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Our Kindergarten Rhythm August 20, 2009

Filed under: Children (3-6 years),Family Culture — Rachel @ 5:52 pm
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It’s the first day of school for many children, but not in our house.  Our first day of school was earlier this August, because mama couldn’t wait to get started!  We’re finishing up our 3rd week of Kindergarten.  Now that I’m a veteran homeschooler (HA!), I thought I’d share our school rhythm with you.

kidsMy kindergartner, Aria, is almost 5.  Because of her birthdate, she’ll do 2 years of Kindergarten before starting first grade, in order to stay on tract with her public school counterparts.  I also have a 2 1/2 year old, Liam, in the mix.  For us, Kindergarten means adding a focus story to our week, and allowing that story to play out as it may in our weekly painting and coloring times.  It also means a new weekly beeswax modeling session and a weekly poem or memory verse, usually pulled from the story itself.  Lastly, we added a handicraft day to Aria’s week, which creates a time for learning to tie, braid, sew, etc.

It wasn’t to hard to work these elements into our lives, since we already had a solid rhythm that’s been supporting us for over half a year.   Since I work part-time, I had a meeting with my other caregivers (2 grandmas) to share my plans for Aria’s Kindergarten year and ask for their participation.  One grandma took over the weekly beeswax modeling session, while the other does the handiwork project.   Coloring and painting fall on my days at home.  At the beginning of the month, I gave each grandmother a one-page summary showing the weekly story and memory verse for each week, plus ideas for handiwork and modeling.  As each week arrives, I pass along a copy of the focus story in advance, so Grandma can read ahead and have it on hand during the week. 

Here’s our weekly rhythm:

  • Monday:  New Story – No expansion
  • Tuesday: Beeswax Modeling
  • Wednesday: Repeat Story, Give Memory Verse & Coloring
  • Thursday:  Handicraft
  • Friday:  Repeat Story, Say Memory Verse & Painting

And our daily rhythm, at least on my days at home:

  • 7:00 – Wake & Dress
  • 7:30 – Breakfast
  • 8:00 – Complete dressing routines & Early Morning Bible Study w/Memory Verse Time
  • 9:00 – Get moving via Outdoor Play (with a Playdate on Fridays)
  • 10:00 – Snack
  • 11:00 – Free Play
  • 12:00 – Lunch
  • 12:30 – Rest Time
  • 1:30 – Aria’s Storytime, then free play or right into Art Time, if it feels right
  • 3:00 – Snack
  • 3:30 – Art Time: Coloring/Painting if not done earlier
  • 4:30 – Dinner Prep
  • 5:30 – Dinner
  • 6:00 – Family Time/Baths
  • 6:45 – Bed Prep and Bedtime Stories
  • 7:00 – To Bed

As far as “school” time goes (and I use that term loosely, since we’re learning all the time), it works well for us to have split our day into two mini sessions.  Right after we’ve finished getting ready for the day, we have a little Bible time at the table, prayer to set the tone for our day, and then we practice our memory verse.  If I can, I teach Aria how to act out the poem or Bible verse to help her remember, and then she’s off to play.  This session takes about 10 minutes!

The next session is placed after her rest time, when she’s eager to reconnect with me.  I read her the focus story of the week, and sometimes go on to read some stories of Liam’s choosing afterwards.  More often they’re ready to play.  This week, our story was a Russian fairytale “Masha and the Bear”.  Aria just LOVED it!  So, after storytime she enlisted Liam and I to help her reenact the storyline for as long as we were willing.  This kind of play with the story is really the most ideal way for her to work through its meaning and value.  While she played, I set up our coloring supplies so we could move into coloring session whenever the time was right.  This school session takes more like 30 minutes, including the art time.  Afterwards, I change my focus to housework and dinner.

 

Sign the Petition for PVC-Free School Supplies! August 18, 2009

Filed under: Children (3-6 years),Healthy Living — Rachel @ 1:24 pm
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By now the shopping madness is over for most families.  How did you vote with your dollars?  Did you buy PVC/vinyl binders, backpacks & lunchboxes, or did you make green choices that don’t poison the very air in your home?

