Sunday, May 31, 2009

Recycling Crayons

Last Sunday, my youngest son showed me a special, multi-colored, heart shaped crayon in his Sunday school classroom. I was in a hurry to gather up his things and get going, and gave him a typical distracted mother's reply.

"That's neat," I said. "We could make one of those with our old crayons at home."

Of course, I've never actually recycled crayons myself. I've certainly heard of it being done before, and I had a general idea of the concept, I'd just never tried it. But in one distracted moment, I'd made what amounted to a promise - at least to a five year old mind. It was a promise, he reminded me of again today.

Figuring I'd be in for a weekly ritual of, "See the special crayon Mom? When are we going to make one like you said?" I decided it might be better to just go ahead and get it done, and avoid all the guilt and nagging.

We started by sorting out, and peeling, some of our broken, or really dull crayons,.

Then I chopped them into little pieces, gaining a nice blister on my finger in the process.

The kids and I placed the chopped pieces into a silicon cake pan, shaped like flowers and a pot. I'm pretty sure a mini muffin pan would work too, but I liked the flower shapes, and I hoped the flexible nature of the silicone pan would make it easier to get the finished crayons out.

When we had the pan full, we placed it into the oven on the lowest heat setting (170 degrees Fahrenheit).

After about forty-five minutes, the crayon bits were completely melted. I removed the pan from the oven, and left it to cool for about fifteen more minutes.

Once the crayons had cooled, and hardened back up, I popped them out of the pan. The little ones were thrilled with their new crayons, and I had fulfilled my promise. Plus, we got rid of a lot of old broken crayons out of our coloring drawer.

Let's call it spring cleaning homeschool style. And, it is great to be a homeschooler!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Coffee Can Stilts - Another Summer Boredom Buster

I've been wanting to make coffee can stilts with the kids since we read Ramona And Her Father by Beverly Cleary last summer. I was drinking more expensive coffee then though, and didn't have a lot of cans. Since we've been cutting costs with the rest of the nation, I switched to generic coffee, and so we've been building up a supply of empty cans (another benefit of frugal living).

This project requires -
  • two cans per child
  • some rope, or heavy twine - old jump ropes would work too s
  • some type of tool to punch holes in a coffee can - I probably would have tried a screwdriver and hammer, but since my husband was willing to take charge of the construction, he opted for a cordless drill.
Drill or punch two holes opposite each other on the sides of the can, near to the bottom.
Measure off your rope. It should be a little more than twice the distance from the bottom of the child's foot to their hands extended at their sides. Cut two lengths the same size - one for each can.
Tie a knot in one end of the rope.
Thread the rope through one of the holes, so the knot is on the inside of the can.
Thread the other end through the opposite hole, so the untied end is also inside the can. Tie a knot in the other end of rope.
Turn the cans over, and pull of the loop of rope, and one stilt is ready. Repeat the steps for the second stilt. The kids step up onto the cans, holding the looped rope in their hands. As they step they have to pull on the rope to lift the can with their feet.

This would be an excellent time to have the children interview older relatives, or neighbors, about the toys they made as children (which would also work as a literature tie in to Ramona And Her Father - and just in time for Father's Day too).

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Homemade Water Color Paint - Crayon Resist-Art

The water color paints we made up last night were finally dry and ready to use tonight. Using instructions we found at, we mixed together:

  • 3 Tbs. baking soda

  • 3 Tbs. corn starch
  • 3 Tbs. vinegar
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp. corn syrup.

Then, we divided the mixture into cleaned and dried medicine cups (you could use soda lids, or a Styrofoam egg carton as well). Finally, we added several drops of food coloring to each cup, and mixed up our paint. The process had a real old style artist studio feel to it - even if our pigment was store bought food coloring.

After trying out the paint while it was still wet, we left it to dry for 24 hours.

Tonight we used our homemade paints to do a little crayon resist-art. We didn't have any water color paper on hand, so we had to settle for card stock, but it still worked out pretty well. The children drew on the paper with crayons, and then filled in with color (the younger children just washed over their pictures). The older children were modeling their art after a Joan Miro inspired project we saw at

The homemade paint performed well, this recipe will be a keeper for us. Using paint they had mixed and shaded themselves, added to the children's enthusiasm a good deal. And, since this recipe calls for corn syrup, instead of glycerin, we'll most likely always have the ingredients on hand.

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Fun With Kool-Aid Fingerpaint

We whipped up a batch of watercolor paints last night, but they were still drying after lunch, and we were ready for some art. We left the watercolors to dry, and opted for a fast finger paint recipe instead. The Kool-Aid playdough had been a big hit, so we decided to give Kool-Aid finger paint a try to.

