Real Grass for your Easter or Spring Basket

DCP_2061_2Spring is here and Easter is just around the corner. Why not use “real” grass instead of using plastic shredded grass for your decorations?  It’s not too late. Even if you have less than a week, here are directions with photographs showing examples of our family’s table decorations for Easter in years past.

Containers? Look through your cupboards, shelves and closets to find something interesting. In addition to a basket lined with a plastic container, consider using a tray, unused soup tureen, a glass punch bowl or maybe some special family treasure. One picture below shows an aluminum pie plate.

Easter BasketDirections: Purchase a couple of handfuls of  wheatberry seeds from a natural food grocer or store which carries bulk items of nuts, granola, seeds, etc. Sometimes they may be called ‘winterberry’ seeds.  If you’re near a garden center or feed store, you might also look for an item called “cat grass” – special green grass for felines.  I haven’t used leftover grass seed  from our garage, but that might work, too.

1. Soak the seeds in water, preferably overnight. If you don’t have as much time, then at least for several hours.

2. Choose your container for your table decoration: basket, tray, basket. I’ve used a cut glass bunch bowl, a pitted silver soup tureen, and assorted baskets.

3. If you use a basket, try to find a plastic container which will fit.  Or just line the inside of the basket with plastic wrap and then with aluminum foil to contain the soil.

4. Add a layer of soil obtained from your garden or from a bag of potting soil. Use anywhere from 1/2″ to a couple of inches, depending on the depth of the container.

5. Sprinkle water on the soil to moisten.

6. Drain the soaked seeds and spread them in an even layer across the top of the soil, covering with plastic wrap to  hold in the moisture.

Spread grains evenly on the topsoil

7. Cover the container with a dark cloth or aluminum foil and set it aside. I usually put it into a dark corner. Overnight the roots will start sprouting.

8. Bring the container into the light and remove the plastic film wrap. Make sure you spray the seeds often during the day with a mister. The sprouts will be white at first and then they’ll turn green. You may place it in a sunny window if you need to speed up the growing time.

I like the natural look of the grass and don’t like to clip the height with scissors. If it’s growing too fast, just place your container in a darker room to slow the growth.



When you’re ready to use it for your table, decorate with colored eggs, foil-covered chocolate eggs, crocus, twigs of forsythia or hyacinth for flowers, miniature sheep, bunnies, or whatever your family might enjoy. Click on any of the photos to see larger view.






Easter grass - 2 - Version 2

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Books Review: Two Resources for Summer Fun

Children's Party Book

Some of the most delightful resources for parents interested in children’s activities, birthday parties, or holiday and festival crafts are published by Floris Books, in Edinborough, Scotland.  I’ve personally used many of the Floris books for craft activities as they have such creative ideas, colorful photos and illustrations and easy-to-follow instruction.  I wish owned these two titles when my daughters were young.

(These are included in our Make Way for Reading: Great Books for Kindergarten Through Grade 8.)

THE CHILDREN’S PARTY BOOK For Birthdays and Other Occasions, By Anne and Peter Thomas; illustrated by Anjo Mutsaars K–7

This popular and invaluable guide contains more than 240 ideas for indoor and outdoor games, plus craft activities for children from age three to twelve. First published in 1998, the 2008 revised edition is a soft cover.

The activities are presented clearly with illustrations, diagrams, and step-by-step practical descriptions, all coded for age suitability. Special topics include: how to celebrate that special birthday; how to make and perform a simple theater for young children; how to organize parties with a seasonal theme; and how to make attractive decorations.


Big Summer Activity Book

When those days of mid-summer seem endless and you’ve run out of activities, things to make, see and do— this resource may provide lots of  ideas.

THE BIG SUMMER ACTIVITY BOOK, by Anne and Peter Thomas; translated by George Hall

From simple games to inspiring projects, this excellent resource is full of ideas for wholesome indoor and outdoor fun to keep your children busy the whole summer long. Most activity books just offer games and things to make, but this  includes chapters on child illnesses, the weather, travel tips, and activities for different environmental locales.  Includes 500 color photos, illustrations and tips for car journeys, snacks, health, and safety. Check out this Table of Contents:

