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I love fresh eucalyptus, and it’s quite possible to find a bundle in a vase or drying on a wall somewhere around our home often. My children tease me that I’m trying to allure koalas, but truthfully, they’re an inexpensive way to add muted green tones and gentle fragrance to our spaces. They tend to last longer than fresh blooms and are just as lovely and fragrant when dried, which makes them as much an economical choice as an aesthetic one. That combo wins big points in our home.

The scents of a home have always felt equally as intrinsic to me as the visuals. There’s something comforting about a good, natural home scent, whether the food on the stove, the glowing winter candle, or the diffuser on the shelf. With no surprise, Mark and I have a soft spot for old homes and have always chosen the quirky charm of an old fixer-upper over the swanky new ones, but they can easily smell musty or forgotten if left alone too long, especially our closets.

Closets and drawers feel especially important in the winter home when they’re stocked with cozy knits. I imagine no one truly likes pulling a sweater over their head that smells like dust and neglect, even though many do. This season I decided to make some natural, gentle scents for our family’s closets and drawers using the dried eucalyptus leaves, dried lavender (another favorite bloom that I wish we had enough sun in our yard to grow), and essential oils.

They were quick and easy to make and easy enough for children to help, although I recommend gloves in case they are at all sensitive. I purchased the little cotton pouches at our local craft store. You can find something similar here or here, or simply sew them yourself. (I’m not quite skilled enough for that yet.) I opted for the drawstrings so I could empty and refill as needed. While more expensive or difficult to make on the front end, they seemed like a wiser choice for the long run. If you don’t have lavender growing in your yard, I usually purchase mine in bulk at our local grocer. Below I jotted down the loose measurements and process I used. I’ve placed them in bureau drawers or simply hung a few on hangers in the closets. (Parents: please read the note below.)

5 dried eucalyptus stems

2 cups of dried lavender

lavender and eucalyptus essential oils

small cotton drawstring pouch

bowl and spoon for mixing

hand blender or food processor to chop the eucalyptus leaves more finely

Lightly hand wash and air out purchased pouches ahead of time. Strip the eucalyptus branches and crush the leaves to release a bit of scent. Mix together with the lavender. Add 5 drops of each essential oil and mix again with a spoon. Fill the pouches to your liking. I folded the top of the pouches over to make them a bit smaller. It should make 6-8 pouches.

A SPECIAL NOTE: If you’re adding these sachets to a child’s closet or bureau, make sure they are out of reach or that children who are old enough know not to open, touch, or eat the contents. With babies, simply hang in their closet or wardrobe to more gentle diffuse the scents. Their skin may be too sensitive for the sachets to rub directly on their clothing. 

 

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Solitude matters, and for some people, it’s the air they breathe. ―Susan Cain, Quiet

It feels redundant to mention the messy and loud work of motherhood, let alone with the homeschool. Whether by the practical work of our hands or the soulful work of the heart, it is simultaneously the most beautiful and depleting work, requiring  every bit of our reserves, regardless of educational choices or occupations outside of the home. Parenthood will turn our hearts inside-out in the best of ways, and while it is inherently about our children, parenthood is also a journey of self. I encourage you, dearest readers, do pay attention to this less obvious part too.

On a recent weekend, I spent the afternoon in the kitchen on my own, listening to music and working with my hands. At the end of the evening as the kids were bathing and sliding into bedtime routine, I recognized an internal energy that typically isn’t there at this point in the day. I’m more likely in these hours to fall asleep during read-a-loud or slip into my own sheets just after the kids. Our children had played or worked outside all day, taking full advantage of our unseasonable warm weather. The overflow of energy, I realized, came from quiet, from spending a few hours working with my hands, listening to music, and simply allowing my thoughts to drift without the need to talk or explain a process. I had simply worked.

Knowing how much solitude or quiet activity fuels me as an introvert, the choice to live and learn with my four children all the time may seem funny to others. For years I have wrestled with guilt about this personal need. Taking time for the self can often feel secondary and selfish in the wake of all that can be (or should be) done for our children, and we mothers can be hard on ourselves in the process. After reading Quiet several years ago, I realized this need of mine is as much a gift to my children as any other. I can only say it this way:

The point of solitude is not merely to be filled but to be filled often enough to overflow into something or someone else.