“Back to School” is big business.  Even though we homeschool, somehow I get the shopping “itch” this time of year (though lately I don’t need an excuse to desire new art supplies).  This weekend my daughter pointed hopefully to a bright vinyl lunchbox at the grocery store.  Between the PVC/vinyl, possible lead contamination(lead inks have been detected in MANY lunchpails made in China), and consumer-driven marketing characters, there wasn’t a chance. 

Unfortunately, most Americans aren’t aware of the dangers of PVC.  If you are, you’ll know why I’m inviting you to sign the Center for Health Environment & Justice‘s petition aimed at manufacturers and retailers, to demand that they provide PVC-free school supplies for our children.  The CHEJ hopes that this petition will convince manufacturers and retailers to produce safer supplies and to label them “PVC-free” so that shopping for green supplies will be easier next time around. 

And, just in case you haven’t heard about PVC, the poison plastic, here’s a quote about PVC from the Center for Health, Environmental, & Justice:

PVC is unique among plastics because it contains dangerous chemical additives. These harmful chemicals include phthalates, lead, cadmium, and/or organotins, which can be toxic to your child’s health. What’s worse is the danger these chemicals pose- phthalates and other toxic additives can leach out or evaporate into the air over time posing unnecessary dangers to children.  Over 90% of all phthalates are used to soften or plasticize PVC products – that’s over 5 million tons a year!  Children are at risk from even small exposures to these toxic chemicals.

Sign the Petition!

 

Nature Play & Nature Study with Young Children August 8, 2009

naturesplaygroundSince I posted Getting Outside in Hot Weather, I’ve been enjoying this focus on outdoor play and casual nature study with my little ones.  We LOVED “Nature’s Playground: Activities, Crafts, and Games to Encourage Children to Get Outdoors”, which I found at our library!  The book has so many gorgeous and inspiring pictures of children having fun outside:  climbing tress, hiking, playing in the mud, catching bugs, building natural forts, lying in tall grass.  The pictures alone launched my 4 1/2-year-old on a verbal monologue about the grand hiking trip she will do someday.  Since then, she and daddy have visited a local forest for her first hike. 

Besides pictures, the book has a ton of ideas for neat ways to play outside with nature.  We took a jaunt down to our almost-dry pond bed to wade through the mud (I really just watched that part).  We’ve caught more bugs, frogs, and spiders than ever before.  Most of the activity ideas are really ideal for the 6+ crowd.  I plan on holding off on purchasing the book for a few years, for that reason. 

Besides enjoying “Nature’s Playground”, I’ve found a few more ways to enjoy the outdoors with my kids.  I purchased a spiral bound, blank notebook for our “nature journal.”  Last week we visited the botanical gardens armed with a few ink pads and our journal.  Aria and Liam both enjoyed stamping various leafs and blossoms to our pages.  I wrote the common species name under each print.  Now that’s one way I can actually learnmushrooms plants – just 6 or so at a time.  We left with inky hands, as I’m sure you guessed.  I plan to add pressed flowers to our book soon, and to let it continue to evolve, adding whatever nature-oriented observations or mediums seem right.

Since my children are young, the idea is not to cram their heads full of information, but to nurture a sense of wonder and curiosity about nature.  To that effect, we aren’t running around reading lots of children’s non-fiction for our homeschooling “science”.  Instead, we have a Waldorf-inspired nature story as my daughter’s focus story every few weeks, we play creatively outside and – hopefully – I share my genuine interest and knowledge about nature in ways that are spontaneous and real. 

Trouble is, I’m not all that knowledgeable about nature.  In fact, I’m probably more interested in nature study now than I have ever been before. To equip myself, I’ve purchased a series of pocket field guides for familiar trees, wildflowers, insects, butterflies, etc.  I discovered a great series published by Audubon that’s geared towards children.  frogsThat’s just what I need!  (I checked out many complete field guides from the library on wildflowers and felt like I was reading a foreign language).  On Amazon, many of these guides are available used for pennies, plus shipping.  Here’s the National Audubon Society Pocket Guide to Familiar Reptiles and Amphibians, as an example.  Every spread has a full, page-sized picture and a simple description with all the key details that you’d actually want to know.  My whole family (even dad) has enjoyed paging through these!  Just this weekend, we discovered a Red Velvet Ant, Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Northern Tooth Musrhoom and Wolf Spider.  Good times!

