Sunday, May 31, 2015

summer challenge :: mindful media

Many of you know that there is a vibrant community group on Facebook called the Mama Scout Laboratory for Creative Living. It is filled with women who are called to explore the world and their creative lives. Each month, we have a challenge. This month's challenge is going to extend all summer! From June until September 1st,  we are going to define and experiment with the notion of mindful media. 

For some, that will mean putting down the phone, deleting FB and other social media apps from handhelds for the summer. For others, it might mean choosing the books and films consumed this summer with intention and focus. It might mean organizing gaming parties for all the Minecraft fans in your circle. There are no rules! You decide what your family needs and try some new approaches. 

It does not mean denying yourself or your family anything for the sake of being "good." That feels punitive and restrictive and often comes back with stronger desires and habits than ever.

Some questions to start with:

What does our media consumption look like now? Where does it seem to be a problem? When is it working the best?

What do I want to add in or expose my kids to this summer (i.e. we have a classic family movie night every week)?

What do my kids want to have more time exploring (if they are into video games and these are limited in the school year, maybe ease up in the summer - there are some really cool classes and online groups that would be fun to work with. We can talk about those in the FB group)?

Is there one issue that you struggle with in terms of media usage?

How do your habits influence the rest of the family?

Do you divide media into "good for you" and "bad for you" categories? How and why?

Make a list of non-media interests you want to explore too. 

If this challenge speaks to you, make sure to join the FB group  -  I'll see you there! (But not too often, I am limiting my check ins to 2 times a day).

Thursday, May 21, 2015

{sneak peak} welcome letter to Journal Jam 2015

Ya'll, I really want you to join the Mama Scout Family Journal Jam. It is a fun, creative, rule-breaking endeavor that hooked me in to summer last year like nothing else. We have a scattered schedule and it became a touchstone and a thread gathering the days into a beautiful tapestry. I get so many emails asking more about it, I have just decided to share the welcome letter with everyone. I think it clarifies the lab and my approach. 

If you want to join, you can do so here. Hurry up and I will send you my annual summer zine. This year it is aimed at kids and filled with things to do. You can give it to them and finish soaking in the kiddie pool. 

Welcome to the Family Journal Jam! I am so excited to work with you and your family this summer. Journalling has proven to be a consistently good thing in my children's education and with this lab I hope to share some of my method and learn from your approaches too!

This lab, like all my labs, is not full of tutorials and step by step instructions for creating a specific product. I will share prompts and approaches with the hope that I spark and free your own creativity and confidence. The regular practice of meeting yourself on the page to process life is a vital skill that each of us comes to on our own. Hopefully, while trying out different exercises we will find the ones that will let your (and your kids') voice shine. 

How will this work?
Each week day, you will receive an email from me. The emails are a mixture of various prompts. I have a loose schedule that allows for visual prompts, traditional writing prompts, responses to art/film/music, creative projects and more.

It is not necessary that you do each prompt each day. That might be a goal and is certainly possible - but summers are busy and might not allow for it. Find the schedule or rhythm that works for you. There is no behind and no prize because you completed every single prompt. You might want to read for a few days first and then decide how you will approach the work with your family. Prompts might spark an alternate idea that would be better for your child - go for it! I see the labs as starting a dynamic conversation. So, lets create and scheme together! I hope the FB space will be overflowing with additional ideas and sharing!

When (& how) should I do this?
You will need to pick a time and environment for this work . For some, a prepped table for kids to come to each morning works wonders for setting the mood for the day. For others, you might want to make this creative time in the hot afternoons when going outside seems impossible. You can also give it a try at night, before bed. I am always amazed at the burst of creative energy my kids have right before bedtime. If I encourage writing and drawing in bed for a bit before we read, it is usually well received. You might even want to organize a simple to go bag so you can journal while you are out. So, try it all and see what might work for you and your kids this summer. 

It is very important to follow your child's lead. Simply watch them and see how they are reacting to the prompts. If they are frustrated or uninterested change the way it is presented. Sometimes, the best presentation is NO presentation. Simply get to work yourself and the curious start wandering up, taking a peek and wanting in on the action. This is meant to be a fun activity to for ALL of you to do together. If it is turned into a requirement or laden with too many rules, you will lose them and all their energy and trust. So, go easy and light.  

Always be ready to let your child dictate, even if you think they are old enough to write for themselves. It is a big relief to have help when your ideas are coming faster than your ability to write. Also, you can videotape them talking about their response or teach them how to use your phone/ipad to record their voice. Think of the labs as offering you a privileged glimpse into your kids' minds and imaginations. It does not really matter how the information is recorded, just as long as you bear witness. You might even just record it all later in your own voice and journal.

