Category Archives: Life in the US

Do Hallowe’en Celebrations Encourage Greed? Send a Different Message with Goodwill.

 

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There are many things I love about Hallowe’en, but it can easily be perceived as a festival that encourages children to be greedy. It certainly seemed that way to me when I first moved here.

  • How many goodies can they collect?
  • Who gives the biggest and best treats?
  • Who has the most elaborate costume?

It doesn’t have to be that way. Hallowe’en can be a perfect opportunity to encourage children to reuse, recycle and support their community. A number of initiatives persuade children to trade in  excess candy and if we help children make their own costumes, they can utilise objects that might otherwise be thrown away. One thing I hadn’t considered until now is that donating and shopping at Goodwill thrift stores could help my kids be more socially responsible this Hallowe’en.

Last week I was invited, with a group of fellow Seattle bloggers, to visit the Milgard Work Opportunity Centre in Tacoma,  a job training centre funded by Goodwill.  When I donate or buy from Goodwill, I am glad to be reducing landfill and helping a good cause but I’ve never really looked into where the money actually goes.

Goodwill thrift store profits and donations, fuel programs that help people with limited income, disabilities and disadvantages to overcome barriers to education and employment. There was a lot to take in at our visit, the facility was inspirational and the staff and young people were unreservedly passionate about the facility. The model reminded me of Children’s Centres in the UK – a one stop shop with multi-agencies under one roof but for young adults rather than families. A place to go for training, support and education.

Youth Build
Learning construction skills at the Youth Build Program

Some of the facilities available at the Milgard Work Opportunity Centre are:

  • A job resource room
  • Barista training
  • A culinary school (they served us a really delicious, high quality lunch)
  • Financial advice
  • Youth build (learning the construction trade whilst working towards the GED)
  • Drop in Math support
  • GED program
  • Warehouse and Logistics Training
  • Computer and Office Skills Training

The following graphic explains the centre’s  community impact.

The People served by Goodwill

The second part of our visit was to the Goodwill  Hallowe’en Thrift Store in Spanaway – the largest such store in the country.  It was a treasure trove of costumes and accessories.

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I rarely buy new costumes. Part of the thrill of dressing up for Hallowe’en is deciding on a costume and using materials from Goodwill, Buy Nothing Groups or things we have at home, to create something unique. Rushing to buy the an expensive, ready-made costume feels like cheating to me.

Some of my favourite costumes over the years, have been made from simple materials. This girl in my daughter’s class  was a vending machine-made from a cardboard box.

vending machine costume

Every year my daughter’s school dance in the Thrill the World Event in Redmond Town Centre. The zombie costumes are great fun to make and each year they decide on a theme. Last year we put together this Hamilton inspired zombie from a dress somebody donated.

hamilton zombie

My younger daughter is joining in this year and wants to be a zombie fairy.  I found some great items at the Goodwill Costume Store which I will share with you soon. We have a family trip to Goodwill scheduled this week. My youngest wants to make a bat costume and  I’m hoping the others will  find inspiration for their costumes. I’ll share the fruits of our labours soon.

I know it can be tempting to simply run out and buy a ready-made costume but consider these great reasons for creating your own.

  • Recycling old costumes and clothes helps reduce landfill
  • Your costume will be truly unique
  • Encourages creative thinking
  • Encourages working together and problem solving
  • Learn skills
  • Encourages sharing as you request materials from friends and community.
  • Reduces costs
  • Encourages forward planning and design
  • It is a great family activity
  • It raises money for worthy causes.

 

 

Why not donate last years costumes at a local thrift store/ charity shop or organise a costume swap to encourage your kids to recycle and help those less fortunate?

 

 

 

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Washed Ashore at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

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If you read my previous post about our art project made from recycled plastic you will know that the inspiration for ‘swimming through plastic’ was the Washed Ashore Project.

shark sculpture made from plastic washed ashore

Washed Ashore, is the brainchild of artist and educator, Angela Hazeltine Pozzi, who distressed by the volume of plastic washed up on her beloved Oregon beaches, decided to take action. Pozzi, along with a team of volunteers, created giant sculptures made entirely from the rubbish they found on the beaches. Each sculpture is designed to educate about plastic pollution in our Oceans and encourage a change in consumer habits.