 

Children’s Books for Summer July 27, 2009

Filed under: Children (3-6 years) — Rachel @ 8:50 am
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I know that summer is halfway over, but it’s taken me this long to gather together a decent collection of children’s books!  I’ve brought home many a dud from the library lately.  I guess I’ve had bad luck.  Now you don’t have to!

Peter in Blueberry Land by Elsa Beskow (a definite favorite!)

A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle

Swimmy by Leo Lionni

When the Sun Rose by Barbara Berger

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran (more for children 4+)

My Life with the Wave by Catherine Cowan

Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni (really any time of year)

 

Creating an Art Studio for a Young Child – Part 5 July 14, 2009

Filed under: Children (3-6 years) — Rachel @ 3:28 pm
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Part 5: Organization

art basket on the tableLast night, while my husband assembled our new Ikea art table and storage bookcase, I scrambled to make sense of our growing stash of supplies.  For the last week, the kids have been painting and gluing whenever they find a spare moment .  I can’t wait to share their excitement over the new set up, with all the glorious room and accessible shelves.  Here’s how I organized our supplies!

At the Table

I placed a large basket at the table for supplies they are likely to use everyday (like scissors and crayons) and supplies I’d like to encourage them to use (like modeling beeswax and paper scraps), which might get lots among the wonders on the art shelf.  I expect to rotate some of the speciality supplies in this table basket.  It’s a fun way to keep things fresh.  Otherwise, I kept the table wide-open.  I wondered if I will actually make an effort to continually wipe it clean of crayons marks, or if I’ll be happier to let it take on a scribbly, no-bother allure.

The Lower Shelves

The lowest, most accessible shelves host our collection of collage materials, paint brushes, wacky scissors, glue and etc.  I stored these supplies in open tins, open baskets or Ikea’s Burken jars.  These jars have a push on/off lid, so they’re easy enough for my 2-year-old son to handle.  Baby food jars come in handy too, for storing very small supplies like googly eyes.  I also repurposed some containers – so get creative!  Use neutral-colored containers so the shelf looks organized, rather than overwhelming.  Simple colors and glass jars also help the child to see the supplies… not your containers!  Be sure that your child can actually see everything, without removing lids.

kid's art supplies organizationBy the way, that basket of paper shreds in the lower right hand corner is not my idea.  My daughter periodically cuts up paper and insists we keep it around.  Sometimes the paper scraps become rain or snow (just imagine that mess!).  I have hopes that Liam (my younger child) will decide to cut and paste that pile to his liking!  Otherwise, it just seems to grow…

In the Middle

Just within my Liam’s reach are the middle shelves.  I bought an extra shelf so that I could create a paper storage area.  It’s the perfect home for construction paper, copy paper and our huge stack of quality coloring paper higher up.  I add my drawings to the construction paper pile so that they can be reused as project materials.  The basket at right is our coloring basket with Stockmar stick crayons, our crayon sharpener and crayon shavings (which we save for craftings).  I’m hoping my 2-year-old will choose to leave that basket be, so as to protect Aria’s 16 piece stick crayons from getting broken.  Liam’s block crayons are in the basket on the table.  There was also a spot for a frame of one of our favorite fairy postcards.  I’ll have to see that it doesn’t get mistaken for an art supply!

Higher Upstoring art paper for kids

Here I’m storing several baskets of paint and a basket with supplies that Aria will use, just out of Liam’s reach.  Then I have some mommy-only access shelves with our Stockmar watercolor painting basket, some ceramic watercolor painting dishes, tissue paper, etc.  At the very top, I bought three large Ikea Branas baskets to store extra supplies out of sight.  The rest of these baskets were happily given to me by my mother when she discovered my lofty art studio plans.  I made use of everything she gave me, because you cannot have enough baskets!

I’d like to Add…

Now that the project is finished, I have discovered a few more things that would improve our set up.  We really could use another bookcase to shelf our supplies.  I know that our stash is going to grow in the next year, and the shelf is already stocked!  I’m going to ask my husband to build a shallow shelf that hooks to the underside of our table on one side.  This will allow us to store large items like our coloring pads, wooden watercolor boards, over-sized painting paper, etc.

Our double-sided easel is wonderful!  It’s so sturdy and well made.  In fact, I think we may have to start offering those at EuphoriaBaby.com soon!  Having a paper roll on only one side doesn’t make much sense, though, when I’ll have two children painting at one time.  I’d like to add another paper roll set up, and buy some extra paper rolls.  The quality of paper in that roll is very, very nice!