What sort of journal should I get?

There are several ways you can approach this:
1. A traditional art journal. I like the 9x14" mixed medias like this
2. A three ring binder with page protectors. This seems like a great option for this lab as you can add things as you go, including three dimensional items. My kids have worked with this format and really liked it. The art and writing is really protected too, so they can look through it over and over without worrying that the pages will get damaged or fall out. 
3. Collect everything loose and then bind it at the copy shop. Your local copy shop has all sorts of interesting ways to bind your papers, so next time you are in there ask what is available.
4. An archival box like this. You might just want to collect all the materials into a box and label it "Summer 2015"
5. A combination of all the above. Maybe you will have a box for bulky items and a writing journal for daily writing? Think about your kids and which of these would work the best. There is no right or wrong way!

What art supplies will I need?
I am a fan of using what you have and gathering free and cheap things along the way. So, below are my suggestions, but you might want to wait until you need something before you buy it. Many times what you will need depends on how you and your child decide to approach the project/prompt.

a journal or paper (a variety is nice)
colored pencils
water colors 
acrylic paint (i like to use it watered down)
a good collection of magazines to cut up (go for variety here)
a hard back book that you can destroy (i buy these at my local library) 
index cards
various envelopes 
paint chips from the hardware store
stickers (general shapes + alphabets as well as ones that depict your kids interests)
washi tape
rubber stamps
recyclables (yogurt containers, interesting plastics and foil, meshes and fabrics).
ink pads 
big pieces of cardboard (I pick them up at Sam's or Costcos)
access to a camera and printer
access to a photocopier

An idea for photos
I take a lot of photos on my phone and order them right away from Walgreens. They have an app that works great. Sometimes I even order images from an event or activity and then pick them up on the way home. You can also take your phone into the store and plug it in to their machine to order your pictures. I use these photographs as instant journal prompts. Within a few days, I will give them a photo or two. They tape it in their journal, decorate with wash tape and drawings and then tell the story of what is happening in the picture. The photo might be of a field trip, experiment, play date with friends, class, hike, roller skating, etc. This might be the easiest journaling-with-kids method I have. It would be a great habit to initiate this summer and continue in the fall when school starts. (Don't forget to take and print some photos of you having fun too!)

I hope you join the Facebook group. All you have to do is make sure we are "friends" and then drop me a message on FB and I will add you. The group is secret which means no one outside the group can see what you post or share or that you are even in the group. In every lab, the FB group has been an extremely powerful place to share. 

We will have weekly giveaways and they will all happen on the FB page. I will post them on Friday and announce the winners on Mondays. 

I ask that you do not share the labs with others. However, please do share your final projects and thoughts on your blog or social media. We can use the hash tag #mamascoutjournaljam as a way to collect our images. 

If you have any questions, please ask. I am here with you, doing the same work and am always available.



Saturday, May 9, 2015

{family lab} :: make a family crest

Making a family crest has been on my to do list for a long time. I can not tell you how happy I am that we finally did it. Every time I look at hanging in my living room, I swoon a little.

It is so simple to make!

Start with a huge piece of paper or cardboard. I pick up pieces of cardboard from Sam's Club just for this reason. The benefit of cardboard over paper is that you can easily hang it on the wall. We wanted something really big, so this is what worked best for us. You could easily make it smaller and pop it in a frame or even paint it onto a piece of wood or canvas. Work with the materials that you have on hand and are most comfortable with.
We freehand drew what we thought a our shield should look like and then divided it into 5 areas - one for each person.

Then we spend time thinking about an image that would represent us. I had some ideas, but everyone really went their own direction. We ended up with a typewriter with a favorite poem on it for me, a guitar/frying pan creation for my husband, an owl for a thoughtful boy, palette and brush for an art loving girl and swords for a brave and strong boy.

We prepared the cardboard with gesso and then used acrylic paints and of course, a little glitter at the end.

This is the perfect project to celebrate your family identity and uniqueness as the school year wraps up and another summer begins. If you tackle this - please share! I would love to see all the beautiful representations you make!

And if it seems daunting, you can always sketch it out in your journal and come back to it when the creative energies are flowing. 


Want more like this? Sign up for my annual 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

How to Start a Kid's Book Club

Why start a book club?

One of my primary goals in raising and educating my children is to instill a love of learning and insatiable curiosity. No activity has fed these goals more than reading, particularly reading aloud.

When we read together, we bond through the adventures and trials of the characters in the novels. We hold our breath when a character we love is in peril and we cheer the dogged determination that an underdog always seems to manifest at just the right moment.

