Turn Yourself Around...

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

It's New Year's Eve and I just can't help but string through a long list of resolutions in my head.

It's a sickness.

I don't drink or smoke -- so quitting those vices is not an option. I eat pretty well and don't pack many extra pounds -- so dieting is not on my list. I'm really very nice to most everyone I meet and I volunteer for lots of good causes -- I just can't get any better. And, I'm modest and extremely humble (to a fault).

Yet, every year end, I find myself thinking the same thoughts.

Next year I will [fill in the blank] and I will definitely make sure I [fill in the blank] before next new year's eve. But alas, time marches on and things happen as they happen. So, this year, instead of the usual list of unattainable goals, I have come up with a doable set of resolutions. Feel free to steal it. 

If I'm happy and I know it, I will clap my hands.
If I'm happy and I know it, I will clap my hands.
If I'm happy and I know it (and I really want to show it) If I'm happy and I know it, I will clap my hands.

I will also stomp my feet and nod my head.
I will draw the line at shouting Hoorah. I'm much too classy for that.

And, if I have the time...

I will put my right foot in.
I will take my right foot out.
I will put my right foot in.
And I will shake it all about.

I will not put my left foot, hands, shoulders, legs, hips, or whole self in (or out) - except perhaps on a weeknight in May.


I will do the Hokey Pokey.
And I will turn myself around.
Because, that is what it's all about.

Happy New Year!

No... Really.

Art is Smart - Part Two

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

In a previous post, I talked about the importance of teaching art to children (of all ages). Now, I will talk about how you (as a parent or teacher) can help the young people in your life, learn about the arts...

Take Field Trips
Visiting a museum or art gallery is imperative when teaching about art and art history. Looking at art in a book, magazine or on the Internet is a good start, but it just isn't the same as seeing the work up close and personal. Most museums and galleries offer tours - specifically for school-aged children, especially if there is a special exhibit on display. Contact the educational department of the museum or gallery and ask if they have any resource materials you can share with your students prior to the trip. Once there, take time to look at works of art that interest all of your students.If it is impossible for you to visit a museum or gallery, do look through art books or view works online. Encourage students to pick out their favorite painting, drawings and sculptures. Discuss the materials the artist used and compare them with those your students have used in their own work.

Talk About It
When looking at art, encourage children to say what they feel about the art that they see. Remind them that there are no wrong answers. Some questions to ask might include:

  • Why do you think the artist might have chosen the colors he did? Do they make sense?
  • How was the paint, pencil or pastel applied? Could the artist have used a palette knife or perhaps even fingers? The texture of the paint will help you determine this.
  • What kinds of lines do you see? Are they straight, or wavy? What shapes do you see?
  • What parts of the work are your favorites? Why?
  • Does the painting make you think of things in motion? How does the artist show movement (through line or color for example)?

Above all else, when looking at or talking about art, children should not be made to feel discouraged because they have difficulty analyzing a work. Tell them that the more they look, the more they will see.

Research suggests that early exposure to visual art, music or drama promotes activity in the brain. As you integrate art into your lessons, remember, the aim of art education is not to turn children into professional artists, but to teach them to live fuller lives. Through an appreciation of the arts, people gain a greater understanding of a variety of human experiences. They will then extract more from their own experiences -- whatever they may be.

No... Really.

This article first appeared in Classroom Leadership, a newsletter for K-12 Classroom Teachers, published by the American Society of Curriculum Developers.

Art is Smart - Part One

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

As one of the creators of KinderArt.com, I often receive letters from teachers who work in public school systems where the arts are not a priority. Faced with dilemmas like how to raise test scores and how to stretch budgets as far as they can go, school board officials need to make tough decisions.
It is always disturbing to hear of yet another set of district policy makers doing away with arts education in the schools. Trouble is, many hold the misconception that art is a superfluous, isolated subject when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth...
Art helps children understand other subjects much more clearly - from math and science to language arts and geography.

Art nurtures inventiveness as it engages children in a process that develops self esteem, self-discipline, cooperation and self-motivation.

Participating in art activities helps children develop the tools necessary for understanding human experience, adapt to and respect others' ways of working and thinking, develop creative problem solving skills, and communicate thoughts and ideas in a variety of ways.
It is important to remember that teaching children about art is not just about showing them how to recognize a van Gogh or a Picasso, but also about preparing young minds for a future of invaluable experiences - art related or otherwise.

Am I preaching to the converted? Good. But now comes the tricky part... where do you begin?

Incidentally, the following tips apply as much to parents as teachers.

