how they flip through one another’s books, too; one reading the other’s words or admiring their sibling’s artwork. As we begin notebook-ing again next month, I hope this will inspire them.


This post is in partnership with Plum Print, a small business encouraging parents to make beautiful archives of their children’s creativity. Cloistered Away readers can enjoy $15 OFF of each order until September 30 suing the code ‘CA15’. As always, all thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that help keep this space afloat.