Archive for the ‘School’ Category

Fast Fashion

Spicy Hipster SkirtWhen I was about 8 or 9, my dear Mother showed me to her sewing machine, handed me the user’s manual, and said, “Here’s the book. Remember your Father faints at the sight of blood, so don’t sew your fingers.”

Thus ended my formal sewing instruction. Everything else, I learned by hook or by crook, and it has been fantastic.

Since I am a pattern designer and sewist in real life, I get a lot of questions about how young I start my kids on formal sewing lessons, and gosh, they must be pretty awesome at it, etc… and get a reaction of astonishment when I tell people that I don’t require my kids learn to sew at all, actually, and I don’t interfere with their sewing adventures until they ask me directly for help, and then I only invade minimally, and let them get back to their work without me.

I want them to have the same pride and joy in discovery as I had; it was a gift from my mother, and I want to share it along.

The Spicy Girl is getting taller (for her; that’s not very tall, but it’s a personal best, so we celebrate) and has very specific fashion tastes that don’t jive with what kid-fashion makers are putting out in stores.

(Funny aside… we were at the library Saturday, and found a book in the children’s department on “Hipster Fashions”–looking through the book, we discovered that both Little Girls fall securely under the Hipster Umbrella. Spicy’s comment was a slightly outraged, “I’m not a HIPSTER. I just like fashion that doesn’t come from the same lame stores as everyone else. And vintage is cool. And I do my own thing.” So… mini-hipster. My kids. Yay!)

Spicy finally outgrew her Sunday Bests. There’s nothing in the stores she finds appealing. So Saturday evening, I suggested we pick a nice top that had a bit of fun to it, and then grab some fabric and make a new skirt. I used to love doing that as a teen–making a new skirt on a Saturday to wear that night. It’s not couture sewing. It’s fast-fashion, and it’s supposed to be inexpensive, fun, and functional.

Learning some solid basic design skills and sewing skills gives any young person the ability to adapt, remake, or fashion from new some clothing items that meet their own personal requirements for style and comfort, without being dependent on retail selling cycles.

Spicy settled on a “retro-vintage” look: a partially-elastic drop-waist full skirt, lower-calf length so she can sit on the ground, ride a bike, or do a cartwheel without worrying about anything, accented with a cute fabric bow at the hip. After debating three different fabrics, she went with a grey and taupe “polka-spot”, for an “elegant fashion statement.”

We walked through it without a pattern. Here’s the process:

Measure a comfortably-generous hip measure (she decided on her actual full hip/bum plus 4″), and measure from waist to the desired hip point. Add a bit to allow for seam allowances and a casing at the waist. A rectangle this size, seamed together into a tube, with elastic folded in that casing at the waist, becomes the “drop waist yoke” for the skirt.

Measure from the hip point to the desired hem, and add 4″. This allows for attaching the upper edge to the yoke, and a 3.5″ hem at the bottom. Seam two full-width panels for a nice full skirt, hem the bottom, and gather to fit the yoke. Topstitch the seam allowances toward the yoke.

Fold rectangles of fabric into a pleasing composed bow, and stitch that onto the hipline at the desired spot (use a whip stitch just behind the visual horizon of the bow.)

Then get your 6’1″, 17yo brother to snap a shot of you in your new outfit, after he gives you Sorority Posing Tips, complete with Action Poses. Having a big brother who knows and appreciates girl-folk is very useful. And your mother will desperately wish she had a phone that can snap good pictures, because shots of that whole Advice Process would be awesome.

Spicy wanted to help with this project, but didn’t want to be solely in charge. She handled all the pressing, and learned how to use a hem gauge for an evenly-pressed hem. She did the machine sewing on the hem itself, carefully guiding the fabric through and doing a great job of it. She changed up her design mid-stream, opting for a gathered skirt rather than a pleated one, because she wanted “more boof.” And of course, she chose the fabric, which is a huge key to the whole outfit working.

I think she also twigged to how awesome it is to design and accomplish your own fashion… and I anticipate more than a few future Saturday Sewing adventures with my girl. It’s pretty fantastic to get to support her own ideas about comfort, fashion, and useful clothing!


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There are loads of different homeschooling philosophies, but one of my favorite thinkers is Charlotte Mason. I like her foundational principles because I find them deeply respectful of and compassionate toward children; her thinking just seems to fit with a gentle, gospel-centric family culture really well!