Create Creative Space

Try as much as possible to introduce your students to a wide variety of art media. Create an area in your home or classroom where youngsters can have unlimited access to art materials. Use the resources at your disposal to engage students in a variety of art-making activities. See if you can find a local artist to visit your classroom (a local gallery can help you). Begin to introduce your students to the styles of certain artists. Vincent van Gogh created many self-portraits for example. Discuss his work, look at some examples and then encourage your students to create their own self-portraits. Remember to always discuss a child's work with her. Ask questions and never criticize her attempts. Be supportive and listen carefully.

Quick Tips:
  • Designate an area of your classroom as the "Creative Corner". Encourage your students to spend free time in this area. Keep the corner stocked with costumes and games for younger kids, and clay, pencils and sketch paper for older kids.
  • Allow time for non-representational drawing, even with older students.
  • Don't insist that students reproduce images exactly. Allow for alterations and additions, see what develops.
  • Organize group projects in the classroom. Children can learn new problem-solving skills by working with others.
  • Integrate art with other subjects such as science, geography, math and language arts. Hands-on-science experiments can be as creative as art projects, and students can make connections to geometric shapes and measurements through drawing.
  • Play music when appropriate. Introduce students to many different styles of music. Have students discuss which styles are their favourites and why.
  • Initiate a storytelling or daydream session whenever possible. It's a great way for you and your students to relax and create.
  • It is incredibly important that each and every student sees their artwork on display. This creates inspiration and shows your students just how important their expressions really are. Having your work on display does wonders for self-esteem. Try it. You'll see.
No... Really.

Next - Part Two:  Take Field Trips and Talk About It

This article first appeared in Classroom Leadership, a newsletter for K-12 Classroom Teachers, published by the American Society of Curriculum Developers.

Gobble, Gobble, Gulp

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

At our house, we empty the freezer once a year – right around the Christmas holidays -- partly because, as the months wear on, it becomes increasingly difficult to pick through the ice formations but mostly because we have to make room for turkeys.

Now, when I say freezer, I’m not referring to one of those puny, attached-to-your-fridge jobs. Our freezer is a monster – lose-your-best-friend-Larry-if-you’re-not-careful freezers. I estimate it is around 10,000 cubic feet (or something close to it).

Our freezer, despite its size, does little else but store turkeys – free-range, caged-up, young, old, stuffed, grease-injected... you name it – we’ve got it.

Why so many? It’s simple. My family is cursed. We receive turkeys as gifts. We win turkeys at the gas station. Turkeys follow us home. We answer the door to find please-take-care-of-this-turkey turkeys. So, every year, around this time, the turkey storage unit (freezer) needs to be stripped, chipped and hosed down, to make room for more birds.

This year, we decided to make good use of each and every one of the turkeys that have been taking up space in the bowels of our freezer and create wonderful Christmas gifts that the entire family could enjoy. Here for you now, are my personal favourites. Fee free to steal my ideas. Your family will thank you. Trust me, I’m an artist.

Without further ado… (Martha, eat your heart out).

Turkey stuffing earmuffs – to keep you warm during those chilly winter outings.

Turkey fat bath oil – guaranteed to make even the roughest skin smooth and supple.

Turkey liver lip balm – because winter winds can wreak havoc on the lips.

Turkey centerpiece – just add evergreen sprigs and you’re done.

Turkey feather duster – better than a Swiffer®.

Turkey wishbone sculptures – no explanation necessary.

Turkey feet candle holders – so chic.

After we were finished in the craft room, we collectively made the decision to scrap the Christmas turkey and cook a Tofurky vegetarian feast instead. The box claims that each feast is 100% vegan, cooks in about an hour, serves six and tastes fabulous!

Tofurky dinner is on Boxing Day.

No… Really.

Ka-Ching - It's Christmas Eve

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

Waited until the final hour again, did you?

For all of you who still need to pick up a gift for your uncle Ken, a little something for your husband Frank and a turkey for the dinner you are preparing for your entire family, I have a little present...

Here are the top five ways to make last minute Christmas shopping more enjoyable for everyone (yes, even that big-haired woman who stepped on your head while successfully grabbing the last Xbox 360 from your sweaty palms).

As an added bonus, if you follow my advice, you might just clear a path around yourself large enough to actually get your shopping done. You’re welcome.

5) While at the mall, jump on Santa’s lap and refuse to get off.

4) Hang jingle bells from your ears and shout, “Sleigh bells ring --- ARE YOU LISTENING?”

3) Sing , “Santa Claus is coming to Town” with an emphasis on the “You Better Watch Out” part of the song.