Motherhood is not a life of solitude (even though a mother with a newborn or young toddlers might feel differently). It is a conscious practice of living out-loud, of talking through actions and patterns of thought in order to teach our children. This is a tree. This is a book. This is a bed. This is food. We teach them how to handle anger and happiness, how to talk through hurt feelings and where to look up answers to practical questions. This is anger. This joy. This is laughter. This is hurt. Here is how we speak, how we use our bodies to share our emotion. Here is how we ask for help. We show them the paradoxes and contexts for living. This is a stranger. This is a new friend. Here is how and when you greet them.  We teach practical skills in self-care. Here is a toilet. Here is a bath. Here is a toothbrush. We also teach them about boundaries, about the connection between self and others. This is yours. This is mine. This is sharing. This is fun. This is tired. This is a tantrum. This is the need for rest.  Homeschooling simply adds the layer of academics. The same lessons spiral over and over in a new context. Here is frustration. Here is joy. Here is perseverance. Here is respect for others. Here is a need for rest.

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By honestly sharing my own boundaries and limitations, I am likewise teaching my children to recognize their own. I am also teaching them it is okay to say remove myself from people or activities I love in a healthy way. Here are a few ways that I’ve learned to find quiet during my homeschool days and in motherhood in general over the years:

rest time | Take an hour in the afternoon for rest time. This is a time of quiet, where littles can nap and non-napping children can listen to audiobooks or play independently. Quiet is the emphasis for our home during this hour, and the rule is you must choose an activity that won’t disrupt someone else. This last bit gets easier as they grow older, although sharply protecting this time is more difficult. During this time, I typically take care of online work. On the best days, I just grab a book and a cozy spot on my bed.

go outside | Anytime I’m feeling overwhelmed by the noise in my head or environment, I step outside. When my children were young, I would load them in a stroller or wrap them to my body somehow for a journey to the park. Now as my children are a little older, we may take our work outdoors or I may just go and sit in a sunny spot in the backyard for a few minutes. Sometimes emotion and thought need to be free of the physical home.

take a time-out for yourself | Time-out has such a negative connotation, as it feels equated with toddler tantrums or other misbehavior. I realized during those early mother years, that sometimes I was the one who needed a time-out. Some moments I felt overwhelmed, frustrated, or like I might lose patience, I learned it was better to take a ten minute break for myself before addressing them. I might put the baby in the crib or the toddler in a high-chair with a snack or on their bed with a book. I might send pre-schoolers outside for a bit to swing or play. I still do this, no longer because of tantrums, but because some days the work at hand does feel overwhelming. It’s always good for me to find a quiet spot in the home or yard, take a few slow, deep breaths. These moments feel almost trite, but they work wonders for finding perspective.

offer screen time | Let me pause here and say there’s no shame in using a screen for help. Most modern parents are aware it’s best for children to learn with our hands and by human interaction. And yes, make that type of experience the bulk of your day together, but remember to show compassion to yourself, too. Are you dressed or needing a shower? Are you feeling emotionally anxious or stressed? Have you spent more time playing the sibling referee or working through toddler tantrums than normal? Take 30 minutes. When my children were little, they had a daily 30-60 minutes of screen time. They watched (and loved ) the BBC’s Planet Earth, which we still own and watch, and several documentaries on Netflix. They also watched PBS shows or Leap Frog Letter Factory or Math to the Moon.

send the kids outside | As my children have grown older, I often send them outside. I may give them a specific task or the simple imperative to play and enjoy fresh air. As our studies grow more complex and difficult, they need the balance, too.

Also: Rest Time in Our Home

handmade_eco-friendly_valentine_card_2 handmade_eco-friendly_valentine_cards_3handmade_eco-friendly_valentine_card_web As a child, Valentine’s Day was one of my favorites. At home, our celebration was beautifully simple, typically a special dessert or snack or note in our lunchbox. At school, we had an elaborate celebration with baked goods and sweet drinks. Everyone brought self-decorated shoeboxes with little slits in the top, cut like a mail drop in a door. We shared notes (often generic ones with a cartoon on the front), and the very best ones included stickers or candy.