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Whose holidays? – Three important factors
2. Holiday preparations: Tips for going on holiday – Parents’ questions
3. Checklist
4. In cases of illness: Motion sickness – Diarrhoea – Stomach and abdominal complaints – Sunburn – Burns – Sunstroke – Jellyfish – Sting-fish – Ticks – Lyme’s disease – Insect bites, wasp and bee stings – Travelling pharmacy
5. The weather: Sunlight – Seasons – Air currents – High and low-pressure areas – Sunrays and safe sunbathing – Ozone layer – Temperature – Influence of the sea – Wind-chill factor – Temperature and altitude – The clouds – Precipitation – Thunderstorms – Exceptional phenomena – Weather in the mountains – Weather at the coast – Weather forecast
6. The stars: Constellations – The zodiac – How do the stars move? – The winter sky – The other constellations of the zodiac – The moon – The planets
7. Nature: Trees – Nature in bloom – Animals in woods and fields – It’s small and flies through the air – In and around water – In the air 84
8. Orientation: Orientation in the wild – Discoveries in nature – Road and city maps – The compass – In the hills: altitudes – Orientation in a town or village
9. On the beach
10. In the mountains
11. Games to stretch the muscles
12. Living and playing in the countryside
13. Tig and other outdoor games
14. Playing on the beach
15. Indoor and/or outdoor games
16. Creativity with natural materials
17. When it rains
Revolving celestial chart


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Rhythm During the Summer

by Karen Rivers

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 1.37.26 PMJune approaches very quickly and suddenly, and after that last assembly and picnic, it’s summer.  Your children are home now for full days, day after day. The school rhythm is gone. The temptation is there to slip into a somewhat unformed vacation life where most, if not all, regularity has gone.

The daily and weekly rhythm of the school year have a deep significance for children especially up to the age of fourteen. Even high school students need the form and discipline of daily requirements to reach the ultimate goal of setting themselves demanding tasks as adults.

Therefore, we invite you to bring as much form and regularity into your child’s summer life as you possibly can. “Regular meal times, regular bed times, regular tasks – this is the backbone of a healthy and happy childhood” as Harwood writes in The Recovery of Man in Childhood.ˆ Try to install many regular tasks in your child’s day. Let them help with all kinds of chores. Allow in-breathing and out-breathing: chores, reading, music practice, should alternate with free time. Ask even more of your child in keeping his or her room neat than you would during the school year.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 1.39.11 PMA daily vacation schedule written out on paper is often an excellent idea for many children. It makes them feel that their contributions are important and that they are taken seriously. If you approach it in the right way, children will love to take part in gardening tasks. Most of them have had gardening experiences at a Waldorf school throughout the seasons. Caring for plants and regularly watering them can be a most joyful summer activity.

Let there be a clear beginning and end to the daily activities, whether these are meals or work tasks. Try to build in a daily story-telling time in the evening. Even middle and upper-elementary school children are not too old for such story sessions. Of course, some activities are woven into weekly rhythm rather than a daily one.

The weekend brings special opportunities for full family activities.  Many families enjoy visiting a particular place each week so that it begins to feel like home. With few adjustments, you will soon have a daily and weekly rhythm that is in harmony with the season and with the family. You may find that there is hardly any time for television.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 1.34.22 PMWhen your children come back to school after a vacation, or even after a weekend, teachers can immediately notice to what degree they have been nourished and sustained by a wholesome rhythm at home. Such a rhythm is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children.


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Home-town Memorial Day—once more

Color Guard

I still can’t get used to Memorial Day (originally ‘Decoration Day’) being observed on the 4th Monday of May—just to give Americans a 3-day weekend. I ignore the red, white and blue advertising supplements in the Sunday newspaper encouraging readers to go out and shop. But I do observe some traditions.

In my New England community, some of the observance begins during the week before. Groups of students, provided with a list from the local veterans organization, fan out to place American flags by the gravestones of veterans in all the cemeteries. On Boston Common, a local group has placed an American flag for each Massachusetts person who died in service from the Civil War to today—a visual reminder of the reality of war—33,000.

I sometimes meet people in the nearby cemetery where my parents, grand-parents, etc. are buried—we have a common task: down on our hands and knees scooping out soil and planting flowers. When growing up, my parents took my siblings and me to the cemeteries on both sides of the family, one located an hour away. The back of the station wagon held a cardboard box with trowels, fertilizer and a flat or plastic pots of geraniums—red ones, always red ones. We’d pack a picnic lunch and my parents would tell us once again about who was buried there.

It was raining a few days ago when I visited the local cemetery and the fresh flags were already placed in our family’s plot: for my father (Navy), grandfather (Army), and my great-grandfather (a Colonel in the Spanish-American War). Geraniums were already in place, too. Bright colors on a cold, dreary day.

