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a serious monkey-toaster (the preferred term for multi-tasker)

Towns, Cities, and Home

August 2, 2014

noctiluna

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The last summer camp is done, and I’m off to England for my very well-deserved break (Says who? Says I!) feeling tired, bruised, but incredibly happy. I’m going home.

I know, I know, Vienna, Virginia is my hometown  now, and it is indeed lovely and welcoming, and I like being here. However, there is always that feeling when I land at Heathrow Airport that  puts a lump in my throat. The moment I get back to London, I feel like a puzzle piece that has been fitted back into it’s place…

…and then there is my parents.

Heard of the saying Home Is Where The Heart Is? I think it should be  Home Is Where Your Parents Are, and as long as my parents are in London, it will always feel like my proper home. I cannot begin to explain how excited I am to see them again.

Also, it is important to note that, after a week of children telling me that “you’re saying that wrong!”, I’ll finally be in a place where my accent will blend in. Words like water, tomato, and vase will no longer be reasons for long explanations and corrections, and my kids will be the ones getting the stares when they open their mouths – ha!

Speaking of kids correcting me. Last week’s camp was another week of raucous learning fun. The theme was Architecture and Built Environments. I particularly enjoyed this camp, because there were so many collaborative projects and team problem solving.

The kids built shelters for specific environments, planned out towns, looked at different architectural styles and facades, and worked as Cartographers together.  We also went to the park, picked blackberries, and dug insect graves!

Take a look at the pictures below, and I’ll write from London soon!

Self Portraits, Sundaes, and Silly Games

July 27, 2014

noctiluna

Collage portrait.

Another week of camp has passed, and I’m getting ready for my final, glorious week of teaching before I depart for the UK, and a month of rest and relaxation. I would really like to write a lengthy and descriptive post, like I did last week, but to be honest I’m tired. Knackered – to be more specific (and English). So I’m going to give you the (very) abbreviated version…

Portraits, self portraits. Playing  silly games about character traits and interests that made us giggle. Drawing symbolic self portraits with markers. Looking at the Mona Lisa veeery closely. Discussing work by Frida Kahlo, Chuck Close, and Janine Antoni. Discussing the purpose of portraits through history. Drawing our faces on film stuck to mirrors, while squinting. Regaining our focus slowly. Walking to the park at break times. Playing baseball, tennis, cricket, frisbee, and tag – sometimes all at the same time. Pulling faces for black and white photos. Looking at the principles of graphic design and typography. Learning about Barbara Kruger. Giving pictures new contexts, making up quotes for them. Trying to make paper mache masks, failing, making them again, and painting them. Cleaning up huge messes again, and again. Looking at Pablo Picasso’s life and work, and finding the former very amusing. Making portraits of each other using collage techniques. Incorporating everyday objects into drawings, and taking photos of them. Painting sidewalks with big brushes dipped in water. Using bikes, scooters, and our feet to make patterns on concrete with water. Eating icecream sundaes. Organizing a water balloon fight to help work off the sugar rush. Cleaning up…again.

Did you get all of that? Good.

All in all, it was a great week. Here is some photographic evidence:

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The Value of Playtime

Project
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This week’s camp was all about the five senses, so the kids spent a lot of time being hungry (taste, and smell seem to be the all round favorite senses, hands down, no big surprise!).

 

Work

We looked at Wayne Thiebaud’s heavily textured paintings of cakes and other desserts, and used palette knives to ‘frost’ our own paintings. We learned about Synesthesia, and discussed how artist, Wassily Kandinsky visualized sounds. The kids produced drawings of music, and sat bent over  paper furiously scribbling to The White Stripes, Bob Marley, Tchaikovsky, and hot jazz. We learned about color theory and color symbolism. We drew objects, while feeling them, and not looking at them. We gawped at pictures of scarification, and body art, and made a horrible mess working with clay. We made a lot of horrible messes.

The campers loved ‘Lick and Lather’ – Janine Antoni’s chocolate and soap sculptures, and had some amazing insights about her work, which led to a need for an ice cream party (any excuse!).  On Friday, we sniffed and identified different scents, and made little scent jars to take home and experiment with.

Yup, a lot happened, and that’s just the art. But, if you ask me, some of the most important learning happened during break times.

 

Play

On Monday, after a morning of working  indoors, I told my students to go out and play in the sunshine – “But, what should we play?” they asked me, “I don’t know, whatever you want to!”  I said, “But, we don’t know what to play! they retorted, “This is boring, can you make up a game for us?”.