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Ten of the Washed Ashore sculptures are at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium until October 21. Last weekend we finally got a chance to see them.

At the entrance you will find Gertrude the Penguin.

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Each sculpture comes with an I spy activity, urging visitors to find objects hidden within. They range in difficulty from plastic bottles (of which there are many) to tiny toy cars and cell phones. The girls loved trying to find the hidden objects. It encouraged them to examine how the sculptures were made.

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The displays also share facts about plastic pollution in our oceans and the dangers to animals within this ecosystem.

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Outside the aquarium are Weedy the Sea Dragon and friends.

Washed ashore sculpture sea dragonWeedy the sea dragon

 

fish made from plastic washed ashore

Octopus made from plastic

 

Seal made from plastic washed ashore

My favourites are at the back of the aquarium. I love the detail in the coral reef and walking underneath the plastic bottle jelly fish.

coral reef sculpture washed ashore project

coral reef made from plastic trash

coral reef made from plastic trash

jelly fish made of plastic bottles

The theme of plastic pollution is present throughout the zoo. The marine exploration centre has many activities encouraging visitors to learn how to be more responsible in our plastic consumprion and creative ways of using non-recyclable plastic, like these botte tops with magnets attached for creating pictures.

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The zoo’s new Wild West show, shares a clear message of Refuse, reuse and recycle and the shop and café no longer use single use plastic, including plastic straws and cups.

Washed Ashore
Finding out more about plastic pollution
Once you have seen the sculptures, there are plenty of other things to see. If you haven’t been to Point Defiance before, it has a strong focus on marine animals and an aquarium full of native species and others from warmer climates.  Who could resist this little guy?

You can stroke a stingray, anemone or starfish, watch puffins, walruses, seals and polar bears from above and below, ride a camel or hand feed birds.

The marine discovery center Point Defiance Zoo aand Aquarium

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Our day out really helped the kids think about the things they throw away and the effect it has on the environment. If we were a little closer, I’d love to check out some of their summer events.

 

Meeting a Dragon & Treasure Hunting at Caerphilly Castle

caerphilly castle

It has been a year since we took an amazing trip home. We had a long list of places and people we wanted to visit and top of the list for our stay in Wales was a castle. Growing up in Wales, I took it for granted that my kids would get to visit historical sites with school. Now, I need to pack all the things they can’t experience here, into our visits home.

caerphilly castle

Top of our list for our week in Wales, was a castle. There are so many castles in Wales it was difficult to choose the right one. I considered Castell Coch and Cardiff Castle, but eventually went for Caerphilly Castle, as it was the most traditional of the 3.  I wasn’t certain if it would be too ruinous or if there would be enough there to entertain the kids. As it turned out, it was the kids favourite day out in Wales.

They couldn’t wait to get to the castle as we walked towards it and when they were greeted by Dewi the real Welsh dragon, at the entrance, their excitement mounted.

dragon at caerphilly

Dewi, who first arrived at the castle on March 1st 2016,  is a star attraction at the castle. This May, he flew to Caernavon Castle, to join his sweetheart Dwynwen.  Dwynwen soon  laid two eggs. The eggs hatched into baby dragons Dylan and Cariad, on May 26th and are now taking on summer adventures across Wales. The dragons are an integral part of  Visit Wales’ 2017 Year of Legends, inspiring visitors to discover Wales’ rich folklore. Dewi has returned to his home at Caerphilly.

cadw dragons

Where can you meet Dwynwen and the baby Dragons?

12 -25 June Raglan Castle – Dwynwen and the baby Dragons.