Once upon a time, the only way to get hold of her writing was to track down her original essay series in hardcover form… thanks to the wonders of the internet, now there are some great on-line resources!

https://simplycharlottemason.com/ is laid out very cleanly–there’s a LOT to explore around the site, but it’s pretty intuitive, and there are some good summaries and get-started ideas there.

https://www.amblesideonline.org/ has the original Charlotte Mason texts for free on the site, which I find highly useful. If you’re not used to 19th century writing, you’ll find her work a bit of a slog, but it’s gorgeous language, and full of deep thought and compassion.

Now, both sites give curriculum layouts–but keep in mind that the philosophical structure of Mason’s work does not proscribe a particular set of resources. That’s what I like so much about her philosophy. It’s a MINDSET, and you can use whatever resources to fulfill that mindset and home culture as are best fit to your family.

For instance, we use Mason-style philosophy combined with John Holt style unschooling. I have friends who combine Mason’s philosophy with far more structured “classical school at home” set-ups. BOTH are consistent with the underpinnings, and both work. So you’re not locked into anything. It’s just the philosophy.

Some of the things I like best about Charlotte Mason are: focus on character, meaningful work, twaddle-free learning, “living” books and tools, the basic respect for the humanity and soul of a child, a grand appreciation for outdoor activity… it’s just so lovely and gentle and humane, and fits so well into gospel-centric living!

* The Scriptures (can’t get much more Living Book than that!)

* Church magazines like The Friend for child-centered application of gospel principles, though you will generally have to weed out “inside the box” thinking on some topics.

* Preach My Gospel as a resource for parents–some good teaching and mentoring strategies there!

* The Primary section on LDS.org... so many great bits of art, music, and scripture/theme notes to harmonize home teaching with Primary class topics and sharing time.

* Hymns and Primary songs to use in the music and poetry sections of a CM base

* Pioneer, church history, and world faith stories are all living stories, not twaddle.

* The Church History museum and archives all have fantastic art to study, and there are very low-cost art prints from the distribution center.

* Nature and science study can be given a Gratitude To Heavenly Father base that really, really lets us all experience joy!

* Prayer and scripture, singing, etc, built into the day’s work…. I’m working on a fun project to do with hymns, and when it’s ready, I’ll share.

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I was not a child who enjoyed coloring, so it’s been a bit of a surprise to give birth to children who do!

Standard coloring books rarely satisfy, however. The art is often quite poor, and the paper is generally abysmal. It’s time and money wasted, as the high-acid papers deteriorate while the picture is still in the mail to Grandma.

We’ve found some lovely options in good paper and good art from Dover (the Fine Art, History, Nature, and Design books get the most use here), and the on-line printable pages from Phee McFaddel and Jan Brett.

We’ve been inspired by the art of ZenTangles and Doodles. It’s cool to see what gorgeous, creative things adult artists like Johanna Basford are doing.

I think it was Ms Basford’s work that recently inspired Lefty and Spicy to spend some time creating their own coloring pages. We have a multi-function machine at our house, so photocopies and scans/prints are not a problem, which led to a many-hours work session yesterday, wherein my Littles and their friend created lovely line-art scenes to photocopy and share with one another.

Here are some things they learned along the way:

* Work in #2 pencil, which is soft enough to leave nice solid marks and lines thick enough to photocopy well.

* Don’t put in a lot of shading; you can add that when you color the final picture. It’s hard to remember to not fill it all in when you’re drawing!

* Fill up the whole page with your art; there’s room to tell a bigger story!

* If you choose to trace your drawing with ink or marker, take your time. Use a good art eraser to gently rub out the pencil marks. Don’t rub too hard.

* Everyone draws their own style of art, and it’s all very cool!

Some things I learned along the way:
* If you’re photocopying directly for immediate sharing, enhance the contrast a bit to darken pencil lines.

* Photocopy one extra. It’s just sensible.

* If you’re scanning, do it at 300dpi minimum, for the best printing later.

* After the image is scanned, use basic photo editing software to turn it gray-scale/black-white. Then heighten the contrast 2-3 times to get nice solid lines for reprinting.

* After the images is manipulated, re-size it to fit within an 8×10 rectangle, so it prints easily on regular paper.

* Print out an extra. Sensible. I promise.

Creating Is Awesome, and You Can Do It Anywhere

If you have a full-service printing house near you (generally not a chain-store/big-box one; try Alphagraphics), they can print line drawings onto special papers like heavy card stock a home printer or photocopy machine can’t handle and then a young artist can go to town creating all over again.

Coloring page art can be on any topic. It can be done to practice or explore the styles of famous artists. It can be simple, or quite ornate, right from the start. If it’s simple, you can add custom fanciness by filling spaces or sections with doodles. You can add designs to the page as you color. The possibilities are truly endless!