I refused flatly, and mercilessly threw them out into the wild jungle that is North American suburbia. What happened? Well it wasn’t pretty, there was awkwardness, sulking, whining and a few fights at first, but by the end of the week, the kids were begging for more play time. They made up complex games, hashing out the rules in long, drawn out negotiations, and bonded beautifully. They even organized an end of week performance, made posters by themselves, and practiced relentlessly for it the whole of Friday afternoon.

I think free playtime is really important for kids. Sure, teacher organized play activities have their merits – I often organize games and activities for my students, but I also often step away a lot during break times, and that’s when the good stuff happens.

Who needs a teacher looking over your shoulder all the time? Alone, kids learn to solve problems and counsel one another. Free play fosters the building of skills such as negotiation, team work, conflict resolution, imagination, creativity, and problem posing and solving. My classroom is almost always a better place after a long break. I remember devising so many new games during my long recesses at school, so let’s let our kids get a bit bored this summer, and see where it leads them!

If you are so inclined, check out Hopscotch, Hangman, Hot Potato, & Ha Ha Ha,  the wonderful book I have photographed below; it is a great starting point for encouraging kids to just get out and do their thing! Also, There is a photo of a  fabulous novel for kids, A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass, that teaches you about Synesthesia (I think that merits a post of it’s own!).

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The Anticamp

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Painting papers for Eric Carle collages

You know, and I know, and those other people over there know, that I have spoken and written at length about the ups and downs of running a tiny one woman business. Well talk about ups and downs – last week certainly had it’s share of both!

To start off with, I ran the smallest, most minuscule, pea sized camp that I have ever agreed to run.
I generally have between six and ten kids in a camp. However, enrollment was really low for my first week of camp this year- only four children were signed up. So I called a meeting (with myself), decided that four was the absolute minimum amount that I could run a camp with, and happily continued with my planning.

The downs…

On Monday morning, a parent called to cancel – her child was not art-inclined, it seems. Oh dear – suddenly, I was running something that was very un-camplike. It was the Anticamp.

Three kids.
Any teacher, or parent worth their salt knows that three is definitely not the magic number. Two kids is fun, camaraderie, and hours of secret swapping. Four kids is a close-knit unit, an exercise in team building.  Three kids is backstabbing, bloodshed and tears. The problem with three, is that no matter what, one child is always left out. I could see hours of conflict resolution unfolding before me….

…then, to my horror, I discovered that my four year old was running a fever, ack! It will suffice to say, I choked back a tear or two.

Luckily, I have a very supportive husband.

Now for the ups…

I was actually pleasantly surprised. Yes, it was hard work at times keeping the three kids motivated, and cooperative, but we actually got some great work done, and had a lot of fun along the way. We got to do things that we would not have done with a bigger group. We spent longer on projects, and improvised more with our work. Every afternoon we drove to a local playground, and at the end of each day we had a water fight. The kids actually got on pretty well.

What did I learn?

Well, I learnt a lot about all the different ways in which insects can kill, maim, and be killed.  I learnt more about Pokemon than I wish to know. I learnt that elementary school kids cheat when playing board games with adults, they call it “leveling the playing field” – hmph. I learnt that a good game of Piggy in the Middle is the best bonding exercise for three kids, and finally, I learnt to always expect for the best.

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The Eve of the Camp

July 6, 2014

noctiluna

Routine is the Enemy – I read that  on a woman’s shirt while busting a move at my local Zumba class. “Hey!” I thought, in between wheezing breaths, “I should be wearing that shirt! That’s ME!”

It’s true -I thrive on change, which is why I’m very much looking forward to the next couple of months. As we move into Summer, my focus shifts from making things, to teaching things, or rather, teaching kids. The Noctiluna summer camps start next week, and will run for a very messy, noisy, action packed four weeks, before I scoop up my bags and children and fly off to London for another kind of action packed month.

I haven’t blogged for a while because May and June are always the busiest months on my calendar (the second busiest are November and December – just so you know. I don’t want you to worry unnecessarily).

This post will be short compared to my usual lengthy rambles, because I am shattered from cleaning my house, hiding breakables, organizing art materials and so on… and I need my beauty sleep for the kids tomorrow. However, I do promise a weekly update after each camp, along with pictures of the genius and mayhem that always takes place.