I cannot reproduce this experience entirely for my children now, but I do try to find ways to make the season special at home with small handmade projects or heart-shaped snacks. This year, we’re using supplies and materials we already own to create our valentines. It’s flexible for all ages, and just the sort of light-hearted project to enjoy as a family over the weekend or to occupy busy bees during the week. I shared more details today on the Babiekins blog.

On the same note: other handmade cards we’ve made  | the year I forgot Valentine’s Day | the year I learned the hard truth of love on Valentine’s Day

Happy weekend, friends! x

 

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Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell others.
― Mary Oliver, Sometimes

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reading lessons on the kitchen floor

lettuce snipped from the winter garden

a beginning in Latin, one he’s challenged by and enjoying

a ticklish encounter with Daddy Long Legs

a colorful card for a friend

an empty bird nest in winter

morning journaling, a new practice

family nature walks and warm weather

whittling branches of our Christmas tree

discussions in grammar and sentence diagramming

studying Da Vinci and building an ornithopter

a shark dissection (not pictured here, but worth mentioning)

more recent images here: #cloisteredaway_homeschooling

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As I’ve been slowly combing through oodles of archived posts, I noticed several monthly recaps of our homeschool from years ago. Most of these little snippets included books we were reading or activities we had done together that month, often coupled with sub-par photographs. Each post was a gentle reminder of how much each of us has grown over the length of this journey. Now years removed, they felt precious to me, and I naturally wanted to revive this old project. For us, these sort of snippets will be as close to a yearbook as we’ll get. For you, I hope they will be a different picture of our days, a small but broader slice of our meandering path.

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JANUARY IN BOOKS

Liam ||  The Secret Garden | Galen and the Gateway of Medicine | The Door in The Wall | Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde | Calvin and Hobbes

Burke || Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (books 1-5) | Heroes of Olympus series (books 1-5) | Black Beauty | Ozma of Oz | Galen and the Gateway of Medicine 

Blythe || The Marvelous Land of OZ | Holes | Leonardo Da Vinci | several smaller chapter books

Olive (mostly read aloud) || finished Kipling’s Just So Stories | Five Children and It | several early readers

Current read-a-loud || The Horse and His Boy.  Burke is also reading The BFG aloud to Olive because he loved it so much and thinks she will too–so heartwarming.

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Although I did well in maths growing up, teaching it is an entirely different story. For me, each class during my childhood to early-adult years was a practice of mastering one section of a puzzle without understanding its connection to the next. What I mean to say is: I have never felt intuitive with numbers in the way I do with language, which intimidated me at the beginning of our homeschool journey so many years ago. It might sound odd to feel terrified of teaching Kindergarten maths, but I kind of was when we first began.

Like so many parents who decide to take ownership of teaching their children, when we first decided to homeschool, I began with tons of curriculum research. I was too academically driven at the time for a no-curriculum approach, something I wish I could go back in time and speak more confidence to with my younger self. Instead, I will speak it to you, dear readers, in the event you find yourself terrified of teaching maths (or any other area) to your little ones, too. Do not be afraid.

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It is good to know as a parent that every child will take to pencil and paper work differently. Some children will struggle because of dyslexia or dysgraphia or underdeveloped fine motor skills or simply because of the hardship of sitting still for longer period of time. There are only a few things necessary for learning about numbers in the early years (roughly ages 3-6).

If your child loves paperwork, you can begin with most any workbook or curriculum for practice with writing numbers. But maths needn’t be strictly for paper, and in my experience, children will enjoy it more if you begin with a chalkboard and something familiar for play. I keep a small basket of wooden people on a bookshelf, which Olive uses for pretend play, for art, and as it turns out, for math. Anything of this type in your own home will work. Here’s a few ways how:

Counting || You can use anything you have around your house for counting: toys, crayons, blocks, Legos, beans, and so on. Begin with counting forward to 10. When your child can do that, count backward from 10. Move up to 20. And backward. Move up to 30. And backward. Continue until you get to one hundred before you begin equal groups (or skip counting).

Sorting || Practice sorting by shape, color, or any other characteristic you can imagine. This process can be done over and over again with materials already around your home: laundry, blocks, crayons, and so on.

