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December | 2014 | Atomic Bee Ranch

Monthly Archives: December 2014

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Series Reboot in 2015: The Diverse Bookshelf

Once again I’m shaking up my series where I share book titles on the blog. This year I am making a concerted effort to be reading, reviewing, and buying books that feature diversity. There was a big campaign last year called #weneeddiversebooks that really brought a lot of attention to the lack of diversity seen in children’s publishing. If you haven’t heard of this I highly recommend you visit their site and read their mission and about why they got started.

The long and the short of it is that children deserve both windows and mirrors when they read. They deserve to see themselves and see people who are different from them. Sadly this is not happening largely because publishers claim that people won’t buy those books. While the U.S. (and the world) is getting more and more diverse children’s publishing, already low on representation, is staying the same. Here is an infographic put together by the fabulous publisher Lee & Low who does champion diversity that hits home this point:

Childrens Books Infographic 18 24 V3

Now, diversity doesn’t necessarily mean race. It can be gender, sexuality (although this is primarily an issue in literature for older kids), family structure (single parents, two moms, two dads, etc.), disability, and a lot more. It also means showing diversity as incidental. Not all books with African-Americans in them should be about the slave experience. Not all books with Japanese should be about the internment during WWII. Those books are important, and there are a lot of good ones out there, but diversity is all around our kids. Cam is the only fully white kid on our street. There are four other kids who live on our block and they all are all mixed race. Her world doesn’t look like the homogenous world of most children’s books. 

Diversity in publishing also doesn’t have to mean diverse characters. There is a push to publish more diverse authors and to get some diversity into the actual publishing industry. Both of these would make it more likely that diverse characters appear in books without them being flat, stereotypical or tokenistic. 

I really agree with this movement both as an educator and as parent. We are lucky to be white middle class because of the inherent privilege that comes with that and I don’t want Cam to be unaware of that privilege like I was. I want her to see the world as it is instead of defaulting to seeing it as white and I think one way to do that is put books in her hands that reflect the world she lives in and to talk to her about it when they don’t or when the representation is problematic.

I’m making a commitment to be sure that I am supporting diverse books when and where I can and one great place I can do that is here on the blog. I’ll be using this series to review and feature diverse titles that we love (I’ll still share our provocations, but they’ll be in the first week of the month). I’m going to try and have new titles in the column, but I am at the mercy of what is in at the library so I may have to look at some older titles.

I may not buy enough books to make difference and I may not have a loud voice, but I want to use the voice I have to say that #weneeddiversebooks.  

Advent Reflections: 2014/4

Just a heads up, I will not be posting this week or next week. Hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday season.

The fourth and final week of Advent celebrates the festival of human kind. This past year we began taking food over to our local food bank. It’s housed in the church that is, quite literally, around the corner from our house. Food insecurity for adults and children is surprisingly high in our city and while I think the idea of helping people in Africa or Haiti or other developing nations is well intentioned, there are a lot of racial, cultural, and historical issues with it that come along as baggage. Instead of swooping in and helping people so far away I think it’s very important for us not to forget that there are people right here in our neighborhood who need our help. If you are interested in the perspective that we should consider helping those around us before we help those so far away and how problematic charity in Africa (and other developing nations is), see this blog post on Africa is a Country blog. There are several links and resources within the blog post that can help you explore the ideas more. 

The other thing I’m working on in the coming year, primarily with my library work, is supporting diverse books for children. If you haven’t heard about the movement #weneeddiverse books you should check out their organization and mission. I am only going to be reading and reviewing books that feature diversity of some kind on my library blog. I will be less strict about that with picture and nonfiction books I read with Cam, but I am going to try and limit books I purchase to those with diversity to show support for the movement and to encourage publishers to put out more books with diversity in them.  

Handwork: Easy-On Apron

One of the presents I made for Cam for Christmas is an art smock/apron that she can easily put on herself. I was inspired by some aprons we saw at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in their toddler splash area. The genius of them was that they had straps that came around and Velcroed down. It was a simple matter of helping Cam slip it on over her head and she got the rest. I was also inspired by a child’s apron I saw on Etsy that used a towel for the fabric. 

This is a pretty simple project that requires some sewing on the machine. It took me about an hour to make, but I was creating the steps as I went along. If you’re a fairly proficient seamstress I would say you could have it done in half an hour. 