And, at Aria’s request, I plan to add an art line on the wall at her level.  She’s like to hang her art herself, and it would be handy as a self-serve place for paintings to dry.  We can always use more space to display art!

And that’s a wrap! It’s been a blast creating this space for my family.  young child's art studio tableI hope you can garner some helpful tips for making your own artistic space for your child.  If you’re looking for ideas of playful, open-ended art projects you can do with your child, definitely see one of my favorite new blogs The Artful Parent.  Her blog is quite inspiring!  Here is a list of fun activities she’s still working on bringing to life.

 

Creating an Art Studio for a Young Child – Part 4 July 10, 2009

Filed under: Children (3-6 years) — Rachel @ 8:50 am
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Part 3: Stocking up on the Best Supplies… Continued!

Now that you’ve got your basics, here are some ideas your child can grow into.  When it comes to all these options, the best art supplies are the ones that fit your child’s personality, fine motor skills and your ability to cope with the mess!

More Great Art Supplies for Preschoolers & Up

  1. Watercolor Paints:  Now you’re in for a treat!  Wet watercoloring is a method of painting that’s classic to the Waldorf tradition.  It involves painting on a wet piece of heavyweight paper, laid flat on a painting board.  The colors come alive, dancing on the page and effortlessly creating beautiful new hues.  Simply purchase red, blue and yellow to bring the entire rainbow to your child in living color.  We use Stockmar’s watercolors, which are made in Germany and used by Waldorf schools around the world.  Palumba has a set of the primaries for $21 that should last for about a year, if you paint weekly.  For a better value, buy the larger bottles!  Wide, flat brushes are ideal – but try what you already have.  Use that large painting paper I recommended in the basic supplies. 
  2. Painting Boards:  For wet watercolor, you need a board on which to spread out your paper without any bumps.  Usually, you’ll take this board to your water source and then transport it to the table.  When painting is over, the paintings must dry on the board without being disturbed.  I love a natural wooden board – it’s a beautiful background for your child’s work.  Palumba makes an ideal hardwood board for $15 (medium, 15×21″).  We also use our board as a portable mini work surface for play dough, gluing, etc.
  3. Paint jars:  Ok, this one is a luxury.  You can store and use your mixed watercolors in baby food jars.  Or… you can purchase a paint jar holder that prevents tipping for $17.  A 3-jar holder is all you’ll really want.  The wooden base means that an errant elbow doesn’t send all that precious paint across the room.  We found ours at Palumba.
  4. Colored PencilsYou don’t know what you’re missing until you use a nicecolored pencil.  Washable, erasable pencils generally apply poorly.  When your little one is no longer writing on the walls, buy a set of 12 Lyra Ferby colored pencils.  They have a chunky, triangular shape that’s pretty unbreakable.  And, as you know, that triangular shape encourages a proper pencil grip, which will be essential for writing well later on.  Palumba has the best price at $15 a set.  While you’re at it, get the Lyra beeswax crayon sharpener.  It works for these pencils and your Stockmar beeswax crayons too.
  5. Glitter Glue:  The only thing more exciting than access to glue is access to glitter glue!  Here’s a way to fulfill their craving for sparkle without the absolute mess that using real glitter involves.  (And more power to you if you give them glitter too).  glitter glueAvailable at mass-markers or Discount School Supply at $9 for this six pack.
  6. Collage Ingredients:  Feathers, shells, pom poms, ribbon, pipe cleaners, goggly eyes, and the list could go on and on.  There’s no end to the possibilities when you give your child a diverse assortment of materials.  Most of these can be snapped up for a few dollars at Discount School Supply.  Try to limit yourself!
  7. Recyclables:   Alright, these are free!  Start saving toilet role inserts, paper towel roles, egg cartons, interesting boxes, smooth-edged cans, etc in a nice basket on your art shelf.  These items make perfect bases for those collage projects.  Can you see a robot in your future?

