3 Reasons Why You Should Still Garden (even when you don’t really have time to do it well)

The first year we gardened was only 4 years ago, I think. We were ambitious with our raised bed garden and planted many things. Each year I say, that was too many things–I don’t have time for all that! Because a garden is a commitment–some plants more than others. And for growing with organic methods, there is a learning curve. It takes research and a spirit of willingness to learn new growing strategies and new (old) ways to solve problems.

This year, I knew what our summer was like as far as travel and other plans, so I planned to plant only three things: lettuce, peppers, and green beans. AND THEN–my ability to tend to what I’d planted–meager though it was–decreased even more due to an injury. Some crops weren’t doing so well. One of my original 3 was pretty much a wash (lettuce).

And yet–I am so glad I did bother planting at all. For 3 reasons:

  1. Your garden going somewhat wild leads to pretty cool things.


I have 5 raised beds and decided to plant only 3. One I covered with a tarp after I realized I couldn’t keep the weeds at bay. The other had some mint in it, remnants from years past. I left that mostly alone for my daughter who loved to play in it and water it and tend “her crop.” She loves picking her “mints” and asking me to make tea from it.

BUT the really cool thing was that for the first time, I saw the mint go so wild that it blossomed on the tops (3-4 feet high) with tiny purple flowers–and suddenly my garden was like a disco for at least 12 varieties of bees and wasps, and butterflies! For weeks I saw beautiful butterflies of many types. Today I saw a few that are probably moths, all orange and browns, with many pairs of eyes in its wing design. (above)

And my favorite–lots of Swallowtails. Today I saw at least 7 at a time flitting from mint to Queen Anne’s lace. (And in trying to get a picture of them for days, I’m wondering if Swallowtails travel in a group. They seemed to be there or not en mass.)


And all that butterfly/bee activity–which I’ve never seen the likes of in my garden–led to bigger crop outputs than expected, based on how little I invested. (All those pollinators!)20170817_100912

2. Kids get so much from watching things grow.


Here’s my daughter pointing to our first apples ever to come from planting trees years ago. Now this is not part of my garden, but like the cucumbers and beans in my garden, she loved to check the progress on growing things–amazed. There are few things better than a summer evening with a child in the garden with me, inspecting the buds of a plant, being fascinated by a preying mantis found among leaves carrying a grasshopper away, or counting all the “baby” beans with glee, planning our future dinner menu.

Tonight we ate our green beans. They were so tender, with no tough strings–and my kids had 2nd and 3rd helpings! (And I just have to mention the pears–they are no work at all–as the best, juiciest, most plentiful crop we’ve seen in 10 years!)


3. You learn a lot–from plants that fail.

The cucumber plants in this photo below are dying. I didn’t plan to plant them at all this year because every year, our crop gets worse and worse. Last summer, we got nothing but a few cucumber that curved and went mushy on the vine at the size of about 3 inches. I hadn’t solved the puzzle of why, and I knew I didn’t have the time to research and try new solutions this year.


Then my sons got seeds from someone and so I planted half a dozen, just to see. I put them in a different location in the garden. I planted them late–one recommendation for planters trying to beat squash bugs–the theory being that planting later makes present bugs realize there is nothing in this garden for them, so they move on. (And after they’ve moved on, the sprouts come up.) So yes, that was my plan all along–plant them late as a strategy! (Yeah–let’s go with that…)

I was amazed at how healthy and vibrant my 4 plants were–gorgeous! No sign of bugs, and everything was lush, producing better cucumbers than we’ve ever had.

THEN, after a lot of rain last week, I saw the damage. Yellow spots all over. A fungus. The plentiful water had hastened its spread. This can’t be curbed, but it can be prevented by a baking soda spray early on. (So now I know that for next year.)

It was invaluable information I learned from a crop I put little into, as I did not have time to be really invested. Now I know that I’d not figured out my plants’ failings in past years was because it was actually 2 different issues. (I’d only ever treated the plants for one, not realizing it was 2 issues.)

So, what have you learned from a failed garden?


What have you learend this summer from planting?


Other things I write about:

Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations

18 Things I Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)

The “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls ApartThe “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls Apart

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Abstract Drawing Lesson, Week 4

Ah, the Abstract art lesson–the lesson some kids love because of its great departure from everything else they’ve been learning about observing reality closely! Designed for week 4 of the drawing unit for Classical Conversations, this lesson uses students’ faces–realistic or cartoonish representation–as inspiration.

For my class of 9-12 year olds (Masters), I gave them the option of either approach (realistic or cartoon). This could be done as self-portraits if you had mirrors for every student, or classmates’ faces. I chose to have kids draw each other.

To understand one style of abstract art, we looked at some cubist faces by Modern artist George Braque (who, with Picasso, created the Cubist art movement):


Found here.

Head of a Woman found here

Braque had become consumed with the idea that “everything in nature is based on the sphere, cone, and cylinder.”  (For more on cubism, check here.)

Yes–basic geometric shapes! Ha ha, coming back around to lesson one!

In both these, we discussed what students observed: most notably, that the faces were very simple. One is broken down into geometric shapes. The other combined the side view with the frontal view. both are examples of an abstraction.