27 June – 9 July  Tretower Court

11 – 30 July  Kidwelly Castle

1 – 13 August  Harlech Castle

15 – 28 Aug  Beaumaris Castle

Treasure Hunting

Included in the admission fee (£23.70 for a family ticket admitting 2 adults and up to 3 children under 16)  was a treasure hunt activity. The children visited every part of the castle looking for information to answer to clues that would lead them to the treasure.

caerphilly castle

We descended spiral staircases.

stairs caerphilly castle

Walked along balconies.

treasure hunt

through dark corridors

castle coridoor

and explored the grounds for clues.

caerphilly castle

After hours of fun (and a few painful feet from new shoes) we found the treasure.

kids activities caerphilly castle

The children exchanged their treasure hunts for a special prize in the gift shop. We admired the view and said our goodbye’s to Dewi, before heading home.

view from Caerphilly Castle

Family Friendly Spaces: The Container Park Las Vegas.

container park by dayOn my recent trip to Vegas, I was surprised at the number of people trudging the strip with young children in tow. Though there are things for kids to do in Vegas, museums, shows, the Bellagio fountains and lounging by the pool, I’m pretty sure my kids would soon tire of walking up and down the strip.

If you visit Vegas with kids and want to get away from the strip, the container park is an exquisitely designed haven in the heart of downtown Vegas.

container park vegas

 

The container park as the name suggests, is fashioned from shipping containers. The 3 storey’s of shipping containers are transformed into shops, restaurants, bars and cafes.  The container park was built as part of a drive to transform Downtown Vegas and provide affordable spaces for new and small businesses.

container park

For the kids, there is a wonderful independent toy shop, Kappa Toys  whose  owner  is clearly passionate about toys.  I spent a long time in there choosing a perfect gift for my kids.  Another favourite was the vintage clothes shop, Vintage NV. We ate a delicious brunch  at The Perch, on the 2nd storey overlooking the rest of the park .

The Perch
The Perch

Below the Perch, is an open space with a stage, building materials and chalk boards for the kids.

The play and stage area container park
The stage and play space with comfortable seating for adults

In the centre of the park is a huge, well thought out, children’s playground and outside the playground is another small stage for children’s activities.

 

By night the container park is transformed into a civilised eating and drinking area, where people sit quietly at the wine or whiskey bar. It shuts down at 11pm so doesn’t attract a rowdy crowd.

container park by night

One of the highlights of the container park at night is the animated praying mantis that blows flames in time to music.

I loved the container park, I think every city should have one.

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I Can’t Be a Teacher who Discourages Mess and Noise

For a teacher like me, who spent her teaching career with under 5’s, I am used to teaching in a messy, noisy environment.  Children are permitted and often encouraged to make a mess and be messy.

duck swimming down the waterfall

Young children need to do and create things on a large-scale. They use big chunky brushes, they use oversized pieces of paper, they are developing their motor skills through moving around in a large space, they build with big bricks, look at big books and work on the floor.

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Children are developing their language, communication and social skills. They are encouraged to talk as they learn, to ask questions, re-tell events, act out scenarios, explore sounds and negotiate with their peers.

If an early years classroom was always tidy and always quiet, I would be very concerned.

Early years classrooms are well organised. Resources have their place and children are shown how to return resources and take care of them.  But when the children are at play they are rarely tidy.

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Early years classrooms discourage shouting, teach children to take turns when talking in a group and are building the foundations of listening skills but much of their learning is verbal and kinetic so would not and should not be silent.

It makes me so sad to see children at desks in silence once they start school, children walking around the school without making a sound. It saddens me to see lots of whole class teaching where there is little room to be different, make choices or move around the classroom. Carpeted classrooms where we have to be so careful about making a mess, so there are no painting easels, water trays or sand boxes. Where the kindergartners don’t have an outdoor classroom to extend their space and experiences. Mostly, the teachers know that this isn’t right for the children, they do their best to bring fun into the classroom and make learning as active as possible, but their hands are tied by environments, school policies and by national or state curriculum and assessment.