Recent studies show that reading fiction may increase our empathy. Not only do we learn about different cultures and experiences when we read a wide range of fiction, but we actually put ourselves into characters’ shoes and feel what they feel. This translates into deeper social interactions in real life.

We make connections between books and each other.

The benefit with an ongoing book club is that the participants build a common library or characters and world views. I do not think there is a meeting where a character from a previously read book does not come up to compare or clarify a point. Quite simply, our world becomes bigger, the more we read.

How should I do this?

There are as many different ways to run a book club, as there are parents. I am going to share a few of the ones I have been a part of and encourage you to create the experience that will work the best for your family.

Kid run book club

In this book club, the kids pick the book and run the meeting. They might be aided by a parent or two on how to run the meeting or maybe they just come up with their own agenda. My daughter is a part of a kid run book club. To be honest, the kids talk very little about the book and then chat about other things. I think this is fine as it still promotes reading, discussion and friendship.

A parent run kid book club

I run a book club for a handful of homeschool students. For this club, I pick the books. I spend a lot of time researching to find books that are a little different that what the kids might read on their own. My goal is to expose them to new forms of story telling and subject matter that they might not automatically be drawn to. (This is one of the things I like best about my adult book club). I work hard to make sure the books are engaging and exciting. Even if we all suffered though a book (they all got really tired of Helen Keller’s writing style) we push through together and have a share experience that we refer back to again and again.

A family book club

This kind of club might be formal or informal. We read aloud at bedtime (something mild usually) and during a reading time during the day. Sometimes we switch off reading, but usually the task falls to me as the kids eat popcorn or draw. Books on tape fall in this realm too. We love to get into a really juicy book on tape when we have long driving trips.

A themed book club

A book club might be centered on a particular theme. Manga, graphic novels, poetry, historical fiction, survival literature...anything that is an intense interest can be the basis for a book club. And it does not have to be something that goes on forever. What if you just gathered a bunch of kids and offered a 3-month comic book club? The possibilities are endless. 

Where + when should you meet?

You can hold your book club in your home, but I am a big fan on occupying public spaces when working with kids. I think there is something important about kids being seen as engaged and interesting people in the world. I am constantly talking to strangers about kids (and the fact that I am in public with them!) and it seems this is my political action. Kids are citizens!

Plus, it is pretty fun to be in new places. It awakens the mind when discussing material in a new environment. Kids seem both more engaged mentally and better behaved in unfamiliar and new spaces.

Some of my favorite places are:

Coffee shops & restaurants Every kid loves this! Let them get a hot chocolate or tea and settle in. If you want to take a larger group to a coffee shop, just call ahead and ask how that might work. We tend to go during off hours or might reserve the community room if it is available.

Library Our library has a room we can reserve sometimes, but to be honest, I prefer meeting in the children’s department. We push a few tables together and chat away. We are well behaved and keep our voices at a reasonable volume. It is interesting to see other kids come by and curiously looks at us. I feel like we are a big commercial proclaiming that reading is FUN! And hopefully, we spark the interest of other readers to build their own reading community. Additionally, it is not uncommon for me to ask the kids to find some reference books or images (or even a globe) to augment our discussion.

Parks & woodlands

Park yourself under a tree in a blanket and enjoy the outdoors. The benefit of meeting outside is that the group’s noise level should not be a problem. Kids can run around before or after to run off steam and if you have any messy extension projects, this is the place.

How often should you meet? Our group finds it works out to meet once a month. That gives kids plenty of time to find and read the novel. You will have to ask your group and try different schedules to figure out what works for you.

Additional ideas + extensions

These are the type of ideas that turn a regular book reading into a deep learning experience. But, as co-readers, don’t do these because they are “good” for you. No! Do them because they are fun and you are curious. Follow the questions and interests that arise from the text and let curiosity write the map.

Copy work from the book – as we read, I underline and circle beautiful passages that might make it into our copy work, or even just typed up and hung on the wall.

Look up the location on the map – simple and easy

Try a food from the book – we do this always! We have eaten radishes with butter, papaya, breadfruit and more.

Bring any artifact that can be tied to the narrative. Kids love to see and hold something from the culture or time period the book takes place in.

Find a person to interview (grandparent and older neighbors are perfect for this. We are often asking our olders if they remember experiencing something we have learned about).

Tie in a field trip. Is there a museum or ethnic neighborhood that ties in to your book? Visit it together or share the information with the other parents so they can visit as a family.

Watch a related movie or documentary. There is a Facebook Group called Homeschooling with Netflix, which is a great resource for finding worthwhile things to watch in connection with your book.

Check out the author’s website or read more of their books.