The project:

Step 1. I passed paper out to students. I described that we would make such faces as Picasso did–out of our neighbors’ faces in the class. Yes, that s followed by an apostrophe was purposeful–students can draw multiple sutndets’ features in this project. It works best if kids have access to seeing classmates who are both facing them as well as situated near them in profile (such as in sitting around tables).

Step 2. I ask students to draw maybe the nose of the person on their left, one eye from someone across the table, an ear from a person on the right, etc. A fun mix and match. And they may draw with very simple, bold lines as in The Sailor. Or students can go for photo-realism. Either way.

But in either case, I’m asking the students to look at the student they are drawing at the moment, from whatever point of view, to find recognizable BASIC SHAPES. (As I laid the foundation in lesson 1, I continue asking students too look for the basic shapes as described in OiLs as well as simple geometric shapes that are formed by the OiLs.) Below, my cartoon version really captures the spirit of this. (This version of the project is easier and really drives home the way of abstract artists to distill complex images into extremely basic shapes.)

Below, see how the hair is made of sections I saw as triangles. The nose is a simple angle. I had fun making each eye with a different way of overlapping circle shapes. (I wish I had simplified the basic shapes of that hand more.) I pointed out to students how some of the features are in profile, some are from straight-on. I also wish I’d finished this and put color all over it, as I’d started. In fact, I think I will before I do this lesson again; this is as far as I got in my example in class last time I did this

color abstract cartoon face cycle 3 001


Here is one where each feature is drawn realistically–but not put together realistically. I would save this for a more advanced group of drawers or perhaps if I had the same kids more than one year. This would be a second/harder version to try.

abstract realistic face, cycle 3 001

In my experience, most kids like the abstract week–they feel it’s easy to succeed with. (Although there are always a few who feel uncomfortable with it. They’d prefer to stick with realism.) Encourage your students to have fun, try new things, and experiment! Note: Just be mindful that because you are asking students to draw classmates, make sure that is attempted only if you’ve established the classroom as a respectful, safe place for all students and you are reasonably assured that students are of a maturity level to not draw in a way to ridicule others or be insensitive about students’ features. If you have a class where this is an issue still, I’d do abstract self-portraits with mirrors, not drawing other students.

Below are other lessons I used for Classical Conversations classes, cycle 3.

Other blogs:

Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations

18 Tings We Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)

Mirror-Image Drawing, Week 2, Classical Conversations, Native American

Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3

Letter to My Future Daughters-in-Law, from a Crunchy Mama


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18 Things I Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)

Here we are–August, and the end of summer is in sight, counted by number of weekends left. And I mourn it.

There’s always stuff we didn’t fit in during the summer–stuff I put off during the rest of the year, saying, “Oh, we can do that in the summer!” Do you have a list of things you didn’t get done yet? Here’s my list:

  • Getting my son together with his oldest friend whom he’s not seen in a year (I promised they could get to see each other multiple times over the summer!)
  • A once-a-month trip to see grandparents
  • Going to Knoebels’ Amusement park a second time (during said trip to grandparents)
  • IMG_0885
  • Free Fridays at the PA history museum for my history buff son
  • Playing in the Yellow Breeches Creek
  • Playing in the creek at a local park, where the kids love to build dams
  •  Getting together with a number of different families we never have time to get together with during the school year
  • Going to the fossil pit and rest of attractions at Montour Preserve. (That’s been on my list for YEARS. My grandmother took me all the time as a kid, and I’ve STILL not taken my kids!)
  • Going walking regularly at local parks with good trails, letting the kids bike. (Not. even. once. yet. )
  • Yoga once a week at the gym. (Went once so far.)
  • Swimming often at the lake, our only access to swimming around here.
  • Re-organizing kids’ rooms, a number  of closets, school supplies, kitchen cupboards. (That could be it’s own long list, but I’ll spare you. I’ve started on one project in that list.)
  • Plan curriculum and lesson plans for this coming school year
  • Read aloud to my kids every day for fun. (But I find this works only if we’re actually home. What’d’ya know?)
  • Take advantage of the library’s awesome summer kids programming on Thursdays (It’s over now. Didn’t get to even one.)
  • Check out a free morning kids’ movie at the local theater. (Never got there either.)
  • Take the kids bowling, using that free pass we got from the library.
  • Enjoy days where routinely being home leads to boredom, then boredom leads to the kind of creativity that I remember as a kid living on a farm at the top of a hill with nowhere to go.

I won’t even get into my list for myself–my own personal and professional goals that concern me and not the kids! (I’m afraid to even make a list of my personal goals of finishing a final edit of my novel, prepping to teach new classes in the fall for junior high ages students, and getting outside to exercise every day….)


(We did manage a family vacation, thankfully!)

You may have realized that my list reveals a Catch 22. There are  some mutually exclusive goals there. I can’t actually take my kids to all those places and give them the kind of summer I had (where boredom leads to creativity). I can’t take them once a month to see grandparents without missing 4 or more days of time to accomplish other things going on where I live.

Everything you say yes to is an intrinsic no to something else. It’s just true. I’ve often tried to beat that math. I can do this and that. We can meet at the park with those friends in the morning and still attend that other event. This is the struggle summer has given me for years now. After a school year of never having time to do those special things, I ma trying to fit in as many as I can in approximately three months. But a yes to something is STILL a no to something else. You can attend two events in the same day and therefore think you can say yes to everything–but the principal still holds. You are saying no to something. Is it sleep? Is it time kids need to rest? Is it your or their patience or wit (disappearing under stress or too-much-busyness)? Time at home to keep up with housework? Or the garden? It’s ALWAYS something.