Sometimes I think I should return to teaching to show that there is another way. Mostly, I think I’d end up demoralised, frustrated and constrained by a system with very different values.

Yesterday, for our final art lesson, I wanted the children to have fun with art, to work on a large-scale and be messy. It was to be an outdoor celebration of art.  My plan was to set up a number of art stations outdoors and have a volunteer on each station.  This didn’t quite work to plan due to a shortage of volunteers so I scaled it down to 3 activities.

Activity one

I taped paper to the base of a large paddling pool. The children squirted tempura paint in different colours into the pool.  I then threw in a variety of balls. We worked together, holding the pool and tilting it to make the balls roll in the paint and make a pattern. The children squealed with laughter. They took it in turns to send the balls towards different members of the class and tried different techniques to make balls of different weights and sizes move.

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Activity two

I added powder paint to pots of bubbles and mixed it well.  A large piece of paper was taped to the wall and the children used a variety of bubble wands to blow the coloured bubbles onto the paper and make it pop. They enjoyed touching it with their hands as it popped and dripped down the wall leaving splashes on the floor.

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Activity Three

I would have done this one outside on a large piece of paper too, but I felt the teacher felt more comfortable at a table, so this activity was moved inside. The children blew paint onto their paper with straws and then used sharpies to turn the shape into a character or person.

My teacher was a substitute. She greeted me with a bewildered look when I described the projects. Her face suggested she was unsure that I had thought it through and that it would be a logistical nightmare to manage.

I suppose our priorities were different. I didn’t care if the kids were noisy and overexuberant. I wanted to see them laugh, explore and take risks. I didn’t mind if transitions weren’t completely orderly. The children were excited by what they had experienced and what they were to try next. I didn’t mind if the children were messy and paint got onto the playground. The paint was washable and the weather would wash it away. I didn’t mind that the end product wasn’t beautiful or particularly thoughtful. I  wanted them to see that we don’t always have to sit at a desk to paint, that we can create with our whole bodies and with a variety of materials. I didn’t have a learning goal. I wanted the children to share a new experience and to have fun.

Children from other grades who were out at recess, came flocking to see what we were doing, they looked on with envy. The Kindergarten children were full of joy, they talked freely amongst themselves and to me, without inhibition and they helped me to lay the pieces to dry, placing rocks to stop them blowing away. They enjoyed the responsibility, before returning to the classroom to sit at desks, eat their snack and listen to a story in silence.

If you have thoughts about spaces for children Suzanne Axelsson is collecting information about how space affects children’s play and learning outcomes and also, more importantly, how it affects your teaching…. if you cannot teach the way children learn, then it is going to have a HUGE impact…  You can respond to her questions and engage in a conversation about learning spaces here.

 

 

Recycling Plastic into Art Inspired by the Washed Ashore Project.


I wanted to make a collaborative, three-dimensional piece for our art walk with 2nd grade.  The theme for this years art walk is water.

I came across a wonderful project called Washed Ashore . The Washed Ashore project is a joint art and education initiative. Artist Angela Hazeltine Pozzi, worked with hundreds of volunteers to collect plastic washed up onto Oregon beaches, clean it up and turn it into sculptures of sea creatures. The plastic is re-used to create art that represents creatures at-risk from the pollution of ocean plastic.

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Photo credit Washed Ashore
This image immediately struck me as something we could use as inspiration.

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Image credit greenspyke.com
I decided to call our piece “swimming through plastic“, adding origami fish swimming amongst the plastic mobiles .The class have been learning about pollution in social studies this term so this was a perfect project to extend their thinking. The art project was completed in two art sessions.

We began the first lesson with a short video about the Washed ashore project and a discussion about how this linked to their social studies work on water pollution.

Origami Fish

As a whole class, we worked step by step to make a simple origami fish.  We used this origami tutorial from We are Scout. Some children needed help with the final steps of the fish but most could complete it easily.

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Once the children had made a fish some of the children cut plastic bags into strips and tied them to a decorative fishing net that would act as the base of the piece.