Pick a topic that is mentioned in the book and research it further. So many times, new interests and lines of discovery are piqued from book club.

A few favorite books for reading aloud

These are all books that we read and loved. Some are recognizable classics and some you may not have heard of. Just imagine the connections you can build by reading 100’s of books with your kids over their childhood.

1. Little House on the Prairie Series, Laura Ingalls Wilder 

2. The Wind Boy, Ethel Cook Eliot
3. The Dragon of Lonely Island, Rebecca Rupp
4. The Penderwick’s Series, Jeanne Birdsall

5. Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan 6. Nim’s Island, Wendy Orr
7. The Doll’s House, Rumer Godden
8. Thimble Summer, Elizabeth Enright

9. The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum 
10. Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
11. The Wolfling, Sterling North
12. Hatchet, Gary Paulson

13. The Mouse of Amherst, Elizabeth Spires
14. The Call of the Wild, Jack London
15. The Doll People Trilogy, Ann Martin
16. Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, Rumor Godden 

17. The Enchanted Castle, Edith Nesbit
18. The Indian in the Cupboard, Lynne Reid Banks 
19. Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
20. The Wishing Chair Series, Enid Blyton
21. The Magic, Far Away Tree Series, Enid Blyton 
22. Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter, Astrid Lindgren 
23. My Father’s Dragon, Ruth Stiles Gannet
24. Gone Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright

25. The House Above the Trees, Ethel Cook Eliot
26. Chronicles of Narnia Series, C. S. Lewis
27. Boxcar Children Series, Gertrude Chandler Warner
28. The World of Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne
29. Stuart Little, E.B. White
30. The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams
31. The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, E.L. Konigsburg 

32. The Beastly Arms, Patrick Jennings
33. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
34. The Borrowers, Mary Norton
35. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
36. The Magic Tree House Series, Mary Pope Osborne
37. The Family Under the Bridge, Natalie Savage Carlson
38. When the Circus Came to Town, Laurence Yep
39. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo
40. The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes
41. The Fudge Series, Judy Blume
42. Heart of a Samurai, Margi Preus
43. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

44. George’s Secret Key to the Universe, Stephen Hawking, Lucy Hawking 
45. Holes, Louis Sachar
46. The Littles, John Peterson
47. Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Richard Atwater

48. The Christmas Doll, Elvira Woodruff
49. All of A Kind Family, Sydney Taylor
50. In Grandma’s Attic, Arleta Richardson
51. Behind the Attic Wall, Sylvia Cassedy
52. The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate 

53. The Twenty-One Balloons, William Pene du Bois 
54. The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
55. Navigating Early, Clare Vanderpool
56. The Egypt Game, Zilpha Keatly Snyder
57. Inside Out and Back Again, Thanhha Lai
58. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare 

59. Wonder, R.J. Palacio
60. Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan
61. My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George
62. Black Radishes, Susan Lynn Meyer

63. The Neverending Story, Michael Ende
64. Heidi, Johanna Spyri
65. Moon Over Manifest, Clare Vanderpool
66. The Abandoned, Paul Gallico
67. The Master Puppeteer, Katherine Paterson
68. The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, Rodman Philbrick
69. My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George
70. Thimble Summer, Elizabeth Enright

Resources for finding good books

Amazon searches. Look for one book and follow the trail!

Google searches. Search genre or specific content area and you will find it.

Newberry winners. Print this list out or read it online. I have found many forgotten treasures on this list.

New York Review Kids Books. A wonderful series of reprinted, high quality children’s books. You can find them all on Amazon.

Carol Hurst maintains an excellent website with books grouped into thematic categories.

Mensa for Kids has a reading program with a long list of good books to read. 

Mighty Girl catalogs wonderful book lists for empowering girls. 

Library. Good old fashion browsing sometimes leads to new discoveries

Check out the book origins of your favorite movies.

Ask people for recommendations. In real life or on line, people love to share their favorite and memorable books. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

{wellness challenge} April is National Poetry Month

Come over and join my hopping FB group Mama Scout Laboratory for Creative Living. This month we are turning the space into a virtual poetry slam/workshop space. You need to be there too!

{guest post} :: Jennifer Fischer :: film maker

I asked Jennifer Fischer, my film making friend, to share some words about her current project and crowd funding campaign. I am a supporter and want to help her spread the word about the issues her and her husband are exploring through her socially engaging work. Please consider supporting this project if this issue speaks to you too. 