And I really dislike that. I want to sleep in–because we can! I want slow, leisure time! I want the garden. It’s peaceful and restorative to me to tend one. But a previous summer taught me how imperative it is to be home enough to actually be able to care for and harvest the food. That was the summer I managed to take the kids away for almost a whole week each month of the summer to see grandparents. And go on a family vacation. And work a couple of conferences. We just were not home a ton. And produce grew and rotted on the vine before I could get home and known it was ripe!

Now this summer was different than the others in that something beyond my control dictated that I didn’t go out of town as much. But I also didn’t do a lot of other things on that list. I’ve been tired and recuperating from an unexpected injury. That has forced me to say no to a lot of things. Just so I could say “yes” to–drum roll please: lying in bed with an ice pack. Being still in a quiet room, in pain. Slowly, gradually, recovering function. Managing to just make meals for my family and get the dishwasher emptied. (There were days that seemed in insurmountable task. It was mentally exhausting to look at that dishwasher; I wondered how I or anyone, had routinely emptied it. Every. Day. (!)

So yes, this summer was “worse” for me in the sense that I didn’t accomplish even more of my “fun” to do list and my “necessary” to do list. I had to say no to some travel, some plans, some visits with friends, some things I wanted to be involved in. And I’ve looked back and have seen times  did push it–days I expected too much of myself, thinking that just because I was getting better that I was well enough to expect myself to be ale to manage a full plate like I had done when completely well.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t want to say no to whole  categories of things. Our summers have been a little bit of everything (meaning that I’m disappointed we didn’t get to do more of many things. But for me to do any of those things more often, I’d have ot skip others entirely. Do I want to have the kids not do the library reading program at all? Not swim at all? Not go out of town at all? Not make play-dates at parks with other families at all? Cna i sacrifice those in order to exercise more or get the kids ot more programs? I’ve continually let myself get frustrated  by the inability to accomplish certain things with the kids/for the kids–experiences I want them to have. But they really cannot have it all!

My challenge for next summer is to choose not to be frustrated by what I choose. What I want and desire for our summer isn’t actually possible. I simply need tocommit to what I’ve chosen and stop allowing frustration about it to reign. My kids can have the summer of being home and playing outside all day, splashing in the kiddie poo and running in the hose water–getting tan and doing–(well, I don’t know exactly all that they’d be doing). We’ve never had the kind of long summer home that would show me what new things they’d do with that time outside.) Or my kids can have the summer that connects them to all their close  friends from various places whom they do not see during the year. Or we cna go to all the activities at parks, libraries, theaters, etc. Or we can do some of all of that–a smattering of things not to repeated–until perhaps next year. ut whatever it is, I challenge myself to come ot peace with that reality.

NO one can really do ti all. Even if they manage the facade of it, there’s always something neglected, even if it’s not visible or it’s behind the scenes. (like my neglected garden of a previous year or spring/summer cleaning never done, or lack of sleep/rest evident in the kid’).

In an effort to be content, we did do some things this summer:

  • one outdoor entertainment at a local park
  • short family vacation
  • one day at Knoebels’ amusement park
  • reading aloud to them, some days
  • two VBS weeks they really wanted to go to
  • one short trip to see grandparnets
  • doing the library reading program, even if we missed all the events: the magician, the reptile guy, the puppet show, etc.
  • play dates with a few families on our list


Summer is not the endless promise it seemed to me as a kid. The endless, day-less entity in which I could get lost nad not even reckon time. (That was glorious though, wasn’t it?) Summer is finite and really only 12-16 weeks long.

In all of this, I am accomplishing one big goal, no matter: summer is, for my kids, different than the rest of the year. It’s a time of perceived freedom–later bed times, sleeping in, virtually no cap on daylight so play outside in the evening extends… Maybe that’s’ all they really need in the end—not my long list of plans in my head.

Does anyone else struggle with such issues in the summer?


Other articles:

The “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls Apart

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)

Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations





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Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3

The biggest impediment to drawing is our assumptions. We often miss the actual size or shape of a line or area because we get stuck or intimidated about what we think it should look like.

The idea behind having kids draw an  is upside-down image is to help students see only what is actually there, not what they think is there.  Here is my lesson for week 3, Upside-down drawing, for Classical Conversations. I did this in cycle 3 for a class of Masters students (ages 9-12) who really were into the subject matter of the drawing.

Because the point of this exercise is to allow the trick to help us see the truth of the lines and basic shapes, I will take you through this tutorial the way my students do it: with the mystery. If I showed you the drawing now, I’d rob you of the opportunity to see if it works for you AND keep you from the experience students have in this.

Prep #1 at home: Make copies of what you want students to draw. Especially if you have older, returning students, they expect to get an upside-down drawing. The entire idea of the exercise is to trick the brain to see merely lines and shapes–and not get distracted by complex images of real life that may intimidate. The attempt is lost if kids can flip the drawing around.