Watch this space…

 

Springtime For Seven Year Olds

April 24, 2014

noctiluna

Photo Apr 16, 5 42 42 PM

So, the Spring camp happened…just like that. One minute I was busily stocking up on art materials, next thing you know the kids are waving goodbye and running off into the horizon.

The camp was very much like a whirlwind in more than one way. Exhilarating, noisy, windswept (thanks Mother Nature), messy, and over way too fast. I was left barely standing at the end of it. Most of it is hazy in my mind, I do remember a bit of it though…

We learnt about Spring festivals and celebrations, picked leaves, twigs, spiky things, and some of my neighbors’ weeds. We did some gelatin printing, some mono printing, and refused to do the screen printing. We painted with watercolors, drew with crayons, chalks, pens, masking fluid, and a gold pen that I specifically instructed everyone not to draw with. We clapped out syllables, wrote haikus, and tried to speak Hebrew words. We cut fabric, ripped paper, and very nearly ripped my curtains a few times. We rode bikes, played really, really, bad baseball, Apples to Apples, and a weird game called ‘Santa’s Sack’ – don’t ask.

Good times, good times…and, of course, I  built heavily on my existing knowledge of seven year olds, which will come in handy for the upcoming Summer camps (for the purposes of this blog, a seven year old is anyone who has, is, or will be seven in this current school year…or the next).

Here is what I learnt

- Seven year olds LOVE to be read to. I thought they may have grown out of story time, but no – they love it.

- If a seven year old wants to tell you a story, be prepared, make yourself a snack, it will take a very long time. They don’t do abridged versions.

- Seven year olds believe in magic (even if they tell you they don’t, they do), it is one of their most endearing qualities. I love discussing unicorns, dragons, and spells with them, it makes me believe in magic too.

- Seven year olds are very forgiving when you make a mistake, or play a sport very badly. They are more understanding than adults.

- When you go for a walk with a group of seven year olds, even to the end of the street , you must always (ALWAYS) take Band Aids.

- Even the toughest seven year old will ask for their mommy when you put a Band Aid on their knee.

- Seven year olds can hear certain words in any circumstances, even with earmuffs on from the other end of the neighborhood. Those words include, but are not restricted to candy, booger, Frozen, and treat.

- All seven year olds spontaneously break into a round of songs from Frozen when faced with a little free time (how do they remember all the lyrics? They find it so difficult to remember where their jackets are.

- Speaking of jackets. Some seven year olds never take them off, some never put them on. Either way, bring on Summer.

 

Thank you to all the lovely seven, and almost seven year olds who made this camp so much fun!

 

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The Lion and the Unicorn

April 9, 2014

noctiluna

Unicorn waiting for her glitter to be added

Let me tell you something about myself.

Maybe some of you know this already, but part of my mind is permanently stuck at five years old. I vividly remember being this age – like it was yesterday. I remember my emotions and opinions, I remember what mattered to me the most then, and what upset me the most. I remember being five in technicolor with surround sound, and this is why I do what I do. I based my life and business around kids, because I like and understand them. I am the kind of adult who gets seriously excited about a game of hide and seek followed by a bike ride.

A while back I had an impromptu brainstorm …with representatives from my target market. Every business mogul out there spouts advice about really knowing your target market, and getting feedback from them, so I did just that.

Armed with cookies and a lot of wipes, I asked my son, daughter and their buddies what they wanted to see on my shirts this spring/summer  - “unicorns, definitely unicorns – maybe with sparkles” said the seven year old girls, ” flowers” said the five year old girls, “Rooaaaar!” said my three year old son. ” I don’t like shirts” said his friend. My eyes lit up. A sign had been sent to me from my past …

 

The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn
All around the town.
Some gave them white bread,
And some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake
and drummed them out of town                                                                                                                                                                                                
That was a  British nursery rhyme that I used to love as a child – ahhhhhhhhhh sweet serendipity.
I’ll post pictures of the finished shirts when they are done.

Form-filler’s Lament

February 25, 2014

noctiluna

Motivation

I am many things: Art-maker, Story-teller, Cart-pusher, Butt-wiper, Pen-stealer, Tea-lover, Tantrum-soother, List-writer, Number-cruncher, Library-loiterer, Pot-scrubber, Cookie-monster, Lesson-planner, and Head-honcho, to name just a few.

If it is labels you are after, then I could go on and on. Some labels are more desirable than others; Story-telling and Library-loitering are two of my happiest activities. However, over the past week  I have been stuck with a most undesirable label…

Form-filler.