Coloring pages could be a fun project during a family reunion, church social, or “maker’s” day. They make a great portfolio item to showcase what a young learner has been up to (and provide extra opportunities to cement knowledge into their brains by coloring their examples over again.) Put together a collection of coloring pages, and you can make customized gifts or books for family and friends.

The thing I like best about creating these pictures is that it’s up to the child. As a parent, I’m on hand to help with the technical aspects of reproducing the art for coloring, but other than that, it’s entirely up to the young artists. That autonomy in creation is a fantastic gift!

Here’s a printable from my girls, to you, with bunny and hen-shaped clouds.


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Quickly, go and read a very wonderfully amazing and gorgeous essay about readers in schools, because it is full of truth, and will make you cry:

School is No Place for a Reader

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This past weekend, my two Eldest Minions and I attended a family reunion with over 70,000 total strangers.

We went to ComiCon Salt Lake City. Three days of nerdtastic fun. Crowded exhibit floors (on Saturday, the Fire Marshall got out the clickers and instituted one-out, one-in policies). Amazing costuming (seriously, amazing). And a whole lot of geek family adoration.

Some beautiful things happened that made me a little misty, and a lot proud, and I didn’t expect them at all. It’s the unanticipated graceful moment that has the most depth, some days.

For instance, I never knew that the energy from a crowd of 50,000 people in one spot could be energizing. I’m a hermit, and married a hermit, and birthed hermits. We tend to not like crowds. But when you put 50,000 hermits in one space, everyone has that same “don’t invade space, don’t invade space” attitude, so even when the crush is a bit tight, everyone is keeping their own energy mostly to themselves, and it’s not exhausting. It was… oddly invigorating. There were a lot of people, and they were all happy to be together.

And speaking of happy to be together: when one nerd recognizes the nerdness of another, and appreciates the level of devotion one person can have for a fandom, it is a beautiful thing. Normally shy, at events like ComiCon, a person can spot another in a similarly-themed costume, and holler “Hey, Pith buddy!”—and then get together for a snapshot that, judging only by the expressions on the faces, is of long-lost best friends finally meeting up. It’s happiness. It’s comfort.

Pith Buddies

There’s a sense of community in shared fandoms. There’s the delight when another human being calls out really random quotes or references to minor elements of a favorite book or show, and they fit perfectly, and are understood completely, and responded to with the appropriate line or gesture.

There’s an instant kinship when someone sees this:

Elemental Master1

… and shyly asks, “Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters, right?” Because only a kindred spirit recognizes the cues that make a costume one genre versus another. And when those cues are recognized, there is instant camaraderie and delight.

I didn’t expect to get emotional seeing entire families in costume, or to tear up when a large man in spectacularly-rigged Darth Vader costume knelt down to be in a picture with a tiny Jedi or Leia. I didn’t expect to leak a bit from my heart watching adult cosplayers ask to shake the hands with children, and be in a picture with them, or genuinely compliment the bitty cosplayers on their work.

I’m from that earlier generation of nerds, hermits, and geeks who spent a lot of time at the library, and read sci-fi and fantasy books during lunch, and if we were gamers, we were quiet gamers who didn’t talk a lot about it outside our own game, because that was setting ourselves up for ridicule and pain. And here we were this weekend, with entire panel discussions on the thematic relevance of games in modern society, and formal gaming groups right there in the exhibition hall. It was… liberating.

These sorts of people do “fun” a little differently than most, perhaps. There was standing-room only for panel topics like “HP Lovecraft: are his works thematically relevant in modern society?” and “Paradox: the physics of time and multi-dimensional travel.” Only certain types of people get excited about modifying and hacking cell phones to control digital servo-motors to animate clockwork wing assemblies.

There’s a cross-generational re-seeding and regeneration of fandom… such as the gentleman with a Wheel of Time Heron Blade, who had to get a picture of the kid in the Stargate Atlantis uniform, who recognized the blue silk sari of his own fandom on one of our young companions, and reminded me that there was an entire epic fantasy series I have yet to share with my kids.

The genuine joy that was manifest when groups of similarly-themed people posed for big pictures was… cool. Only “cool” doesn’t go far enough. It was the joy that comes when we find a whole new family that feels as passionately as we do about something.

ComiCon is perhaps unique in that everyone is both an active part of the show, and an audience member, all at the same time. Having been complimented on her own costume by a very well-done adult cosplayer, my Eldest felt entirely comfortable expressing her delight and admiration to younger cosplayers, and posing just as graciously with them as her heroes did with her.