Problem: returning students know to expect this “trick,” so it’s hard to let the trick work its magic. Some get stubborn and don’t even want to try it upside down. Others will try, but keep craning their heads and bodies to keep seeing the drawing right-side-up, and it all results in really funny drawings that show that the lesson didn’t help the students in the least! (Because they weren’t game for giving it a shot.)

So to try to preserve the intent of the exercise by trying to preserve a mystery, I tape construction paper over part of the drawing. For this exercise, I divided the drawing into three parts by drawing faint lines across the page in 2 places. What my students get is just one section at a time visible, the rest covered by construction paper.

Prep #2: At the end of this post, you can see my original and where I drew the lines to divide it into thirds. To make this go faster in class, I suggest that you also draw, at home, the lines on the blank sheet of paper the students will draw on. Easiest way: lay the original lion with its dividing pencil lines on a surface. Lay a blank sheet right next to it. On the blank paper, make a dot right next to the end of the lines on the original drawing. To get the dot on the other side of the blank paper, move the ion drawing to the other side, line up again, right next to each other, and draw the dots on the blank paper right next to where the dividing lines begin on the original. Last, take a ruler and connect those pairs of dots across the paper. You’ll end up with the blank paper divided exactly as the original drawing. (Students CAN do this with instruction, but I wanted to use the time for drawing.)

Step #1. Pass out to students the drawing, covered with construction paper for all but the top section of the page (which is in fact the bottom of the drawing.) Of course they will try to guess what it is. Some may guess correctly, but I say nothing to affirm or deny.

I ask students to trace the basic shapes (and the simple geometric shapes they compose) they see directly onto the paper, as I instructed in the OiLs lesson 1. This is fast and loose–not painstaking and exact. I found a lot of ovals in this and some great, curvy lines, and a triangle. Other s may see the shapes differently, and that’s ok.

lion top tracing 001 (2)


Step # 2. On a blank sheet of paper you have handed out, ask the student to transfer their basic shapes to it. Remind them they can measure the sizes of these basic shapes–and measure the size of the blank spaces separating them, the skill we learned last week.

As they draw, I model this on the board, drawing with a marker on the white board to transfer the basic shapes I traced onto my original. I make a point to show that I draw multiple ovals in one space, until i get the shape right. I don’t bother to erase the light lines of the “drafts”–that’s for later. This is meant to be done fast and loose, drawing lightly until we’re sure.

lion top basic shapes drawing 001 (2)

Step #3. This looks really, simple. Really, really basic. Good–that’s the goal. Before refining that sketch or adding details, we need to get down the whole form.

Now you or a parent helper can carefully move the taped construction paper down to the next faint pencil line that bisects the paper in half. Now the students should trace the basic shapes on the black-line drawing for section #2.

lion middle tracing 001 (2)

Now more is revealed and many students may have no doubt what the image is. But hopefully, the mystery remained long enough to help them see it differently.

Step #4. Transfer the basic shapes to other paper. Again, measure when necessary to see how wide and long shapes are. Keep the lines light and meandering until you find the right shape.

lion middle basic shapes drawing 001

Step #5. Ok, finally! Take the paper off, revealing the rest of the drawing! Trace basic shapes on that section.

lion bottom tracing 001 (2)

Step # 6. transfer basic shapes to other paper. Such an unusual view of the face can intimidate people, so hopefully having to break the shapes down to the rectangles and triangles will help them see the REAL shape of the face!

lion bottom basic shapes drawing 001 (2)


Step # 7. This is a preference, but at this point, you may want to tell you kids they can turn the drawings right-side up. (And they’ve all noticed this drawing was on its side–not upside down. Such is my tactic for returning students who expect somthing upside-down; I just gave them the drawing oriented a different way.)

I prefer to turn the drawing right-side-up before adding details. Why? Because we’ve recorded the basic proportions and shapes–the part that tricks us.

lion bottom details 001 (2)

Step #8 Now ask students to refine their lines by carefully looking at the original again. They should erase ones they don’t want to keep. You may still see ghosts of erased lines on my drawing. Last, add in all the details: eyes, foot pads, detailed lines of the mane, etc.

Post-class reflections:


The key in this task is teaching then to get the basic shapes down, fast and loose–the whole form quick, so that then they can go back and refine the rest.

Some students struggled because they couldn’t resist working on details, despite repeated encouragements from me to wait for the details! The problem was they ran out of time to get the whole form down and in proportion.


I found the original as a coloring page online, but just now I cannot relocate it.

lion original 001 (2)

So your drawing could be Aslan, as it was for my Narnia-loving class, or just any lion. (It could go with cycle 1’s science taxonomy memory work.)

So for those of you who have tried this or another approach, what do you think are the keys for making this lesson successful? Share in the comments!



Other posts:

Mirror-Image Drawing, Week 2, Classical Conversations, Native American

18 Things I Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)

Personalized Theme Alphabet for Preschool/K

Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations

How I Talk to My Students about Drawing on Day One

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)










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Mirror-Image Drawing, Week 2, Classical Conversations, Native American

I don’t think anyone can learn to draw well without the foundational lessons discovered in mirror image drawing. The longer I teach drawing, the more I am convinced this lesson is key, the one I hope no students are absent for! And all because it is the perfect place to teach artist hacks for achieving perfect size and proportions of the basic shapes (identified in lesson 1).