Easy-On ApronWhat You’ll Need

  • an old towel
  • one of your child’s t-shirts (this is to help you gauge the size)
  • bias tape (1 package, but the length will depend on the size of your neck hole)
  • Velcro strips, preferably stick down with strong adhesive
  • scissors
  • sewing machine
  • thread

What To Do

  1. Fold the towel in half and lay out. Place the t-shirt on it to help gauge width and length. I used one of the finished sides (with a hem) and the bottom to reduce the amount of sewing I would have to do. Be sure to make it long enough that it will cover your child’s front. I was generous with length knowing that Cam would grow over the next year. Cut out two pieces, a front and a back. You can cut them together. 
  2. Cut a half round out for the neck. 
  3. Stitch the shoulder together. If your apron is long enough/child is big enough, you may be able to use the fold of the towel to create the shoulders. If that’s the case, you can skip this step.
  4. Pin the bias tape around the neck hole and stitch down. 
  5. Zig-zag stitch the side that isn’t hemmed. Alternatively you could fold over the fabric and do a real hem. You could also put bias tape down it or even around the entire outside edge. I just didn’t have enough to do that and the neck hole. I don’t have a picture of this specifically, but you can see it in the picture above.
  6. From the towel scraps cut two strips about 8-10 inches long. Zig-zag stitch all the way around them to help hem them. You could also use a different fabric here and sew tubes that you turn out if you want to get fancy. 
  7. Place your straps about 2/3rds of the way down on the inside of the back of the apron. Stitch down.
  8. Bring the straps around to the front and stick down the Velcro. I had a large patch of Velcro that I cut pieces from, but if you use the strip Velcro you can use both sides. Stick one side to the strap and one to the front of the apron. The terry cloth fabric of the towel actually loosely sticks to the stiff Velcro. 

Advent Reflections: 2014/3

The third week of Advent centers around the animal kingdom. I think the menagerie we keep is evidence enough that the animal kingdom is high on our list of things we love. This past year we began donating money and supplies to the local Wildlife Care Association. They are a primarily volunteer run organization that rehabilitates wildlife. If you find a sick, injured or abandoned (wild) animal you can drop them off at the WCA’s facility. For free. It’s a wonderful service.

This year I want to donate time to them. I am in the process of filling out their home rehabilitation application. If they approve us we can help them care for animals at our house until they are ready to be released. I think there is a lot of value in this. Of course there is the obvious benefit of helping an animal in need. However I think it could be an incredible learning experience for us and for Cam. She can also see up close what is involved in caring for animals and get a sense of the biology of wildlife and the cycles of life and death. With the drought in California the WCA also said they have seen an increase in animals coming to them, so I think they can use the help.

This plays into the family culture of caring and community that I want to foster. I really want Cam to learn that we need to be caretakers of our environment and that there are things we can do as individuals that make a difference. 

I encourage you to look up and see if you have a similar service or association in your area that needs help and consider giving to them. 

Cam in the Kitchen: Vanilla Crescents

Every year since I was just a few months old my grandmother, my mom and I have gathered to bake Christmas cookies. When Cam was born my grandmother was not able to join us, but my mom and I continued the tradition. The cookies we bake have dwindled in numbers over the years, but the recipes have stayed the same. Spice cookies rolled paper thin. Orange candy oatmeal cookies. Candy cherry cookies. And vanilla crescents. The vanilla crescents were a particular favorite of my grandfather and I discovered last year that they, or something very similar, are a traditional cookie for Martinmas. The crescent shape is reminiscent of a horse shoe and therefore St. Martin’s horse.

I made the cookies last year, but this year there was the added benefit of them being a favorite of my grandfather. Martinmas falls close to All Soul’s Day and we still had our pictures up from that celebration and we were able to continue celebrating. 

These cookies are very simple to make. Just throw all the ingredients into the bowl of a mixer and whip them up. Cam has helped the last two years with the mixing and powdered sugar dusting with great success. Shaping the crescents is still a little difficult, though. 