Ordering numbers || Numbers give us order. Use language such as first, second, third, and so on. This is particularly easy in the kitchen. As your child become more familiar with the terms, change it up a bit. “I need to add the carrots second. Do I need to do something before this?” You can use manipulative (such as the wood people), too. Giving oral instructions for your child(ren) to follow.  “[named girl] is first in line and [another named girl] is second. Who shall we put third?” This application can work with most any set of instructions around the home.

Drawing || Art and math are intrinsic to one another, and if I’m honest, I didn’t realize how much so until my adult years as a homeschooling parent. As your child learns shapes, you are teaching beginning design and form. Draw often during maths in early years. Encourage your child to draw pictures of their math stories if they enjoy it, or rather look for shapes together in your child’s existing art. Can you find a line? A circle? Rectangle? And so on.

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Create number stories || Introduce math operations through stories. Begin with addition. “We have ___ and add ___ more. How many do we have now?” This is the simplest plot that can be elaborated in millions of ways to become more details. When this becomes more comfortable or predictable, add subtraction stories, where something is taken away or disappears. Multiplication story plots (later) always include sharing and equality of groups. Division’s plot (as they grow older) tells of a generous person who is giving all they have away to a specific number of people and wants to make sure they all have equal amounts. You get the idea.

Since we often use our wooden people, Olive will create the story around the people and possibly a road trip or playtime at a friend’s house. I’ll prompt her with questions along the way: “Where are we going? Who is going with us?” I record the numbers on the board and she writes the answer. Now that she is older and has practiced math for a while, I’ll ask her to identify the two primary functions or addition and subtraction on her own. “If more people are coming, what sign do we use?”

Numbers in daily living || Numbers give form to the abstractions of time and space. With numbers we can gauge the seasons, weather, calendar, time of day, how to make a recipe consistently, or know how much something costs to purchase. By them we can travel the world and space or, in the very simplest of ways, bake bread. When possible, I try to connect the importance of numbers in daily living, even still with my older children. Numbers are consistent and absolute, even when they are relative. While your preschooler doesn’t have to understand all of these things yet, these years are wonderful for pointing to numbers in every day life.

math books for littles we’ve loved || Anything by Tana Hoban | How Much is a Million? series | Mat Man | Beas, Snails, & Peacocks

 

 

 

handmade_salt_dough_ornaments_christmas_homeschool-11handmade | Christmas salt dough ornamentshandmade | Christmas salt dough ornamentshandmade | Christmas salt dough ornamentshandmade | Christmas salt dough ornamentshandmade | Christmas salt dough ornaments

These weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to pass too quickly each year. Between the fluster of finishing our school work, giving or making gifts, visiting family, and joining local celebrations with friends, time feels so concentrated. One way I’m trying to slow up our days and enjoy the season a bit more is having a craft and read-a-loud time each afternoon with my children. These are often hours contrasting with the loud, boisterous mess of handmade projects and the quiet doodles with candles and warm drinks and read-a-louds. Honestly, it’s been wonderful. Even the mess.

Last week, for one project, we made salt dough ornaments together. I pulled out all of Christmas cookie cutters (and the boys grabbed the Star Wars pancake molds in honor of the anticipated movie release–ha!).  My sister and her three children joined us, because this project is really fun and easy for all ages. She created a really sweet video from our afternoon together, which you can view by pressing play in the above box. In case you’re interested in making these at home, I’ve included the recipe we used below (and doubled). Enjoy!

SALT DOUGH ORNAMENTS (adapted from Moonschooling Eleanor)

1 cup flour
1/4 cup salt
1/4-1/2 cup water
a few drops of essential oils (optional)

  1. Mix together 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/4 cup salt really well.
  2. Slowly add water until a dough forms–careful not to make it too wet!
  3. Add a few drops of essential oils (peppermint, balsam fir, or orange/clove –if your child isn’t sensitive to the clove)
  4. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it chill in the fridge for about twenty minutes.
  5. Roll out dough on floured surface and cut shapes.
  6. Poke holes using something toothpick-sized.
  7. Bake at 200 degree oven for about 60 minutes. Check them often, so they don’t harden or brown.
  8. String with twine and use for your tree, gifts for friends, or as gift tags for presents.