My lesson was aimed at students age 10-12 in my Classical Conversations class, a masters class. For this age group, I tend to choose human or animal faces; it’s not only the perfect lesson during which to focus on a face, it’s also the only lesson in my Classical Conversations plan that lends itself to the focus necessary to do a face.

To fit Cycle 3, I chose the face of a Native American man. I found it here. That is a whole face, the original, I mean; I cut it in half down the middle for this exercise.

mirror image indian original 001 (2)

This is a neat lesson that will appeal to those who like to draw for artistic reasons as well as those who find comfort in precision. This project has a bit of both.

Step #1. I pass out the papers with half the man’s face. Just as in lesson 1, I first instruct students to look for the basic shapes they see in the man’s head AND trace those shapes with their pencils. I am considering using a red marker for my example copy so students can see what I did more easily from their seats. But I will not show mine right away unless to a student struggling to comprehend the goal.


Below you can see my pencil lines block out the shapes I see: a hotdog-shapes oval and circle for the nose, triangles for the foreheads and cheeks, ovals for the hair sections and more. Different students may break the drawing up with different basic shapes, and that is expected.

mirror image indian tracing shapes 001 (2)

STEP #2. NEW SKILL! The make-or-break-it skill to reproduce a mirror image is accurately judging space and size. We could leave it to free-handing chance–but there are skills we can master to make this spot-on.

Below you can see spots where I drew dots–look especially around the eyes. We will learn to pick reference points and measure the spacing of features–but no rulers needed! Let us use what a have at hands, namely our hands and pencils and erasers.

mirror image indian shapes drawing 001 (2)

You may find the distance from the midline of the drawing to the nearest eye corner is, for instance, the length of the eraser on the end of your pencil or the length of your pinky fingernail. So then, move to the blank side and measure that same distance and place the dot. Measure how wise the eyeball is. For me, it’s the same as the metal bracket on the end of my pencil. Place a dot on the other side of this measurement for the eye. You can see I did measurements for the widest part of the forehead, for the jawline, for the tricky eyebrow contours and lips, etc. Use what works for your to measure. Maybe a distance the length of your first finger’s middle knuckle to the end of your finger, or maybe the length of your pencil eraser to the number “2” stamped on your pencil.

Now that you have those measurement dots, do what we did last week: redraw those basic circles, triangles and ovals. It’s a lot easier and more accurate now because we have dots to give us boundaries to help get us the right size of that shape.

And remember, this is a sketch–meander with light lines, making that triangle or oval a few times on top of each other until you find you’ve made the shape you want.

This year, I will aim to draw live with the my students, letting them see me do it–and every time I need to erase and correct anything is actually a gift to them. Students will learn more from watching you try and try again than if you merely show up with a perfect outcome that you labored on at home, away from their eyes. Yes, this takes humility and the kind of confidence to allow yourself to be seen as a fellow learner rather than perfect. In the past, I was more concerned with figuring out my lessons and how to manage my class, but now I feel more comfortable in all those aspects of my role, so now I will try live drawing with them.

Step #3 After students have completed drawing the basic shapes of the face, then they can get to the refining steps! The guiding basic geometric shapes are in, now you can erase what you don’t want as your final version and bolden the lines you want to keep.

Step #4 Then it’s time for details: look closely at that eyelid and the slant of it. Make the lines of the mouth as close as you can to the original. Do the detail work of the hair and jewelry and add in those feathers if you have time. (Note, in the original, there were no feathers on the other side. Based on class time, you could skip them or suggest they do the feathers at home.)

mirror image indian final 001 (3)

Now this final drawing, as you may be able to tell, has flaws. From the eye to chin, his face is wider on the side I drew. The lips are not wide enough. The eye placement is a bit off. Here’s an interesting lesson: I drew this in my first year tutoring–before I’d refined my method and articulated the step-by-step plan that you just read through. My previous drawings above and this final drawing are not representing parts of the same instance of me drawing this face. I would show my students this and show them how the first time I did it, before I paid attention to measuring, my results were a bit off. Yes, it passes as a recognizable face–but even I, the tutor, had room to grow.

Step #5. Make possible suggestions for student completion at home. Our class time is just enough for instruction and a good start–I do not expect students to finish a good, complete drawing in our time. I encourage students to finish at home if they want and then bring their finished version in next week. This is both inspiring to other students AND it seems to take the pressure off the students to perform and prove they can do it well from the roughest sketch; knowing they have more time and can show the class later seems to help some of my students. (They want to show their ability to be in the rhetoric stage of drawing!)

If you try this, let me know how it went! If you teach the mirror image in any way, what do you think is the most challenging aspect? What helps the students the most, in your experience?


Other drawing lessons:

Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations, Narnian Centaur

How I Talk to My Students about Drawing on Day One

Mirror Image Lion Drawing: Week Two, Classical Conversations 

Other blogs:

Personalized Theme Alphabet for Preschool/K

My Dad, Cancer, Monsanto and Christmas Trees

18 Things I Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)

Creating an Encouraging Classroom





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Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations

Keep reading for step-by-step instructions to draw a Narnian centaur using the OiLs method, aimed at Masters level students (ages 10-11).

This is my first art lesson on the first day of class to new students, so how do I start? How do I talk about drawing and art with my students–especially when I don’t know what baggage or beliefs about their abilities they may carry with them? To read how I introduce this unit, read How I Talk to My Students About Drawing on Day 1.


