Category Archives: Projects!

Art Robot!

By far, one of the coolest project tutorials yet– found here on kiwicrate. We had recently found an old motor that was J’s as a kid, but it got lost in the shuffle. So J & D dug around upstairs and found and old tractor toy that was broke but the motor still worked. They carefully dismantled the toy and built the art robot out if it. Some duct tape, a plastic cup and markers finished it.

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What it at work!


Stop Motion with Hotwheels

D and I made our first stop motion with a trial version of Smoovie. We were inspired after discovering LEGO stop motion videos like this one. The program worked great and was easy for him to understand. The only problem was that with the trial version you can’t export so I had to make a video of the screen with my phone to be able to share. I am still researching other ways to do stop motion– a program simple enough for a preschooler to get the idea.

Our first subject, of course, is a hot wheels monster truck jam.

Birthday practice

In preparation for the onslaught of 3 birthday in the next 3 weeks, we decided to do a test run on some gluten free cupcakes. Both kids are really interested in cooking and baking. Sometimes I fret too much about how much time it will take to include them in the kitchen. On an average day, getting dinner made is just a race to the finish line. But this day I really took my time with it and I learned so much! I learned that if I slow down it is really fun for all of us. I also learned that baking is just full of so many practical lessons! (Yes, I know that is obvious, but practicing it is totally different than making that assumption.) Measuring was a talk about fractions. Setting the timer and the oven was a lesson in sequence, time and numbers in general. Recipes themselves offer lessons in measuring but also in improvisation. Both kids just loved baking and decorating their cupcakes. Surely the best part was testing them out.

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We recently checked out a great book from the library that was all about drawing robots. Its served as great inspiration for 2 weeks worth of robot projects. We started out just drawing robots and giving them names. Then we did a project with cut shapes– building up our robots piece by piece.  But by far the most loved project was building robots from our recycle bin. Oh man this was fun. D and I had a great idea to attach our robots to monster trucks so they could roll. Genius! It totally worked.

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Hosting Swallowtails

It started in middle August. There on the garage floor was a dead butterfly. We collected him and put him in a plastic container with a paper towel damp with vinegar and water– in the hopes of loosening him up so he could be pinned. A few days later we found another and pinned them to a single board. We observed them and drew pictures of them. We researched and explored images of other butterflies that we liked. We hung them up so we could see them every day.

About a week later we discovered our first caterpillar at the community garden. It was so lovely, so soft, so colorful and so hungry! During our first encounter we put him back on the parsley and left him, fearing that by bringing him home we might deprive someone else of the pleasure of discovering him. But over night I started to worry that a bird might find him. We decided to go collect him and bring him home. Upon our return, we found him pretty easily then decided to look for more. We found that several locations with parsley and dill all had swallowtail caterpillars! And a friend of ours even found a monarch caterpillar on some milkweed. Joy.

We brought home our new caterpillar and set him up in an old aquarium with a bouquet of parsley and some sticks to attach to once he was ready to form a chrysalis. After about 3 days of chowing and resting he set off to explore a little. He settled onto the bottom side of a stick and became very still. Then slowly he shrunk a bit and 2 tethers developed which allow his upper body to hang away from the stick.

After being so slow and so still, he finally started to wiggle like crazy. We missed most of the shedding, but did catch the final moment of his skin falling away as he wriggled it free. He was green and leafy looking with fine ridges. After another day he turned more brown and sharp in his form. He is still hanging there today. And since that we’ve adopted to more caterpillars who have yet to transform.

We were also able to find a great book at the library about moths and butterflies that has been really useful. We decided to put together our own book of all the drawings and observations we’ve been doing.

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Unschooling in Practice: How do toilets work?


A few weeks ago, Dashiell and I had one of those serendipitous afternoons that captures so much of the pleasure and value of unstructured time — the time that allows us to explore whatever the kids’ interests are. While Dashiell and I were “working” side by side in the third floor studio — he on his drawings, me on email no doubt — I noticed that the toilet was acting strangely in the adjacent bathroom so I removed the lid to the tank to investigate. Dashiell was at my side and immediately curious about the toilet’s inner workings; he announced: “I want to learn about toilets!”

Back at the desk and the computer, we made a quick search for toilet diagrams and looked at several to fill in the gaps of our knowledge of how toilets work, both as singular units but also as a part of the larger waster system in the house. Along the way we watched a few videos explaining in more detail various toilet repair procedures, and we both learned about house waste systems that use collected rainwater and graywater.


Later on, Dashiell made his own diagram of the toilet based on what he had just discovered.


In many ways, this is not an extraordinary occurrence. But it contains within it many of the elements of the unschooling approach: paying attention to what your children are curious about, facilitating further exploration and research, activating different modes of inquiry and expression, finding ways to channel that investigation in meaningful ways towards longer-term, sustained projects. The challenge moving forward is to know when to nudge such encounters toward these more sustained, ongoing projects, to connect them with a chain of experiences that encourage a certain depth of engagement. This last point is really well addressed in Lori Pickert’s Project-Based Homeschooling.

A list of interests

One of the suggestions I love from Project-based Homeschooling is to keep a bulletin board nearby where you can post images, text, drawings and other ephemera that relate to your child’s interests– a way to keep them on that deep dive into a subject. As we gear up for the fall and prepare to rearrange the kitchen for project work, we are already thinking about how we can do this. But until the space is prepared I thought I’d jot down a few things that the kids are into so I might start collecting images and ideas to spur their imaginations.

D – Rube Goldberg  chain reactions. Building them and watching videos. Especially this one.
D – Cheetahs (after our trip to the Cape May Zoo)  We’ve been learning out how fast they can run.
D – Cars and car logos – He’s been doing photo-walks to collect the emblems he likes best.
D – Birds of prey – Snowy Owl and American Eagle (We watched together and I answered a barrage of questions throughout.)
D – Video games – He had the chance to play a snowmobile game at the arcade on vacation. Now his drawing have a course-like quality, with jumps and obstacles.
D – Skateboards and riding bike.

E – Monkeys – After her trip with Tia to the Philadelphia zoo and our trip to the Cape May Zoo, she has been pretty interested in monkeys.
E – Babies and social pretend play. She can spend hours with her dolls– acting as mom, but also working through all sorts of social situations with her “guys.”
E – Dressing herself. She changes constantly during the day. The PBH book recommends to loose fabric for kids to create their own costumes. It may be time for this.
E – Looking at pictures and videos of us. I need to refresh the digital picture frame.