Pete the Cat, Read-Aloud Rock Star

Mystery reader for your child’s class?  There are now two Pete the Cat books to make the most of those 10 minutes.

And how perfect that the colorful, cool cat goes to school in Rocking in My School Shoes, the second book by Eric Litwin and artist James Dean.  I read this one and its predecessor, I Love My White Shoes, to my son’s kindergarten class Friday.

If you don’t know Pete, he’s like the hip, older brother to Llama Llama Misses Mama.  Or the street version of Wemberley Worried.  Which makes him great fun to read aloud to both preschoolers and K-2 kids.

There are even activity sheets downloadable for free here, to hand out later.  Just be sure to listen to the audio files of the creators performing the books, in order to get the tunes of Pete’s songs.Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes

Because, of course, you have to sing them.

If you sing like I do (ironically, my husband would say I sound like a cat screeching), no worries.  The kids won’t care because halfway through each book they’ll be singing along with you.

Finally, I resisted the urge to buy each child a cat figurine (25 cents at Learning Express) and paint it blue, or hand out Trader Joe’s Cat Cookies after I read the books.  But if you tend to overdo everything like I do, and the teacher doesn’t mind giveaways during Mystery Reader, go for it!

For more Mystery Reader ideas, click here.

Sunriver Landscapes

Family Reunion art bannerFamily reunion with lots of kids?  Make art!

At our recent 48-people family celebration, we made art on the porch of our rented Circle 4 Cabin in Sunriver, Oregon.  What a perfect setting!  And a fun, downtime activity for the 15 kids in our group, ages 5-16.

For our first lesson, I adapted “Cool and Modern Landscapes in Chalk” from Deep Space Sparkle.

Chalk pastelsSasha, age 7

SuppliesWe used 12×18  black paper, black oil pastels and Sargent Art Square Chalk Pastels.  Afterwards, I sprayed the pieces with hairspray and covered them with newsprint.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I read that it’s possible to laminate chalk pastel pieces with no ill-effects.  My daughter’s piece will make a terrific momento of our trip.

Most of us replicated our family reunion logo, designed by my aunt and uncle.  I also displayed prints and postcards by Northwest artists Paul A. Langquist and Susan Luckey Higdon, which I purchased at a local gift shop.
Family Reunion Logo

CP Landscape 6CP Landscape 8Chalk pastels landscape 9Chalk pastel landscapeIMG_7649CP Landscape 5Chalk pastels Landscape 4



CP Landscape

Year-End Gifts for Teachers

I’m not a fan of asking other parents to contribute money for teachers’ gifts.  Especially at the end of the school year, when everyone has giving fatigue.  Or is just fatigued, period.

But I have asked for parents’ help gathering year-end sentiments from their children to the teacher.  For a kind of class thank-you note.

Last year, it was 5 sentences on a sheet of paper that each child completed, described here.  I bound the questionnaires together (nothing fancy – something that the kids would do, with a title handwritten by my daughter) and let the kids present the book to their teacher during the last week of school.  They were pretty proud of themselves.

But I did notice that few kids (these were kindergarteners) came up with thoughtful responses to all 5 sentences.  So, this year, I printed out the same thoughtstarters on cardstock, one per half sheet, and sent 5 different cards home with each child.  The children could choose one (or two or all of them) to fill out and return to me.  I also suggested that the parents could write a note, and a few did.  Then I mixed up the cards, tied them with ribbon and put them in an art caddy.

I contributed filler that I thought the teacher would appreciate, including M&M’s printed with her favorite sports team logo and personalized notepads from  The other room parent added a gift card purchased with the balance of our class fund (to which all of the parents contributed at the beginning of the year).

Here are some of the children’s year-end sentiments:


Spring Owls

These bright-eyed owls were made by my daughter and her first-grade classmates.

Crayon rubbings over texture tiles imply feathers and the cut trees were modeled after Henri Matisse’s “painting with scissors” technique.

Michaels and Party City both carry Duff Goldman’s texture tiles for fondant.  I’m not a baker so I wasn’t aware that such things existed, but they are very cool (and pricey).  Any time I have a coupon, I pick up a set.  Lakeshore Learning carries a 6-pack of tiles that aren’t quite as sophisticated but are more reasonably priced. 

I brought the tiles to class, along with my collection of peeled and broken crayons and 12×18 sheets of spring-colored paper.  I had drawn outlines of owl wings, ahead shape and a body on white paper and made a set of copies for each student.

The children started with the crayon rubbings, which were a hit all around.

Then the cutting began.

“Painting With Scissors”
As the children cut out their owl parts, I talked about Henri Matisse and his paper cutouts.  How he called his technique “painting with scissors” and did it freehand – no tracing or templates.  Relevant, I thought, as many this age are quite concerned with doing things exactly the right way.

But the children were too busy wrestling with scissors and owl wings to pay much attention.

After a quick, silent apology to Matisse, I explained the next steps.  Choose two sheets of 12×18 paper in different colors – one for the background, one for tree branches.  Cut out branches for your owl to sit on – try rectangles or Y-shapes.  Use scraps to cut out eyes, beaks and feet.

The freehand cutting was a real challenge to a couple of kids.  All in all, everyone did a great job, but it took loads of encouragement and many still looked skeptically at the imperfect edges.

Finally, I encouraged them to lay out their pieces (Matisse took great care in arranging his cutouts before gluing them), but these children were READY TO GLUE.

I absolutlely love the results, but with only 40 minutes, start to finish, this one could’ve been simpler.

Snack Bag Class Portrait

My Sample

The idea for a fun tribute sign for Teacher Appreciation Week came from another great art lesson at Art Projects for Kids.

Two other moms and I had 30 minutes with our daughters’ class while their teacher enjoyed a special luncheon.  I remembered coming across APK’s Self-Portrait Painting, hoping I’d have a chance to do it.  But, we didn’t have time to paint.

Since the doodles I make on my daughter’s snack bags have become a popular topic of discussion in the classroom, I thought the kids would have fun making their own snack bag drawings.  (My daughter, in fact, had been bugging me to do a “snack bag art lesson,” so I selfishly hoped this would appease her.)

Before class, I cut a bunch of bags in half and spent time laying them out on poster board.  I wanted enough panels for all of the children, plus more to spell out the message, “We love Mrs. Smith.”

Of course, any paper could be substituted for the snack bags – I’d probably use cardstock with Sharpies.

Three instructions – (1) With a black Sharpie, write your name clearly on the bottom. (2) Then, draw a picture of your head.  If you have space add something you like (butterfly, baseball, musical note, etc).  (3) Then, add color with colored Sharpies.

Ed Emberley came in handy, too.  His step-by-step instruction makes drawing quick, easy and highly rewarding for 

kids.  (Paper, markers and an Ed Emberly drawing book make a great birthday gift.)  I recreated 4 pages from Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Faces on big, white paper and hung them up for optional reference.

As each child finished, we used rubber cement to stick his bag to the poster board (2 pieces, stapled together and trimmed to fit 30 bag halves).  Those who finished early made portraits of the kids who were absent or drew the panels needed to spell out the message to their teacher.

This project brought out the children’s sweet side, too.  Despite my planning, we still ended up with space for extra panels (clearly, math is not my forte!).  On their own, several kids made drawings of things they knew their teacher liked, like her favorite baseball team.

A happy accident and wholly attributable to the kids, it was the first thing she noticed.
CP Snack Bag Portrait