I chose the centaur this for week one because I’d met my students at orientation and learned how many of them loved the Narnia stories. I found the original drawing here.


Step #1. Every student gets a copy of this coloring page, and I explain that we are doing only the centaur–to ignore all else on the page for the lesson. First, I ask students to take their pencils and trace the “OiLs”: any circles, straight lines, dots, angled lines and squiggly lines–directly on the drawing. This is basic stuff I know they know; easy. Kids in this program have been taught these basics from Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes each year. But this may be the first time someone asked them to not just look for the basic shapes but also to trace them directly on the image.

Step #2. Then we take it the OiLs concept to the next logical step. I draw basic geometric shapes on the board: triangles, rectangles, etc. I show them how those shapes are made out of OiLs shapes–how merely putting angled lines together gives us triangles, rectangles, etc.

I ask the students to look at the centaur and find any basic geometric shapes lurking behind the lines. I ask them to trace/outline what they see on their paper. I do that to my paper as they do, and then I show them mine. (Some REALLY need to see mine; it can be an abstract concept, like looking for shapes in clouds.) I point out how I see the hands as circles, the legs and arms as variations of circles, ovals and squares, how I see the torso as as a trapezoid sitting on top of a slanted triangle.

centaur shapes tracing 001

Now, my way of breaking up the body into basic geometric shapes is not the only way–students may break the form up differently, because there is no one correct interpretation! Step 2 is complete when the ENTIRE centaur is carved up into basic shapes.

TIP: I’ve found by now that this is a crucial lesson with new students whose capabilities you do not yet know. To avoid this lesson falling flat, I do suggest walking through this as a group. Instead of saying “Everyone trace the shapes you see,” as I did my first two years tutoring, might I suggest being more specific. “Everyone, let’s see what you can do with those legs. What shapes do you see making up the hooves, the calves, knees, thighs?” I’d then show mine and check students. Catch early if someone is not getting it. Skipping this step leads to later steps being impossible. Then I’d have the class, as a group, move to the next part of the body until all portions of the form have been traced on.

THIS is THE skill for this week–spend the most time here for the biggest fruit for the unit! 

Step #3. Next, I hand every student a blank sheet of paper. I ask students if they are capable of copying one of their circles or triangles or rectangles from the body of the centaur–and they smile or laugh! Of course they can! This is it, at its most basic level: breaking down complex shapes into simple ones, and copying those simple shapes.

centaur 1 001

I aim to do step 3 live, on the board for them, in marker. I used to not do that, showing them only my sketch done previously.  I taught the History Camp for practicum last summer and tried out a drawing lesson this way, and I think it is most effective. Students got to see me do it in real time–and most importantly, they got to see not just my finished product, but all the lines I didn’t keep. They saw how the knight I drew from a Prescripts illustration had one leg longer than the other and his neck and head too far to one side. They got to see how I navigated making corrections. They got to see that someone really good at drawing is still making many changes!

I want to model that drawing is a practice–not a performance. This is both good for novice drawers as well as those who identify themselves as artistic. The latter group especially needs the freedom to see a drawing class among peers as a place to try new ways and practice–rather than always performing and proving and protecting their identity as “artist.” It is hard for such students to follow instructions and try something new; they can feel they have a lot to lose if their first attempt isn’t brilliant. A tutor/teacher who can show the vulnerability to practice on the board and show the whole journey to a good drawing–incorrect, erased lines and all–gives more to his/her class than the tutor who shows a perfect, polished example.

Tips: This is a sketch! Draw lightly, and meander into the best/correct shape. Take a look at just one oval I drew. How many ovals did I draw on top of each other, around and around, feeling out the space until I settled on the one I felt was the right size and shape? 3-10? Yep–we’re just testing things out, drawing lightly, warming up.

Also, note that some students will find this lesson frustrating. Particularly ones like my son whom I taught in class last year, who may feel they are good at drawing and don’t want to be bothered with this step! You may have many students who have their own way of approaching a drawing and want to continue in it. They have habits already–they want to start with the eyes and eyelashes and work their way down the rest of the page, detail by detail. They may want to do details first or to always completely draw the head before even sketching anything else.

My son is a perfect example of this. He taught himself to draw his way, and that is a strength–but also a weakness. And I find students who get that head just right and then realize they drew it too far to the left, or at the wrong angle, to get it to match up with the body. And then they do not want to erase their wonderful details in order to re-capture the integrity of the over-all shape. Therefore, their final product has some great details but over-all looks wonky or out of proportion. And so I encourage all students to humor me and get the basic shapes down before they do any details!


Step #4.  Then we get to the part of refining the contours of the shapes. Start anywhere–say the backbone or the arm. Using the basic geometric shapes as a guide, and observing the original drawing closely, draw lines to form the outer contours of the arm, complete with the pieces of armor. The basic geometric shapes can be erased when they are no longer needed as a guide. You can see from my example how two steps of the drawing are still evident. Now I can feel free to erase my guiding shapes.

centaur 2 001


Step #5. Now it’s finally time for all those details! Eyelashes. Buckle. Hair. Nostril, etc.