More Great Art Supplies for Older 4’s & Up

  1. Fun-edge scissors:  Now that he finishes a project with a bit more intent, surprise him with some new cuts.  You can find these at your favorite mass-retailer, or online at Discount School Supply where a pack of 12 different edges is just $12.
  2. Modeling BeeswaxWhen your child starts feeling “too old” for play dough, it’s a great time to introduce this modeling medium.  It’s sold in hard sheets that look like oversize pieces of gum.  You warm it in your hands (or in a bowl of warm water) and the beeswax becomes very pliable.  It’s good work on those fine motor skills for your child to work with resistant beeswax.  When she’s done, the beeswax will cool in the shape she has made and can sit out indefinitely.  To use again – just warm and repeat.  It NEVER dries out!  12 sticks for $20 at the Wooden Wagon.
  3. Pastels or Oil Crayons:  A nice addition to your child’s resources is a simple set of soft pastels.  These do tend to break, so don’t invest in an expensive set yet. 
  4. Funky Paint Brushes:  She’s ready to experiment with texture and shape.  Combine tempera paint with a set of funky brushes for a whole new look at painting. wackyWe have this $8 set of “Wacky” tools from Discount School Supply, and it’s quite fun!

Lots of fun stuff!  Next time I’ll share tips on organizing all this fun in a way that’s engaging, easy-to-access, and nice-looking too!

 

Creating an Art Studio for a Young Child – Part 3 July 9, 2009

Filed under: Children (3-6 years) — Rachel @ 6:27 pm
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Part 3: Stocking up on the Best Supplies

So this is where it starts getting really fun!  Last night, after the kids went to bed, I unpacked a new box of craft supplies  from Discount School Supply.  Colorful feathers, sparkly pom poms, sea shells, funky paintbrushes, oh my!  I was forced to hide the loot so that we’d be able to get out the door this morning!  Our home studio is going from stocked to super-stocked.  (Note: We are homeschooling, so I have a totally credible excuse for going a little overboard, right?). 

Whatever you buy, make sure it’s high-quality.   Better a small assortment of smooth, vibrant crayons than a huge box of Crayolas.  Your child will appreciate the difference, and you’ll enjoy the results!  Cheap nylon paint brushes waste paint (they hold paint) and don’t apply as nice.  Lightweight paper results in disappointing paintings and drawing with cheap colored pencils is plain frustrating!  When in doubt, avoid everything Crayola.  Don’t plan on finding your supplies at your favorite mass-marketer.  It takes more legwork, but if you buy quality supplies they last longer, work better and add up to more fun!  As any artist will attest, it takes the right tools.

Now, this is not to say that everything has to be expensive.  www.DiscountSchoolSupply is an excellent source for savings and they have free shipping too!  There are items on which to splurge and items on which to save.  If you’re a do-it-yourself kinda person, checkout www.ChubbyPencilStudio (dedicated to eco-friendly supplies),  www.AToyGarden (great prices & service, poor organization), www.Palumba (great prices and best painting supplies), www.ImagineChildhood(sturdy furniture and unique items) and www.theWoodenWagon (excellent assortment!).  Or, save yourself some time and browse through these lists!