 

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We tend to keep the holiday season in our home fairly simple in terms of gift giving, both the quantity and expense. This isn’t from a desire to be Scrooge-like or withholding, but instead another way we’ve learned over the years to simplify, to stay within our financial means, and to help keep our home filled with fewer things we really enjoy and can manage well. Living in a small home has taught me a valuable life lesson: less really can be more, but it means making tough decisions. Buying less, means I choose something far more carefully. My husband and I often pick high quality gifts, something that can easily be passed down between siblings, family, or friends when they’ve outgrown it. We also love giving gifts that engage their interest and skill sets, tools that can double for our home school experience, too.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve received a few emails and comments and texts from other parents asking about Christmas gifts for their own homes, wondering what we’re getting our children or asking about our favorite books or toys or nature books. Although it took me a bit of time to collect a few, I created this gift guide as a way to share both our favorite learning tools and ones still on our wishlist. I added “gifts of experience” section to each category, because often we have given experience over things to our children for Christmas or their birthday. It can be a fantastic way to give something meaningful without carting more things into your home or when finances are a little tighter. Clearly, this is not a finite list, nor is it strictly for the homeschool or Christmas season, but I hope it in itself is a tool of inspiration. Enjoy.

gift-guide-nature_cloistered_away_homeschool[ THE YOUNG NATURALIST ]

1. Kanken mini backpack | full size 2. Suunto compass 3. Wild Explorers Adventure Club membership 4. Critter Cabin 5. National Park pass (4th graders are free!) 6. Nature Anatomy 7. Cavallini Insects wrapping paper (frame it as a poster)  8. Fujifilm instant film camera 9. Strathmore watercolor journal 10. Animalium 11. laminated local pocket field guides 12. Magiscope

 GIFT EXPERIENCE | museum passes | a state or national park pass | handmade coupons to use during the year for weekend camping, star-gazing, fishing, or hiking | Wild Explorers membership

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[ THE YOUNG FOODIE ]

13. Odette Williams apron set 14. Farm Anatomy  15. A Kid’s Herb Book 16. Garden in a Can 17. Le Petit Chef Set 18. Chop Chop: A Kid’s Guide to Cooking Real Food 19. The Simple Hearth play kitchen 21. Mini Woven Basket 22. Moleskine Recipe Journal

GIFT EXPERIENCE | 20. local cooking classes | handmade coupons for special kitchen time together | meal at a special/favorite restaurant

gift_guide_artist_homeschool_cloistered_away[ THE YOUNG ARTIST + DOODLER ]

23. Tabletop Paper Holder 24. Pottery Wheel 25. Paint Jar Holder 26. Lrya Rembrandt Polycolor pencils 27. Strathmore Mixed Media Journal 28. Lyra Ferby colored pencils (best for little hands) 29. Lost Ocean coloring book  30. WhatchamaDRAWit  31. Fun with Architecture book and stamp set  32. Drawing with Children  33.Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series  34. Stockmar Beeswax crayons  35. Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Places Real and Imagined  36. Stockmar watercolor paint

GIFT EXPERIENCE | 37. art museum membership or trip | art lessons | meet a local artist in a similar medium

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[ THE YOUNG WRITER + BOOKWORM ]

38. Bookrest Lamp  39. The Puffin In Bloom Collection  40. Emoji Stickers  41. Personalized Pencils  42. Postcard Set  43. Calligraphy + Lettering Set  44. Mamoo Bookbag  45. The Storymatic Kids Game  46. Tell Me a Story  47. Wood Small Moveable Alphabet  48. Wool Writing Journal  49. Don’t Forget to Write (elementary grades) | (secondary grades)  50. Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing

 GIFT EXPERIENCE | tickets to a play | homemade coupons for a new monthly book | summer writing camp | create your own story prompts

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[ THE YOUNG TINKERER + BUSY BODY ]

51. Lap Loom  52. TinkerCrate subscription  53. Things Come Apart  54. Morakniv Wood Carving Junior Knife  55. Rulers and Compass  56. Seedling Fashion Design Kit  57. The New Way Things Work  58. Wooden Child-sized Real Tools  59. Child’s Natural Broom  60. Playful Math Kit  61. European Math Kit  62. Sewing Kit  63. Child’s String Mop