Unfortunately, the length of our class is not long enough for most students to complete a polished drawing with every detail. Remind them, this is merely practice. I encourage my students to finish their drawings at home and bring them back to class the next week. And some have done so, and I have seen that inspire others.

Thankfully, this is week #1 in CC, and there is not much material to review for the review portion of the class, so that if you need a little more time complete this lesson, it’s possible. In my plans, this is my template for each week. We will add other skills in, but each week, I have my students repeat these same steps. Week 1 with extra time is a good way to lay the groundwork well.

For another idea that works well with week 1, due to the extra wiggle room, check out Drawing Demystified’s lesson 1 idea of doing a baseline drawing in week 1–so that at week 6, students can draw the same image again and see with their own eyes how differently they have learned to approach their drawing tasks. I did this last year and loved it–It was amazing to see the student progress, comparing apples to apples. So the art time looked like this: Without much intro, let students choose a coloring page of the choices you bring in, and give them ten minutes to copy the image onto a blank sheet of paper. (You want these options to be the same images you want them to choose from for the week 6 project.) Collect them and explain that at the end of the 6-weeks drawing unit, they will get them back to compare. Then I launched into the week 1 drawing lesson above and gave it its full 30 minutes. (Again, because it’s week 1, I’m borrowing that extra 10-15 minutes from review since there is so little to do in that department.)

For another Week 1 drawing lesson, here is one of a horse I did for cycle 2. It could easily be used to fit the theme of Cycle 3 American history if that’s what you’re looking for, or Cycle 1 Ancient History:

Other blogs:

Basics of Drawing: Fine Arts, Week 1 for Classical Conversations

18 Things I Didn’t Do This Summer (Is Summer Mom Guilt A Thing?)

Mirror-Image Drawing, Week 2, Classical Conversations, Native American

Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3

Summer Conundrum: Never Enough Time For All the Things




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Fairie Festival at Spoutwood Farms, Review

The Spoutwood Farm Fairie Festival takes place Friday through Sunday on a weekend close to May 1, in Glen Rock PA, on a sprawling, hilly farm.  Whether you’re like me and value the whimsy of such an event for your kids to enjoy, or you like cosplay or all things natural, artsy, woodsy or fantasy, this is a unique festival that appeals for a variety of reasons.

My Kids’ Favorites

We’ve gone many times now in about 8 years, with kids at different ages, but these things rise to the top:

The Maypole and bubbles: The kids participate in wrapping the brightly colored ribbons and a bubble machine turns the scene iridescent.

fairy 17

This year, the bubble machine was not in this area, but I don’t know why–if it was a conscious choice or if the rain made conditions unfavorable for getting the bubble machine in that location?? The machine was instead at a crossroads of a walkway, and my kids enjoyed it, but it wasn’t nearly as magical.

I love these faces, in photos form a few years back, of my boys chasing those bubbles!

The Maze.  In the woods, with twisting winding paths, five different fairies are hidden. (They are images on a board, each a different color. A small receptacle is mounted there with some sort of chalky substance, and the idea is that kids stick a finger in this to get that color on one of their digits, to prove they found that faerie.)

Here’s my daughter, later in the day, still holding her hand upturned so she won’t lose her fairy dust on each finger!


(Note, one purpose of the colors on fingertips is so that you can get your fortune after you exit the maze; a large board showing all the possible color combinations/orders gives maze-goers their fortune. If that is not something that floats your boat, it’s easy to skip that application. The festival also features tarot card readers and other things of that spiritual bent.)

This year, each fairy had a frame hung in the woods. (I guess my girl just wanted to be silly. Never got a better picture.)


In previous years, the opening section of this maze featured a collection of various random items that could be played s percussive instruments. My kids loved beating on pots, scraping washerboards, etc.

fairy 14

This year, that was gone, but little “houses” made kid-sized were new to us. For instance, one had an old woodstove with a pot on it, under a gathering of branches. The little “room” featured a book shelf with bricks painted as books and tree stumps painted in bright colors for seats.

There was an un-tea party house, a mermaid’s cove, and various gnome habitats hidden throughout the woods. The kids loved the wonder of looking for what they may find around every corner.

Frodo’s Hut Observatory. This little one-room house fully-furnished and cozy always fascinates the kids. A portion of the wall is behind glass so you can see the hut was constructed of straw and plastered over with clay. Of course, my kids are quick to point out that “the real” Frodo’s house would really have a round door!


The hut is a curiosity, but it is also a very cozy, quiet place to rest a bit. One of my boys found a new friend this year who did the maze with him, so then he taught the boy chess.

Inside, this year, a woman was playing a handpan instrument, which enchanted my daughter. One thing I love I that this is a place where children will find friendly adults who are eager/willing to show them their instruments or other aspects of thrir art.

Fairy and Gnome Habitats. You can take a tour or go on your own, which we’ve always done. This is a favorite, every year. Kids/families are invited before the festival to create thee little homes, and it is different every year. The kids are always enchanted by the tiny furniture and the various ways the landscape and flora and fauna are used to created tiny homes. In recent years, a couple of people back in the woods along the path created balloon animals for kids, and that’s always a hit with mine.