The rest of the class worked on making plastic mobiles.

Plastic Mobiles

We collected plastics from home to make the mobiles. Ideally I would have scoured the beach for debris and used real beach trash, but the weather has been so awful this spring that we didn’t make it to the coast.  I was also a little worried about  hygiene, as I wasn’t sure I would be able to clean the plastic well enough.

We collected small pieces such as bottle tops and small plastic toys and larger objects like bottles and containers.  The children were given wire, string and tape to fasten the pieces together in any arrangement they wished.

mobiles for swimming through plastic

One child chose to place bottle tops in a plastic tub and fill it with water.  I explained that the water would make it too heavy so we agreed to remove most of the water but leave a small amount, enough for the bottle tops to float.

recycled plastic art project
The water-filled mobile takes pride of place at the front of the display
By the end of the first lesson we had part of the net assembled, one origami fish per child and ten plastic mobiles.

Lesson 2

I wanted to involve the children as much as possible in putting the piece together. Our next art lesson was the day before the art walk so we used this time to assemble it and create more pieces.

tying blue bags to the net
tying the bags and fish to the net
The lesson was split into four stations.

  • origami fish – a small group worked to make more fish
  • tying the fish to line and attaching them to the net – we punched holes into the fish and tied on the thread.
  • cutting strips of plastic bag and tying them to the net – I found more blue plastic bags and the children cut and tied them at different lengths
  • making mobiles from plastic. – this time we provided smaller pieces, that they assembled to make long, lightweight mobiles.

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The Art Walk

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My aim was to make this a piece that could be walked under. To create this, we mounted it around the frame of a basketball hoop with wire.  The fish and mobiles were then attached at the appropriate height.

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We used the children’s underwater collages as a backdrop against the wall.

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Washed Ashore Exhibit at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

When I was searching for information about the project to share with the children, I was excited to discover that the art pieces will be visiting Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium from 22nd April, so the children will have an opportunity to see them for themselves.

sebastain james the tufted penguin
photo courtesy of Washed Ashore
Each sculpture is accompanied by an interpretive sign that gives its name, information about the animal it depicts, and an “I Spy”-style list of plastic items that visitors can hunt for among the mountain of trash that Pozzi turned into an appealing sea creature or shore bird.

We’re bringing this exhibit to Point Defiance
Zoo & Aquarium to emphasize our deep
commitment to teaching our visitors that their
daily actions have consequences far beyond
what they might imagine,” said Karen Povey,
the zoo’s Curator of Conservation Engagement.

“We see Washed Ashore as an opportunity for families to learn more about the connection between our actions and the ocean – and do it in a very fun way,” says Andrea Smith , president of the Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Commissioners.
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium eliminated the sale of single-use plastic water, soda and juice bottles from its café and vending machines early this year, along with plastic bags in its gift shop and plastic straws and drinking cup lids.

The zoo has been a conservation leader in the Puget Sound region for 112 years, and they are proud to continue that tradition in 2017 with Washed Ashore. The exhibition runs until October 21 2017. I’m hoping to attend in a few weeks time, so watch this space for more insights into this exhibit.

I’m 46 and I’m…. Learning to Dance: How I Found the Confidence to Try

This week, I took a ballet class for the first time in 35 years. Why did I wait so long?

 

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In my ballet dancing days

 

Believing I couldn’t dance

The last time I took a ballet class I was 11 years old.  My teacher had told me I wasn’t any good, after getting a mediocre grade in my exam and  I never saw myself as a dancer from that point on. I learned basic tap as a teen and was part of the dancing team in one show, but I couldn’t keep up with the girls who still attended dance classes.  With hindsight, I should have found a different teacher and a different type of dance. Soon I was pigeonholed as a singer and actress who could move but not dance.

How it held me back

As a musical theatre performer, this obviously held me back. There were parts I didn’t audition for because I would need to dance and parts I didn’t get because others could dance better than me.  There were bitter disappointments, like the time a director called to say they rated my talent but my dancing wasn’t strong enough for this particular show. My breaking point was a show in which I had to sing in the wings with the old people, because I didn’t pass the dance audition. That was the last musical theatre production I appeared in.