Dead Poets Society was one of our family’s favorite movies growing up. The power of those students standing on their desks and saying “O Captain, My Captain.” The mantra, Carpe Diem, ringing through my mind. My father loved that movie and its message. He had not lived his life by those words, but he deeply wanted his children to live their lives that way, even if it wasn’t always so easy for him (like when your 20 year-old baby girl decides to travel the Middle East by herself for 6 weeks), but I digress…

Carpe Diem -- Seizing the day looks much different for me now than it used to. There was a time when it meant traveling solo around the Middle East or Southeast Asia -- it meant something extreme and exciting.

Now, Carpe Diem often means seizing the opportunity to snuggle up with my boys at the end of the day, seizing a rare date night with my husband, and working like a mad woman into the wee hours of the night to make my next film project a reality.

My husband and I run a small production company. We’re committed to creating stories that sustain our humanity; stories that illuminate dark corners; stories that can create change. And let me tell you, it is not always easy. In fact, quite often it is hard. As a teenager and young adult, I did not imagine that Carpe Diem might mean:

Your children finding you hiding in the bathroom in tears because your latest campaign has launched, but there are some website glitches.

Throwing up three mornings in a row because you are overcome by the fear of failure.

Deep uncertainty about everything!

But, so it is. My latest film project, ‘The wHOLE’ is a gritty dramatic series about race, crime, prison and so much more starting with harsh reality of solitary confinement.

Deeply committed to telling this story with humanity and integrity and in collaboration with individuals who have lived it means we are also deeply committed to the project being an independent production. To fund it, this means inviting others to support our work. It is truly a film for the people, of the people and by the people -- and to make it work we need the people.

This reality is not unique to my circumstance as I seek to live an intentional, meaningful life as an artist while I raise my sons. We all need community. (This is why I value the work that Amy does). We all need to support one another if we are going to live our best lives; if we are going to seize the day.

The best thing I’ve learned in this very challenging process is that not only do we all need each other, we also want to need each other. People want to support the inspiring work of others. People want to see the dreams of others blossoms and to follow that inspiration as they seek their own dreams.

As I’ve reached out to others to support my dream and many have (though we need many more). As I’ve reached out to thank them, they’ve surprised me by thanking me.

They are grateful for the opportunity to join my dream. They are grateful that I’ve shared my work with them. They are grateful to be a part of the embrace of an intentional life, and I find that we both sit there in that beautiful space of gratitude.

Go. Seize the day. State your dream. Move your intentional life forward, and invite others to walk with you as you make your best, intentional life real.

You can learn more about and join my dream at

Friday, March 27, 2015

{its here!} family journal jam 2015!

I had so much fun doing this last summer - we are doing it again! 

With all new prompts and inspirations! 

Plus a new zine full of additional ideas of things kids can do!

The details:

What is this?

This is a summer long journal/art/exploration lab for families. The lab will run from June through July, 2015.
Family Journal Jam will give you a daily jumping off point for exploring and creating a journaling practice with your children. 

As a creative homeschooling mom, many of the ideas for this lab were germinated at my own kitchen table along side my children. By meeting yourself on the page each morning (or evening) you create a mental space for reflection, remembrance and idea incubation. Extending this gift to children when they are young is one of the best gifts you can hand them. 

Kids can write, draw, or dictate to you their reactions to the prompts. Some are meant for personal reflections, some are pure fun and imagination building, and some explore new techniques for expressing ideas with language.

These are not writing and grammar lessons, although I do believe that a consistent practice will yield big improvement in writing by the end of the summer. Plus, what a record and keepsake you will have! 

What do you get when you join?

You will receive:
+ a special Mama Scout Summer Zine in the mail (approximately a week before the lab begins). 

+ weekday journal prompts for the kitchen table (these are short, open ended and meant for both kids and adults) 

+ a vibrant Facebook community where kids can post their work to share and I will link up to additional unique projects from the Mama Scout archives

+ weekly giveaways (because I love real mail and giveaways so much!)

+ suggestions for 2 bigger summer long family projects

+ an optional penpal exchange program

What is this NOT?

This is not a lab full of art journal techniques or tutorials on how to complete narrowly defined projects. My interest in always in the disruption of default thinking and the process of explorations. This extends to children and children's creative work. 

Who is this for?

The short answer is, this is for anyone who will be around kids this summer. 

But really, it is for:

- parents who are seeking ways to integrate their own creative work with their children's

- homeschool parents who want to instill the joy of writing this summer with their kids

- parents of school children who are looking for ways to encourage creative thinking that are not tied to grades or outcomes

- families who want a free form summer with a touchstone routine based in creative expression

- families who want to connect with other families around the world 

- families who are looking for alternatives to classes and camps 

- parents who want to slow down time and get to know their kids on a whole new level

- parents who believe in kids' voices and ideas and right to express themselves

- you and your kids!

Sign up here!


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