Puppet Shows: Going on the free-for-kids Friday, you did miss a good portion of the programming. In previous years, we’ve seen a puppet show featuring a dragon. This year, those were only for the Saturday/Sunday program. BUT–the biggest hit with my daughter this year was something we didn’t even know about–we just literally stumbled upon it. We saw a bunch of girls sitting in the grass and investigated. We found a woman singing and telling a story with tiny, handmade felt and wood puppets, some marionettes. I wish a I had a good detail picture, but my girl said she loved this short treat better than all else.


Play. Even the boy who’d thought he might have outgrown the festival found that he loved “everything” in the end, though his favorite parts were the play areas. The big tractor tire play area with rope swings is always a hit. I wish I had a picture just a few frames before that final one of my boy on the tire swing; it took four kids to get him up in the air so he could swing down. They were all girls, and they all took turns pulling on a long rope to haul the tire to one side so that when they let go, the swinger could fly to the other side. Seeing kids who are strangers mount teamwork–as it was the only way anyone could experience the ride–is pretty neat.

Costumes: My kids love the elves, woodsprites, gnomes, hobbits, fawns, satyrs, gypsies, to name a few of the costumed entities we’ve witnessed there–some festival personnel, but also the attendees. In the past my kids have dressed up as everything from a fairy to Robin Hood.

fairy 10

Disappointments this year. These were few, but to mention:

No Complimentary Fairy Wings: they used to be complimentary to every guest. A tent was set up where kids would pick their color and a custom-made pair of tulle fairy wings with elastic arms were made for each kid. That no longer exists, at least on the Friday we were there. My daughter was all ready to get her wings, color chosen out and all….  Many different vendors were selling wings though–just no freebie ones. (Below, my son, wearing his white wings to play on the tire playground.)

fairy 16

No animals: in previous years, my kids pet llamas and other animals, rode a horse, etc.  This year we saw none on Friday.

The Fairy Tea Party. I’d never gone to that in previous years with the boys or when my girl was too young to care, but I’d always wanted to see what it was like, thinking my girl would love it. I imagined the tea and cookies served took place maybe at little tables and chairs in whimsically decorated tent with women dressed up as fairies interacting with them, telling stories. We went this year, but it was different from I expected. Cups of juice and a tray of cookies were laid out on an oblong table, and people with some sort of understated costuming handed them out. You could walk away and eat them or try to find a place to stand next to the road to eat/drink them. It wasn’t an experience that I expected. But that was just my expectation–it’s not something advertised and not done.  (But what an opportunity missed that someone could do! This place is rollicking with little girls.)

Now, for the practical Mom opinion

  1. The festival is free for kids on Fridays. Adult are $20, so taking kids free on that day makes it more affordable.
  2. It’s run by a farm that raises organic food (a cause near and dear to my heart).
  3. They not only care about sustainable living, they model it. Their “trash” system includes three options: compostable (and that includes the plastic and silverware all food vendors use), recyclable, and (smallest) trash. In fact, the day before I went this year, I happened to meet the woman who heads up this system and she told me about how it’s evolved over the years–and how one year, the workers actually hand-sorted the trash into those piles!
  1. The food. I always go for the food, but this is a place I know I can count on some better choices. From organic granola (I know–how cliche) to hemp pretzels, fermented foods, smoothies and bowls of fresh fruit. (They have funnel cakes, ice cream and french fires too–they just have different options than most places.)
  2. Nursing tent, places to change diapers, and little play areas for toddlers that give kids a safe place to play with boundaries. Sandboxes and sand toys and chalkboards are some items I’ve seen featured.fairy 12

7. Music. Maybe if my kids were older, I’d hear more than mere strains and have time to appreciate the variety of bands all three days–plus on Saturday and Sunday, Celtic and other types of dance troupes perform. I list this as something I appreciate, though I’ve honestly not really had much time to appreciate such a thing yet!

8. Costumed personalities. The faire is littered with costumed characters ready to converse with the kids and bring them into this fantasy world. This year we saw some kind of magician on one of the paths who was talking a lot about different types of gnomes and magic tricks. In previous years, I remember a fairy who interacted with the moss man, which my boys loved:

fairy 19

A gypsy lady was telling fairy stories, pockets fairies gave kids tokens with a story every year (girls got a ring and boys got fairy spy glasses this year), and–my girl’s favorite–a mermaid with a shimmering blue tale sat on a rock wall. (My camera was not cooperating, or I’d show you a picture of my girl mesmerized.)

Things to Consider:

Rain. It’s the beginning of May. I’ve just had to come to terms with the fact that this will be a rain or mud festival, no two ways about it. Multiple years , I did not go because the weather was too bad. This year, I gave up too. It was storming all night  and all morning. but then–inexplicably–the storms stopped and the forecast said nothing more would happen for the afternoon! So I took my kids in a spur-of-the-moment change of mind, even though it meant we missed two hours by the time I managed to get ourselves together and drive there.

So anyway, we know to put on our feet only what we want to get really muddy.

Strollers. First time, I took a stroller. We survived, but it’s really the worst place to take a stroller. It is hilly, and when you combine that with rain, which makes sucking, slurping mud, a stroller is not a help, but rather a heavy thing you have to heave around. The picture below shows that by the time I had my daughter, I’d ditched the stroller, even though it’s nice to have a place to put things, not just the baby!

If you have been there, what is your favorite part bout the Spoutwood Farm Fairie Festival?

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