Flags on Boston Common

Today the sun came out and it was a perfect morning for a parade. Led by a police cruiser, a color guard came first, followed by the members of the police, the mayor and city council members, veterans of all ages, several scout troops and ending with a fire engine. I noticed there was only one convertible this year with veterans too old to walk in the parade.

I remember as a child looking for my father marching among the sea of hats of veterans from all branches of the service even years after WWII was over. There are a few from that war, but most of the 20 or veterans who marched today served in Vietnam, Iran and Afghanistan. As expected, both sides of the street were lined with townspeople of all ages. Children seemed to be everywhere and excitedly waving little flags.

Now that our stadium has been repaired, the commemoration is held there rather than in front of the WWI doughboy statue. With a place to sit down, there are more families attending—no one seems to mind that the ceremony is longer, too.

Veterans marching in parade

The order remains pretty much the same: opening prayer, the National Anthem played by the high school band, introductions of dignitaries, and a speech and closing prayer.

Local ceremony

With the 150th anniversary this year of the Gettsyburg address, the speaker was to have been a local man who works for the National Park Service and had been assigned to Gettsyburg and other national cemeteries. Because of budget cuts, he wasn’t able to travel back to his hometown, so six high school students were chosen to read sections of his oration.

The author of the speech had certainly done his research—he made reference to specific people in our town and where and how each had served in the Civil War and especially those at Gettysburg. It was more memorable than speeches in the past.

When the band played the anthem of each branch of the armed services, veterans stood up when his/her service music was played. My husband was one of two who stood when the Air Force was recognized. The ceremony closed with the words of the Gettsyburg address. I found myself whispering the familiar words my English teacher in high school gave my class to learn “by heart” —

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

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Happy May Day

May basket 2011

May Day can be a such a special day in a family and at school.  My first recollection of celebrating May Day was in a local preschool where we 4-year-olds went around a simple May Pole each holding a ribbon.  I was dressed in a handmade costume—a robin. I still remember the feelings of awkwardness as the teacher encouraged me to flap my wings as we paraded outdoors. I envied my twin sister who wore a flower costume. Our grandmother took movies of us, which we viewed years later.

When my own children were preschoolers, I taught them how to make May baskets as a surprise for our neighbors. The residents on either side of us were elderly and this gesture would bring them such delight. In New England we didn’t have much in the way of blooming flowers – perhaps some crocus, forsythia, wild violets creeping through our grass, or bright dandelions.

The styles of our “baskets” varied from year to year. Some were made out of small cans, empty frozen OJ containers, rolled colored construction paper lined with a plastic bag, paper cups and occasionally a real basket lined in aluminum foil.  Each was finished with one or more colored ribbons for a handle.

Wild violets

I’d wake the girls up early and before breakfast, they would sneak outside, run over to the neigbhor’s yard and hang the basket on the door handle and run right back home.  We never left a message or a card.  Part of the fun was the anonymity of it, although I knew it wouldn’t take the neighbors long to figure out who their gift-givers were.  All were delighted.  It was a simple gesture on our part and I hoped it would be another example for the children of how to be kind to others.

When we discovered Waldorf education and our youngest attended the Marin Waldorf School, we discovered that the school had not only a May Faire, but a tall May Pole around which each of the classes would dance.

Before the Faire, the class teachers would instruct the children in simple steps for going around the pole.  Imagine my delight when parents were invited to take a ribbon and go round, too. The upper classes had more complicated patterns and the final dance always ended up with the ribbons completely wound up in a beautiful pattern tight against the pole.

May Day decorations

The day before the May  festivities, parents would bring in whatever vines and flowers they had in their yards or had purchased.  The counters in the classrooms would be overflowing with the bounty.  Parents would help the children make circular garlands to wear on their heads during their time around the May pole—boys wore them, too. All were sprinkled with water, put into a large plastic bag and placed in the refrigerator overnight to keep them fresh.


Over the years, I have seen or participated in several May festivities at Waldorf schools and always been interested in the ribbons. Some were beautiful pastel wide satin ribbons, carefully ironed each year.  Others had easy-to-hold grosgrain ribbons in bright crayon colors.

All ’round the May Pole

Ideas for making baskets can be found on the internet. The one I’ve added is from Pinterest.

The bright red one at the top was given me in 2011 by the neighbors, a family with triplets. My turn to be the recipient.

Don’t just make them today—do it all through the gardening season!

Can you let me know how YOU celebrated May Day?