Basic Art Supplies for Toddlers & Up

  1. Crayons:  Beeswax Crayons from Stockmar.  You’ve got to start with these!  They apply beautifully and smell like honey!  A small pack of 8 sticks or 8 blocks will do at this age.  Learn why block crayons are best for babies and toddlers here. Your 4+ child will enjoy more colors if you can afford it.  If not, she can make every color of the rainbow with those 8 blocks, since they can be blended (ex. blue with a little green over it makes teal).   At the Wooden Wagon:  8 Stick Crayons $12.50, 8 Block Crayons $12.50, 16 Stick Crayons $24. 
  2. Blank Paper:  You don’t need coloring books.  They don’t even help!  Coloring on blank paper invites true creativity and doesn’t hem your child in with lines.  Use regular printer copy paper for everyday, if you’re going to give your child free access.  If you’re going to parcel it out a bit or want some paper that won’t show-through when you color on both sides of the sheet, buy heavier paper.  100 sheets of heavy, 160# paper is just $24 at AToyGarden.  paintAnd at 9.75″ by 12.75″, it’s just the right size for coloring.  This is what we use at home for our weekly “coloring time.” 
  3. Tempera Paint:  Tempera paint has a texture kids enjoy, and is not as messy or as pricey as watercolor.  You can fingerpaint with tempera, if you like, so don’t bother buying special “finger paint.”  Crayola paint looks awful when it dries – cracked and flat.  Plus, it smells strongly of fumes.  I just bought Colorations Simply Washable Tempera Paint, which comes highly recommended.  It’s not as fumy as Crayola, and the prices are great at Discount School Supply – a pack of 11 liter bottles is just $18.60! 
  4. Paint Brushes:  At this age, you’ll need one paint brush per paint color being used.  Make it a natural bristle brush.  The cheapest brushes fall apart and may not apply as nicely.  But, don’t get a really nice brush (like those $11-15 brushes) for a 2 or 3 year old.  brushWhen your child pulverizes the brush with his painting gusto, you may feel a bit sick to your stomach.  It doesn’t matter if you choose a round or flat brush – your toddler won’t notice.  You can buy brushes at your local craft store, where you can touch to ensure you’re buying a quality brush.  I like to shop online, so I bought a set of 24 Wooden Chubby Brushes for $19 at Discount School Supply.  It’s more brushes than I needed, but the quality is excellent for the price, and they fit perfectly in our paint pots.  Another good choice is the variety set shown here, which retails for just $11.  These brushes will be suitable for watercolor too. 
  5. Paint Pots:  I resisted getting these.  Probably because I hate plastic.  But, they’re genius!  paint cupsEach plastic pot has a non-spill lid that stays on while you’re child paints, plus a second lid that seals for storage.  No more washing out paint pots, waisting paint and time.  If you prep the pots, your child could self-serve paint too, if you’re that brave.  This set is only $6.50 at Discount School Supply.  The color-coding makes it easy for little ones to dip their brush in the right pot, without mixing colors.  Also available in white.
  6. Large Painting Paper:  Kids love big paper.  You can use a roll of paper which attaches to your easel or sits on the tabletop ($18 from Imagine Childhood).  Try to find a roll of thick paper, or the paintings aren’t going to be very nice for keeping.  Also buy some large, heavyweight paper (usually considered watercolor paper).  Larger is always better, because you can cut it in half when it suits you.  A pack of 25 premium, 24 x 17.5 sheets is available at Palumba for $8.  I use our paintings on heavy paper to make cards and backgrounds for new projects.
  7. Smock & Splat Mat:  These are good investments for your sanity.  Do NOT buy vinyl, which released toxic fumes into the air.  Choose from safe, wipeable options from www.MimitheSardine or even use something made of cloth.  A tablecloth you don’t want makes a find mat – just throw it into the wash from timeto time.  We have cloth apron-smocks, because they’re cute hanging in our art room.
  8. Easel:  An easel seems like a luxury for a young child, but I’m sold on the concept.  When my two-year-old paints on a table, he gets paint all over his arms and stomach.  If he uses our tabletop easel, the paint is just on his hands.  In addition, an artist will tell you that painting on a vertical surface provides a better perspective of work-in-progress.  Choose a double-sided easel, preferably with paper attachment and adjustable height.  Ours is a sturdy, plastic-free design from Imagine Childhood for $102.  
  9. Play dough:  Kids get a lot out of working with play dough.  It’s three-dimensional and very tactile.  If crumbly, dry-out Crayola play dough just doesn’t do it for you, try Eco-Dough!  The texture is very smooth!  Colors are great.  It’s dyed with natural dyes (which are healthier if ingested).  And…. if it drys out just add olive oil to bring it back!  18 oz (including 5 colors) is $20 at www.ecokidsusa.  At Mama K’s etsy shop, you can buy 20 oz (including 5 colors) for $20 – but her all-natural dough is also scented with essential oils: lavender, bergamot, sweet orange, lemongrass, and geranium.  There are also countless online recipes for making your own dough!
  10. Glue:  Here’s something you can pick up from Target.  Good old Elmer’s glue always does the trick.  You can also experiment with stick glues, but most dry out before you have a chance to use half. 
  11. Scissors:  Last, but not least, add some child-safe scissors to the mix.  Just look for something with the razor enclosed in plastic, so there is not sharp point.  Your child will joyfully cut and paste for hours on end.  Here’s a good way to put junk mail to use!

Whew!  My list for your 3-4 year old will have to post tomorrow!  But, your time is well-spent getting set with these supplies.  They’re the backbone of your Artist Nook or Dedicated Studio and will be used for years to come!