GIFT EXPERIENCE | build or make something together | sewing or woodworking classes | tickets to a science museum or the Exploratorium in San Fransisco

 

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I have always appreciated the simplicity of Thanksgiving, how much and how little it requires of me all at once. On one hand it is an elaborate meal, one many families take great care to celebrate with foods, people, and activities that feel meaningful to them, often handed down generationally. On the other hand, Thanksgiving is a cultural history, a connection to our country’s blended origins and a celebration of choice, of perseverance, of courage, and belief. I want my children to remember this holiday holding both parts.

As typical by this part in semester, our school routine is beginning to fall out and we’re all ready for the holiday break, BUT I’m trying to do a little school work this week to hold what little momentum we have until we pause for Christmas. I’ve scaled our work way down though. The kids will do a little math and reading each day, but we have already and will continue to spend some time doing a few other projects appropriate for the season, projects I’m quite excited about: candle-making, leaf projects, writing our gratitudes, and reading/writing/illustrating around The First Thanksgiving, a picture book from one of my favorite children’s writers Jean Craighead George. I love the more balanced perspective of this book for younger ages, that courage and hardship didn’t just belong to the Pilgrims.  It feels honest and yet approachable for a family read. If you’re interested, I recently wrote some more about how I use this book and why I return to it every year, which you can now read on the Babiekins blog

 

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My children have actually made their own Halloween costumes every year. Although this sounds noble and intentional, it actually began more for economic reasons. I just couldn’t imagine spending their clothing budget on cheaply made costumes, and I haven’t ever known how to sew, the reason we’re all learning now. Ahem. In the past, they have used old dress-up, paper, toilet paper, tape, and other art supplies, some of which you might remember last year.

As I mentioned in this post in August, I have really tried to include handwork as a larger part of our learning this year. I don’t necessarily have a specific goal in mind for these skills, only that I know children generally love making things and as an adult having skills to make things can be quite useful. To begin, I’ve chosen a few general and somewhat foundational skills that might grow or apply to other interests down the road. Mostly, they are lessons I hope to learn right alongside them. (Wink.) We began with sewing, using the book Sewing School, based on a good friend’s recommendation, and the pace, images, and projects have been a perfect start for our novice group. As Halloween has neared this month, costume making seemed the perfect, fun way to put our new skills to use.

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Early on, Olive decided she wanted to be a baby bat, using a play mask we already own. Each month this year, the kids have received a play mask of an endangered animal in the mail from Opposite of Far, a part of their mask of the month club. (I wrote about some ways we’ve added them to our learning here last spring.) Blythe, a natural lover of design, wanted to take the masks and create costumes for each. Olive joined her, and one entire afternoon they sat on my bed discussing ideas and plans for everything from paws made out of socks and paper to tails made from boas and shirt bellies covered with cotton balls. Since Olive opted for the bat, wings were a must, something easily coupled with her black dance leotard.

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We shopped for a bit of brown felt at the local craft store, where I let each of the kids pick up a little something to add to their costume projects. I folded the felt and drew a simple pattern in chalk for the girls to cut, and then we pulled out the needle and thread and set to work attaching little bands to slide her arms through. She thought my idea for sleeves sounded far too hot.

I tied knots in the thread for Olive to begin. She still needs quite a bit of help, mostly because she gets distracted. When she lost interest and went outside to play, I finished the sewing, although I sort of regret doing that now. Instead of finishing, as she asked me to, I wish I would have simply shelved it until her interest returned. Live and learn, right? I sadly don’t have any images of her sewing this project. When Olive has a needle, all eyes and hands are on deck–I totally missed the photos. Still, you can piece together the idea.

Although our sewing skills are still quite amateur, I like that we’re all  (myself included) having to try something new, and when we fail or mess up–that happens often–we learn lessons about trying again or improvising. As I said, all of it is foundational, bits we’re learning through playfulness.

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This post was sponsored by Opposite of Far, a small business providing high-quality, handmade “tools” to parents and children for a richly imaginative and playful childhood. As always, all thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting businesses that help keep this space afloat.