The recipe we found the recipe, here, at, mixes together water, oil, salt, flour, and unsweetened Kool-aid to form a sweet smelling glop. It's not so much paint, as it is thin playdough (or maybe thick slime), but it smells great, and it provides for a lot fun texture exploration.

There are quite a few finger paint recipes online that call for cornstarch and food coloring, and have to be cooked on the stove. These generally turn out more like the store bought variety of finger paint, but they take a little longer to make, and don't smell quite as nice.

The children enjoyed squishing the glop between papers, making print patterns. They also liked etching out designs on the paint covered pages, and then erasing them by smoothing the paint back out. I covered the table in black garbage bags, and gave them the paint on paper plates, so the cleanup was fairly simple. It wasn't the serious art the older children were hoping for, but they enjoyed it almost as much as the little ones, and now our whole house smells like a lollipop.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Kool-Aid Playdough - Another Frugal Boredom Buster

Our company headed on their way yesterday. Since, the children are always a little droopy after friends leave, I've learned to prepare a distraction. This time it was a few batches of scented playdough.

This recipe is quick, because it doesn't require cooking. I usually prefer the texture of the cooked doughs better, but with the addition of the Kool-Aid, there are some fun colors and scents to distract from the slightly grainy texture.

For each color you need:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups of flour

  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil

  • 1/2 cup of salt

  • 1 package of unsweetened Kool-Aid

  • 1 cup of boiling water

Simply mix the ingredients together, and knead the dough until it is a little firm, and no longer sticky. The dough is ready in minutes from start to finish, and the cleanup is minimal (from the mixing anyway - the cleanup from the playing is the normal horrific playdough mess!)

Save one package of the Kool-Aid for drinking. Give the kids the playdough, and a few random cookie cutters. Stick in an entertaining book on tape, and the children will think it's a party! At the very least, it should drive away a droopy afternoon.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Frugal Boredom Busters - Science and Homemade Toys

We have company visiting for a few days, raising the number of children in our house to nine. How do you keep nine children busy, happy, and relatively safe without spending your life savings? Let them build their own toys!

I found some very good "how to" videos for kids put out by the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center on YouTube. I perused a few of them, and picked out three that looked like they would be fun to try, and that I had the supplies for around the house. Then, I rummaged through my cupboards and closets for the needed materials. We sat the kids down to watch the videos (they are very short), and then let them loose on the supplies.

In short order they had created a doodle-bot...

...a stomp rocket...

...and a parachute man.

By the time they were done tweaking and playing with their new toys, it was past their bedtime, and we hadn't even noticed the evening slipping away.
Just in case you're wondering, the videos we watched were,, And, the supplies we provided were:
  • my vacuum cleaner hose (it went right back on to the vacuum when the kids were done)
  • a few pieces of card stock
  • some typing paper
  • tape (masking, scotch and duct)
  • a plastic grocery bag (we ended up adding a black garbage bag too)
  • a Lego man
  • yarn
  • washable markers
  • a paper cup
  • a Popsicle stick
  • a clothes pin
  • a small motor (left over from our Klutz Battery Science book)
  • a AA battery
  • a ruler
  • some newspaper
  • a plate (to use as a pattern for the parachute)
It's great to be a homeschooler!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rainbow Cake and Magic Milk

A thunderstorm drove us inside, so we decided if the rain wouldn't stop, we'd make our own rainbows. We started with a rainbow cake. I'm not sure where the recipe originated, it seems to be one of those common knowledge concepts now, but if you know who came up with it first - thank them for us, it's a lot of fun.

We started with a regular yellow cake batter. You can use a cake mix, or your favorite from scratch recipes. Then, we divided the batter into six bowls, and added food coloring to make the colors of the rainbow. This is a good color mixing exercise for the little ones, but it does mean feeding your children a lot of artificial dye.

Once we had the colors mixed, we blopped them one on top of another into the cake pan, and baked it as normal. I realized after we started blopping, that we had goofed up the order of the rainbow - but, oh well.
Frosted, the cake looked liked any old regular unassuming cake. But once it was sliced, there was a rainbow surprise.

While we had the food coloring out, I decided to give a 30 second chemistry lesson - also known as magic milk. We took a bowl of whole milk (any milk will do, but this experiment works the best with the highest fat content you can get).

We added four drops of food coloring, trying not to let them touch.

Then, we added one drop of dish soap to the middle of the dish, and watched as the colors danced and mixed, as if there was invisible hand stirring them. I started into my prepared speech on surfactants, surface tension, and fat eating enzymes (you can find a really good explanation of the science behind this experiment at, but being full of sugar and red dye #40, they were more interested in the "magic" than the science.

So it was rainbows, cake and magic tricks. Was it art, home economics, science, or a party? Let's just say it was just another rainy afternoon at home.