2) Place a “Hello my name is Santa” sticker on your bum.

1) Attach a fake Santa beard to your face. Ask everyone you see to give it a yank.

Merry Christmas Eve shopping everyone.

No… Really.

B is for Banana Bread

By Andrea Mulder-Slater

Anyone who knows me knows that beyond the coffee maker, I’m not real handy with the tools that can be found in a kitchen. Sure, I can load and empty a dishwasher and yeah, I have been known to fry an egg or two. Once, I even made a roast beef dinner, complete with potatoes, onions and – gasp – gravy.

It’s not so much that I can’t cook – it’s that I hate doing it.

However, kids (it would appear) have a way of changing our attitudes. So it was when the littlest one and I decided to bake banana bread this week. She LOVES the stuff and I’m rather fond of it as well. But baking from scratch is just so much work!

Instead, I was spurred on by a fun find at the grocery store. Simply Organic Banana Bread Mix, according to the company’s marketing department, is, “A Gluten-free Simply Organic Banana Bread Mix that combines cinnamon with the intriguing warmth of allspice and wholesome brown rice flour to create flavor that never loses its appeal. The rich, fruity flavor of Banana Bread will make consumers … go bananas.”

And go bananas we did.

The recipe called for water, eggs and two ripe bananas. Check, check and… pause, pause, pause, check. We had to wait three days for our bananas to ripen enough but as soon as they did, Jannique and I got to work and I have to say, the results were really great.

She loves the taste as much as the wheat filled variety and I loved baking with my girl. No, it wasn’t real sift-the-flour, knead-the-dough baking but hey, Grover from Sesame Street almost become part of the bread after being encouraged to take a nosedive into the mixing bowl.

As the kiddo always says, “It happens.”

No… Really.

Don't forget to remember (or maybe you should)...

by: Andrea Mulder-Slater

“It snowed again last night.”

Geoff already had the coffee on when I stumbled downstairs in my housecoat. It was Saturday morning – a nice day to sleep in.

“Yeah.” I said, peering out the window into the semi-darkness.

The truck was covered. So was the car.

“That’s weird.”

“What’s that?” asked Geoff.

“The van – it’s completely clear.”

Not a flake of snow had settled onto our burgundy van…

We all forget things.

My mom regularly leaves her sunglasses on random retail store countertops. My dad once forgot to pick me up after school, returning home instead with a container of milk and a newspaper. Geoff has, on more than one occasion, positioned coffee cups, wallets, and garage door openers on top of any one of a number of vehicles, over the years. Some items we’ve found back – others (like one garage door opener) were snatched by a gaggle of droll teens who delighted in opening and closing and opening and closing our door at all hours of the day and night… until we moved.

Me? I’ve forgotten more than I can remember. At least I think I have. Once, I arrived at the grocery store (a 25 minute drive from my house) to plenty of points and whispers. “Where’s the rest of him?” asked a gentleman while staring at the front of my vehicle. My heart pounded heavy in my throat – my head full of dark imaginings. I was more than relieved when I saw my jacket – arm whipped up on the hood - positioned “just so” on the front fender of my jeep. The wind was with me that day.

The afternoon before the night of the snowfall, the battery in our van died. It was around four in the afternoon when we discovered that we had left an interior light on – the day before. We had arrived home late and had done a last minute sweep for soothers, dolls and goldfish crackers – so as not to forget anything. Except to turn off the light.

“I’ll give it a boost and let it run for a while.” Geoff had said as he headed outside to jump-start the van. It sputtered and spit and came to life. It was dusk and the headlights were shining directly into the neighbour’s window. So, Geoff turned them off… at 5pm, Friday night.

Saturday morning, back in the kitchen, Geoff and I were both at the door – puzzled by what was in the driveway. “How can that be?” I asked. “This is so weird.” Geoff maintained. Was it a freak of nature? Did our van have a special snow shield we weren’t aware of? Was it a Christmas miracle? Could this all be explained by my ninth grade physics teacher?

“It’s almost like it’s running...”

It’s not everyplace where you can forget to turn off your vehicle and leave it running – keys inside, door unlocked - mere yards from the street, for fifteen odd hours. All that was missing was the “Take Me, I’m Yours” sign. Fortunately for us, we live in a small town – a place where folks haven’t forgotten what it means to be neighbourly.

Timothy Brady, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says, “Forgetting is important because it makes it easier to recall new memories.” This makes me feel better. I figure, if forgetting helps me to remember, then I’ve got lots of great memories ahead of me.

No… really.