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BooksForTheJourney2Are you looking for something special for your Grade 8 students for an end-of-the-year or graduation gift?  

Follow the 2013 example of Jeannette Voss of the Waldorf School of Lexington and order our comprehensive, annotated Waldorf High School reading list, Books for the Journey, for each student.

 This invaluable, 346-page resource was compiled by Anne Greer, John H. Wulsin, Jr., and Pamela Fenner from lists from 30 Waldorf High Schools.

To see sample pages and to view table of contents, click here.


$10 each          SPECIAL price for whole class order

 $15.95           Usual discounted price for whole class

Funding options:        

8th grade class funds, graduation budget, the school Parent Association or a personal gift from the class teacher. In some cases, the Grade 8 parents collectively have funded the purchase.

Benefits:       Excerpts by Meg Gorman’s Foreword

—“Books for the Journey” is a guide especially for traveling the world between childhood and adulthood. This journey is rarely easy; happily, books can be sources of enlightenment, comfort, knowledge, understanding, and even wisdom along this often tumultuous landscape.

Good reading is about expanding our capacities and about understanding what it means to be human — whether fiction or history, poetry or biography, art or science. Through reading, we come to know the world in which we live.

—But, most of all, especially as a teenager, reading allowed me to glimpse new possibilities and to explore the mystery of what it means to be a human being in all its myriad shapes and forms.

Don’t let your students leave 8th grade without it.

To order,  just call, fax, or email us at:

Phone—978-388-7066  •  Fax—978-388-603  •  Email—

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Introducing Poetry to Children

April is National Poetry Month and what better time to introduce children to the delightful sounds of language with a collection of nursery rhymes. I’ll make some book recommendations at the end of this post, but first—why should we start with nursery rhymes?

Sound and Rhythm

In our Make Way for Reading: Great Books for Kindergarten Through Grade 8 co-editor Karen Latimer writes:

We crawl before we walk, babble before we speak meaningfully, and speak before we read. Mother Goose’s rhythmic, repetitive rhymes delight the youngest children, who are interested in the sounds of language. Only gradually does the appeal of rhyme and rhythm give way to other characteristics of language such as imagery, imagination, or narrative content.

Repetition engages little listeners more than novelty, as any parent who has read the same beloved storybook for the tenth time will testify. Like the joy of peek-a-boo, the pleasure in hearing a favorite verse, song, or simple story seems never-ending. Preschoolers and kindergartners experience the repetitive rhythm and rhyming elements of language most strongly, and like a ride on a carousel, the pleasure is circular and continuous in its ability to please.

Living Speech

The most important language experience for very young children is living speech. Reading aloud to children of this age is essentially an experience of speech rather than reading. A bedtime or naptime “story” of five or ten minutes of Mother Goose rhymes or traditional children’s songs and lullabies can introduce the daily custom of listening to a story, which will gradually become the independent reader’s daily reading habit. Adult readers in the home who model this habit give it importance and status for imitation.

Here are some of my favorite collections of nursery rhymes—some new, some old.

Pocketful of Posies

Pocketful of Posies

   Pocketful of Posies:  Treasury of Nursery Rhymes by Salley Mavor

Beautifully handcrafted, full-colored illustrations in fabric relief bring Javor’s collection to the level of enchantment that will delight children and adults alike.

Mavor also incorporates natural materials such as acorn caps and driftwood along with plant-dyed wool in her fabric pictures,.

Not to miss! Mavor won both a Boston Globe Horn Book and a Golden Kite Award for her illustrations.



Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 3.18.19 PM   The Tall Book of Mother Goose, illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky

This is the nursery rhyme book I grew up with. It bursts with colorful, simple scenes with chubby-cheeked children and sprightly animals. Rojankovsky (1891—1979) was born in Russia (now Latvia) and emigrated first to France and then the United States. He won a Caldecott Metal in 1956. Some of his books are out of print but can be found in used and online bookstores

This book is a perfect size for young children to hold alone with its tall narrow size. In addition, there are only one or maybe two poems per page making it easier reading and adding visual appeal.

Make Way for Reading has more than 45 books listed under Poetry. To learn more or to order this book, click here.

Other nursery rhyme collections include those by Tommie dePaola, Tasha Tudor, Blanche Fisher Wright and anthologies such as My Book House.






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Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot

Evacuation Day—March 17, 1776—might not have happened if it weren’t for the efforts of young Henry Knox and his courageous men: a biography for grade school by Anita Silvey, illustrated by Wendell Minor.