 

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photo credit Michael McClary

 

Other obstacles

In my 20’s I tried a few dance classes. Adult tap was fun, until I moved to a different town and the new class made my brain hurt because it was faster paced. I tried a contemporary class but had to travel on the train, which became a pain.  Another class was full of teenagers who had been dancing all their lives and I was completely out of my depth. I really wanted to learn musical theatre dance, but I wasn’t sure what that type of dance was called.  Eventually I gave up trying and resigned myself to never being a dancer.

Perhaps I’ve lived my dance ambition through my kids.  They are all wonderful dancers. I don’t feel like I have pushed them to dance, but perhaps on a subconscious level, I was living my dreams through them.

Now it’s my turn – I’m 46 and I’m trying again.

What changed my mind?

Strangely, it was taking up taekwondo.

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I took up taekwondo three years ago because my whole family attended and I needed a regular activity to make me workout. I really enjoyed the fitness element, as it forced me to push myself to do things I wouldn’t otherwise try.  When I started I couldn’t do a sit up or a press up.  Three years later I could do fifty of each, my weak wrists strengthened and didn’t hurt anymore and hip pain I had been struggling with since my first pregnancy disappeared.

Learning the moves was challenging and sometimes I felt I would never be able to learn the forms or kicks. Over time I began to realise that I was improving, very gradually. I became more flexible, my technique improved and I could remember more complicated poomse.  That’s when it dawned on me.

If I could learn taekwondo in three years, I could apply myself to something I really wanted to learn and in three years time, I could be a dancer.

Finding the Right Class

the studio

As I had discovered in my 20’s, finding the right class as an adult isn’t easy.  It was difficult to find a class during the daytime, when my kids are at school and I have most flexibility. At least this time I knew what kind of class I was looking for.  After watching my daughter at a trial jazz class, it was clear that jazz was the class I had been looking for all these years.

I was so excited when I found a studio that appeared to fit my requirements perfectly.  The Studio, Issaquah, is a dance and yoga studio exclusively for adults. They have a huge variety of classes and class times to suit everybody.   Fear, led to procrastination, but my desire to learn overcame and I booked my first jazz class.

Jazz Class

jazz hands

Within minutes, I felt like my 6-year-old self, excited to be at ballet class for the first time.  The studio has a warm, friendly ambience and the people in the class reflect that and were really welcoming. The teacher Megan, is brimming with enthusiasm and energy, which is totally infectious. It was everything I could have asked for and more. A good core workout, a brain workout as I learn new routines and a mixture of fun and  technique; exactly what I was looking for.  It isn’t an easy class and some of the routines tax my brain, but experience has taught me not to give up. I don’t look at my awkward self in the mirror and lose hope anymore, because I know, soon it will become easier.  My body and my brain will learn to do new things, step by step.

Ballet Class

 

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I  loved it so much I decided to try the beginners ballet class, to help with dance steps, technique and posture. My children found it highly amusing but I think they pictured me strutting around in a leotard or tutu.

Ballet was a busier class but I didn’t feel lost. Again the teacher was friendly and encouraging and everyone in the class was either new to ballet or hadn’t danced since a child. For years I’d felt like the useless one in the group; here I fitted in. I liked the slower pace of ballet, as it helped me keep up with the routines. Many of the exercises and terms were familiar from my childhood, even if I couldn’t quite remember them properly. I thought I would feel like an idiot in a ballet class in my 40’s, but somehow it felt like coming home.

I keep seeing new classes I’d like to try, like the daytime tap class starting in June. Anyone buying me a gift in the future shouldn’t struggle for ideas – keep fueling my dance account and I’ll be happy.  I’m so excited to see how I will improve over time; maybe I’ll even dance in a show again someday?

 

Disclaimer: All recommendations are personal – no financial incentive was given for writing this post.