On my sliding scale of great to terrible labels, Form-filler falls just below Butt-wiper (but slightly above Tantrum-soother). I do not like forms, I do not enjoy poking around looking for lost details about my life and work, and I am incapable of remembering dates and numbers.

Well actually that last part is not completely true. I am actually really good at remembering dates and numbers, just not ones that are actually useful when filling out a form. For example, I know when the Locarno treaty was signed after the Great War (October 1925), and I know that the Munich Putsch happened in 1923, I know that Nirvana released Nevermind in 1991, and I can still remember my British National Insurance number, but I can’t remember my Social Security Number…. ever.

I’m just not a Form-filler.
Nonetheless, January and February are form filling time, especially for me. February is when I apply to take part in all those lovely Craft fairs that happen in Summer and Fall. Somewhat perversely, it is also the time when I start enrollment for my Spring and Summer camps, and send other people forms to fill out (Noctiluna forms are mercifully short, and do not include questions such as “Why do you think, you would be a valuable member of this camp?“).

As you can imagine, Form-filling uses up a lot of valuable Art-making time, so I have no images of fresh artwork to show you today. However, this morning the forms will be done (well, almost) and I am planning to get started on designing new shirts. I look forward to posting pictures next time!

Elementary, my dear…

February 6, 2014

noctiluna

Lesson on Line

Unfortunately, today’s blog will not be about my favorite TV series, Sherlock, or the splendid Mr Cumberbatch, I just like a good play on words.

I have mentioned before that I am a trained middle and high school teacher. Teaching middle and high school Art is something I adore doing. I especially revel in the glorious messiness that is middle school teaching (believe it or not, it is a rare thing to like, you know?). In turn, the job of teaching middle school  has somewhat affected my level of maturity (my family would know!).
I thought I had found my place; middle school and I, we are a match made in heaven, and when I started my business, I thought I would specialize in middle and high school Art…

…but life has a funny way of making you push that reset button over and over again!

Being the parent of a 2nd grader means that you know more parents of elementary school kids, than any other demographic. So, it follows naturally that, I have a lot of students from lower elementary grades. Back to the books for me then.

It has been an enlightening experience, and one that I am really enjoying. There is much more to elementary school Art than meets the eye. I teach a little drawing class on Wednesdays, that has been a learning experience for me as well as my students, and we all know that the best kind of teaching involves learning!

Also, there are clear advantages to teaching this age group:

1. I know them. Do not underestimate the advantages of being the parent of a 2nd grader, when it comes to teaching their peers.

2. They have great imaginations. It takes much less needling to make them to break loose with their ideas.

3. They love magic. Yep, dragons, unicorns, castles, huge ice-cream sundaes, what’s not to like?

4. My 3 year old looks up to them. They are not too big to intimidate him, and he often toddles into the room, grabs a pencils and makes a drawing alongside them. Not something he would ordinarily do. Bliss.

The Silver Lining in the Snow

January 28, 2014

noctiluna

Yes. This is really how crazy things can get.

I apologize for the snow days.

Yes, it was in fact my fault, and I won’t do it again.

About two weeks ago, I strutted online and proudly announced that I was back on track and ready to get into my work routine again, thus tempting those pesky gods of fate to dump large amounts of the white stuff onto us.  I’m officially apologizing to all of you (that is, if there is more than one of you out there reading this!). I’m sorry.

About those snow days -

I found myself, as I do quite often nowadays, surrounded by children. ‘No problem there’ I hear you say, after all I often choose to be in that very same situation for weeks on end as part of my job. However, this time I was quite unprepared for the onslaught. I had mentally readied myself for a week of organization – planning out camps, researching and writing curriculum, getting a couple of design projects off the ground – it was all very promising until…. “Mommmmmmmyyyyy! There’s no schooool todaaay!”

An interesting few days followed, where my younger child decided to break his own record for spilling things in strange places and not telling me, and the seven year old kept asking “what should we do next?” over and over again, until her friends turned up and then they did EVERYTHING over and over again (don’t ask me to elaborate).

We built a fort, made Valentines day decorations, and whenever their backs were turned, I actually managed to work on a few old neglected canvases! Something I would never have done otherwise. The pictorial evidence is below:

The kids are back at school now, so I wonder when the canvases will actually get finished. I’ve learnt my lesson about making those kinds of promises publicly, but I do want to say:  Ha! Pesky gods of fate. Ha!

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