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Finger Knitting

We discovered finger knitting today. Which involves winding yarn over your fingers in an over, under manner, starting and ending with your pointer finger, until you have two rings of yarn on each finger.

Then you simply pull the bottom ring over the top, leaving the top ring on your finger.

Wrap your fingers again to make a second ring, and continue until you have the length you want.

When your ready to finish your boa or scarf, cast off by moving the pinkie loop to the ring finger, and pulling the ring finger loop over it. Repeat with each finger, moving the loop to the next and pulling the bottom loop over it. Then, take the last remaining loop off of your pointer finger and pull the end tightly. Fun fur or the yarn like it, produces a lovely boa - perfect for adorning girls, or teddy bears, for tea.

There's a very good "how to finger knit" video at

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Plarn Story Mat - More Crochetting With Grocery Bags

We've been grocery shopping a couple of times since we loom knitted the grocery bag purse, and our ball of plarn (plastic yarn - look back a few posts if you want to see how to make it) was getting quite large. It was definitely time to turn it into something, but what?

Plarn is not difficult to crochet or knit with, as long as you use a big enough hook or needle, but it's not the best stuff for little fingers to work with. I decided if the kids couldn't knit with it, I'd at least turn it into something they could use. With the outdoor summer reading program coming up in a couple of weeks at the library, and the onset of concerts on the green, and Shakespeare in the park, story mats seemed to be our best bet. Sort of like the rug remnant pieces they use in Kindergartens, but made out of grocery bags.

I opted to crochet, because it seemed faster. With a simple double crochet, using an N sized hook, the mat took one afternoon to make. It's a good size for my six year old, but will need to be a little bigger for the older kids. This small size mat took about 75 to 100 bags to make - though I can assure you I'm guessing on the number, I did not take the time to count them.

These can be thrown into the back of the van, to await use. They are machine washable - on cold. They air dry quickly. And they don't let the water from wet grass soak through to the kids the way Grandma's heirloom quilt might (and I'm sure there are better uses for quilts anyway).

So it's one down, seven more to go, and we'll be ready for story time! Now, if only a comfy seat could assure an attentive audience, we'd be set.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bubble Art - Paint With Bubbles

The air was filled with bubbles at our house yesterday - bubbles and paint! We decided to turn our usual warm weather bubble blowing session into an art lesson.

I filled six cups with about a cup or so of bubble solution. Then I added some water color paint. I took one of the kids old sets that was almost used up, and popped the paint disks out of it. I plopped the disks into the bubble solution alkeselzer style.

We carried them outside, very carefully, and then used them to blow bubbles at pieces of card stock. At first I tried holding the paper up, and having the kids blow bubbles at it. Then we discovered it was easier to lay the paper on the ground, and let the bubbles float down to it.

The kids enjoyed watching the seemingly clear bubbles pop, and leave a colored outline. It wasn't long before they figured out that double bubbles would leave a nice snowman type outline. They were also intrigued by the way the bubbles held the paint - it seemed to blob together at the bottom of the bubble.

Their resulting artwork might not be ready for the gallery, but they had a great afternoon of color mixing, and finding pictures in the ink blot type shapes that resulted. And while the kids were covered in paint - it was mixed with soap, so clean up wasn't too bad.

It's great to be a homeschooler!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Simple Sewing With Kids - Felt Wallet

I've been looking for some simple sewing projects for the girls, that would allow them to practice their hand sewing. We wanted a project that was easy enough for them to do pretty much on their own, but still be something they might actually want to make. We also wanted a project, that could be completed in one fairly short sitting.

I found this idea for a felt wallet or pouch from Better Homes and Gardens. It's perfect for the eight to ten year old crowd. And, best of all, we actually had all the supplies on hand.

It requires:

  • 1 piece of felt per pouch (one sheet of felt makes two nice sized wallets)
  • embroidery floss (hopefully in a color that does not clash with the felt)
  • embroidery needle (a smaller needle would do in a pinch, it might just be harder to thread)
  • 1 button per pouch
  • scissors

Fold the felt about two thirds of the way up, leaving about a third at the top for the flap of the wallet. Whip stitch/overcast up both folded sides, starting at the bottom fold. Hide the knots at the top and the bottom, inside of the wallet.

When both sides are stitched, sew a button onto the front of the wallet body. Close the flap over the button. Pinch the fabric of the flap that is over the button, and use scissors to cut a small slit for a button hole.

Slip the button through the hole, and the wallet is complete. This took my ten year old about twenty minutes from start to finish. I began with her younger sister, but then realized she's left handed, so I'm going to have to do a little refiguring to demonstrate an overcast stitch in a way that works for her. I guess I'll be practicing my left handed sewing while the kids nap today.

It's great to be a homeschooler!