Martinmas Vanilla Crescent Cookies
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  1. 1 cup butter
  2. 1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
  3. 2 cups flour
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  5. 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream butter and sugar together.
  3. Add vanilla and then add the flour gradually.
  4. Scoop out tablespoon sized balls and shape into crescents.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes. The cookies do not get very brown, so don't over bake them.
  6. Remove from cookie sheet and allow to cool.
  7. When cool dust with powdered sugar.
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Advent Reflections: 2014/2

The second week of Advent celebrates the kingdom of plants. I think this is a good time to reflect on gardening in the new year and on the flow of the seasons. 

This year is going to be the year we remove our front lawn. And in its place are going to be several raised garden beds. We don’t get a lot of light in the backyard which makes growing things very difficult. We also had a couple rogue chickens that kept eating all my new shoots. That was incredibly disheartening. We only solved the problem by clipping the worst offender’s wings. Even though her feathers have grown back in she hasn’t resumed the habit. 

Planting a RainbowI did work on the garden this year, but between a lack of light, general gardening laziness, and Rosie the chicken not much happened. I think what I want to focus on this year is continuing to garden, but making it as simple and maintenance-free as it can be. If I have to be out there checking on things twice a day it won’t happen. If I can pop stuff in and check every couple of days I will do that, but intensive weeding is not high on my priorities right now. 

To continue with last week’s theme of suggesting a picture book to go with my resolutions I have to say I love Lois Ehlert’s Planting a Rainbow. Not only is the story about her and her mother planting together every year, but it follows the garden through the year. In the winter they select the seeds and plants they want to grow. In spring they put out the seeds and seedlings. In summer they watch everything grow and then harvest bouquets of flowers. And in fall they plant bulbs to emerge the next spring. 

Activity in the Hive: Home vs. Classroom Provocations

Between setting up provocations for Cam and constantly reorganizing our play spaces so that Cam can easily get to things she is interested in I came to a realization. I’m like a lot of moms, I read mommy blogs and scour Pinterest. I like to see what other people are doing and get inspiration and ideas for things to do in our home- organization, activities, etc. I also happen to see and follow several Reggio teachers and greatly admire many of the things they do. I wouldn’t necessarily copy any of their provocations, since Cam may not be interested in what the programs are specifically about. However, I do like to adapt them.

One thing I started noticing, primarily with the school provocations, is that they are designed to take up a whole table and stay out on that surface. That’s great, if you have a lot of tables and/or space. But, we live in a post-WWII track home. We’ve done a lot to open up the house, but the rooms are still small. We don’t mind, we love our house, but it does mean that when we organize and set up furniture we have to get creative. Moreover, we live in our house everyday and do other house related things like eat, sleep, wash clothes, and shower. These are all activities that are, by and large, not done in a classroom and they create some other limitations on setting up a classroom-like setting. So bringing the classroom provocation into the home is requiring some of that creativity and a flexibility that allows for things to be put away at the end of the day and rotate onto our two work tables when the mood strikes. 

Here are some things I’ve learned so far about designing provocations for our home. They may change and develop as Cam gets older and more capable and as her interests change, but for the time being they work well. 

Tips for provocations at home: 

  • Use the Montessori principle of everything on a tray or in a basket: This makes for easy portability off a shelf and onto a work surface
  • Make sure things fit on the tray or basket well and that your child can actually move it: No flimsy trays, no tall jars that require extra balancing, nothing hanging over the edge waiting to fall off mid-move and try to keep it light enough that they can move it without assistance (this last part may not always be possible). 
  • Less is more; make sure there is white space: There are tons of awesome provocations you can set up for your child, but if there are too many options they won’t be able to get them off the shelf or they’ll just plain be overwhelmed. Be sure to space the trays out on the shelf too for easy removal and to help draw their eye to each one individually.
  • You can also go bigger: There are a lot fewer kids in your home than in a school, so you don’t have to have nearly as many seats and stations set up. This can allow you to add a few more materials, or even more expensive materials, that there may not have been space or money for in a classroom.
  • Keep clean up in mind: In a classroom you might be able to have a stack of paper and tray for the used paper and a jar for the pens and a sign and a picture and a book, etc, etc, etc. In a classroom all those things stay out on the table, though. It’s fine to have all those elements at home, just be sure cleaning up the provocation (putting it back on the tray and back on the shelf) doesn’t turn into an ordeal. It should be relatively easy to clean up to encourage them to actually clean it up. You can get creative and have a few items such as books stay out on your work table or you could have them sit on the shelf behind the tray to be picked up when your child is interested or carried over separately.