When a tiny princess asked for a picture with “her Maleficent”, the Eldest felt compelled to reward her bravery with one of her pixie-people… because that’s how fairy tales work. When bitty girls whispered and pointed, wide-eyed, the Eldest was comfortable kneeling down to chat and reassure them—and then they all squished in for a picture with “The Nice Bad Lady.”


And there was the most wee of all tinykin girlies, with huge brown eyes, who, when asked if she had a favorite costume for the day, pointed at my girl, smiled and said, “Her.”

To the other four Maleficents who were just as eager to have a picture with my Eldest as she was to have a picture with them: thanks for being part of my happiness.

To the impressively-dressed men who didn’t just pose for a picture for my Boy, but who pulled him into the picture with them, and chatted about the mutual fandom, and were genuinely eager to ask about how he put various parts of his costume together: thanks for being new members of our nerdly family.


To the artists who were delighted to speak intelligently about inspiration, materials, techniques, and the work of being an artist: thank you for seeing my kid as a peer, not a consumer.

To the actors who were so genuinely delighted to meet us: thank you for being real. You are a delight to us.

To the grandparents who read Asimov and Tolkien by flashlight under the covers, to the parents who read Jordan and Brooks and Herbert, to the young parents who developed graphic novels and webisodes and cosplay, and to the rising nerdlings who inherit all the splendor and imagination and wonder we can impart: let your nerd flag fly, my brothers and sisters! We’re a grand, weird, delightfully odd and beautiful family, and I love you all!

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There’s a sweet little children’s song my minions learn at home and at church, called “I Am a Child of God.” Though my own Family of Origin is prone to writing and singing dreadful parodies of most songs (including this one), the poetry here makes a very concise outline of some basic educational ideas that struck me particularly well this past weekend.

And since I’m never one to be struck without sharing, here we go:

I am a child of God, and He has sent me here; has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.

The reminder of my children’s true spiritual genetic foundation is right there: I’m entrusted with people who are my spiritual siblings, and we’re children together. I’m given the role of mentorship, but not ownership, and that also means I have to let go of thinking I can control their entire experience and response to learning opportunities.

I am a child of God, and so my needs are great; help me to understand His words before it grows too late.

I sometimes get impatient with those at a different point in their learning, but it’s important for me, as a homeschooling mother, to remember it’s Not About Me… it’s about them, and they have needs. Needs for rest and recreation, needs for encouragement, needs for the creativity that can only be sparked by boredom. Needs for patient reminders, needs for a good sense of humor, needs for guidance in finding new ways to respond to stresses. Some days, needs to just sit around reading for hours. Or a week.

There are so many educational strategies inside Scripture–God’s Word. I have just as great a need to understand as they do, in matters temporal and spiritual. I’m comforted that our faith is one of second chances… because some days, I feel the pressure of “too late”, and need to remember to use it as a motivator for tomorrow, rather than a large stick to castigate myself.

This verse is also a reminder that a firm foundation in gospel principles and their application truly is a major part of learning. When a child starts to understand their eternal potential, their responsibilities and stewardship as a disciple of Christ, their ability to interact directly with their Creator, and the liberty they can find within their covenants, they’re experiencing a change that can carry them through every situation they’ll experience later. All learning counts!

I am a child of God. Rich blessings are in store; if I but learn to do His will, I’ll live with Him once more.

There are huge blessings in learning together at home, even on the hard days (and oh, there are hard days!) Being able to remember the blessings helps with minor frustrations as they arise. And the major ones, too. The bit about “will” is, for me, more about tempering my own Natural (wo)Man, and trying to be the sort of guiding teacher and parent God is to me; bending my imperfect, finite will to His perfection and infinite goodness. Not easy. Totally worth it.

Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way. Teach me all that I must do to live with Him someday.

And there’s the crux of it: lead, guide, walk beside, help, teach.

Nowhere in there does it say “be perfectly organized at all time” and “do awesome crafting” and “make themed lunches every day” and “teach kids Latin in kindergarten.”

Just: lead, guide, walk beside, help, teach.

Show them a good example in my own improving habits and learning. Guide them to good habits, and interesting things to learn. Work along with them, and learn as we go. Help them accomplish things, and find solid resources. Teach them all the things I use as an adult, and how to learn in pursuit of their own passions.

Plus, the song has a catchy tune to hum. Not bad for a very condensed educational philosophy course!

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Blogging over at Real Intent this week, on matters of education and faith!

Real Intent

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