Children’s literature expert and author, Anita Silvey, brings us a little-known story of a former Boston bookseller, now soldier, who brought an idea to General Washington which might end the siege of Boston during the American Revolutionary War.

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 10.42.01 AM

Interested in war strategy and engineering, Knox devised what seemed an impossible plan to transport the 60 tons of cannons and munitions abandoned by the British at Ft. Ticonderoga the 300 miles over snow-covered mountains and lakes to Boston. The cannons would be dragged up to Dorchester Heights where they could attack the British down below.

How this bold 25-year old patriot accomplished this feat in less than two months during the harsh winter of 1775-76 with boats, ice sleds, and teams of oxen is one of the most inspiring adventures of colonial US history. Readers who are interested in learning more will appreciate Silvey’s including source notes, bibliography, timelines, and recommended reading.

Award-winning illustrator, Wendell Minor, was the perfect collaborator to work with Silvey. His scenes of the personalities and landscapes painted on wood panels add to the sense of the period. If you’re traveling anywhere near western Massachusetts in the next two months, I recommend taking your family and seeing a special exhibit, “Wendell Minor’s America,” highlighting Minor’s 40-year career at the Norman Rockwell Museum in West Stockbridge, MA through May 26, 2014.

Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot

Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot

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March 17th – What else do we remember?

March 17th – Evacuation Day

If you live outside of the Massachusetts, you may not know that Evacuation Day coincides with St. Patrick’s Day on this date. The significance of this day was not discussed in my classes growing up in this Commonwealth, but in my home. ( I’ll recommend a book after I describe the event.)

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 4.09.07 PMIn 1776, the American Continental Army under General George Washington forced the British under General William Howe to leave Boston’s shores. “And, unlike so many countries, the United States has never had foreign troops on its shores ever since!” my father would add to our family history lesson that day.

Also omitted from my formal education was what happened to Massachusetts citizens at that time who were NOT caught up in the revolutionary fever. Our history books called them Tories or Loyalists. I only knew that they fled to Nova Scotia and perhaps back to England—that’s all our books and teachers said.

However, some citizens weren’t so sure it was prudent to go into a war with England. Not all were loyal to King George. Many were highly educated and committed citizens of the colony and hadn’t made up their minds. Others sought rational discussion and hoped diplomacy would settle the issues. Given the volatility of the time, however, many of these citizens suffered greatly: losing their homes and property, being forced to hide in Boston under horrible conditions or being shot or lynched.

I’d only heard the phrase ‘tar and feather’ in relationship to slavery, the abolitionist movement, and Civil War, but I had no idea that this barbaric practice was also done to those colonists of 1775-6 who had a different opinion about a war with England.

Now to the recommended book:
“Oliver Wiswell” by Maine author, Kenneth Roberts, was published in 1940. It’s an historical novel based on extensive research about the events of the Revolutionary War and their social impact. As one reviewer noted, “without glorification or sanitization.”

If it hadn’t been chosen by our library book group (with a focus on history, biography and historical fiction) to read last month, I would not have known about it. We’d already read books on the American Revolutionary War by many of today’s leading historians and biographers. This book was written before I attended elementary school, but the topic should have been discussed in my high school US history courses, and certainly should have been on a recommended reading list for my college liberal arts classes!

From the Kirkus Review:
“…But here we see the story of a Civil War, when we have accustomed ourselves to think of the Colonies as putting up virtually a united front to England. We see in many parts of the country, a majority of the people, and everywhere a majority of the upper classes and the intelligentsia of their day, determined on finding a way out without bloodshed, and paying the price in being made victims of lawless mobs, incendiaries, pillagers, sadists of the worst type, thrust from their homes, tarred and feathered, tortured and often killed — all because they demanded their right to independence of belief in the face of a new kind of tyranny. Oliver Wiswell was a Yale undergraduate, who came home on the eve of his father’s victimization — and who tells his story.…”

If you’re interested in this part of US history or preparing a teaching block on the American Revolutionary War, this is a book you should not neglect to read. Be aware that it is around 1000 pages—daunting for me and many readers, to be sure, but it’s worth it!

Just as contemporary books about slavery and abolition today reveal the extent our US history books have neglected to inform us of the existence of slavery in the northern states, “Oliver Wiswell” (1940) illuminates other lesser-known facts about one of the most significant periods in America’s colonial history.

My next post will review a children’s book about the bookseller turned soldier and patriot, Henry Knox.

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For your Valentine

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