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Stitch / Strengthen

Hands, fingers, eyes, oh my! When it comes to writing an idea, students are often thwarted by the complex activity of coordinating the minute muscle movements of the hands and fingers holding a pencil, with the sight of the eyes and the idea stirring in the mind’s eye!

Stitching is a wonderful way to switch it up, setting the pencil aside (temporarily) to strengthen small motor ability.  Not only does sewing by hand require the pincher grasp that requires coordinating the thumb and pointer, but it requires coordinating the eyes in the process. Stitching by hand is a quiet, slow activity that requires patience.

Stitching leaves strengthen’s fine motor skills.

Many years ago I cut some very simple pinnately parallel, leaf-like shapes in calico fabrics. I popped the raw “leaves” into  a little basket with pre-threaded (with embroidery floss) needles and carved out time during fall for leaf stitching—half an hour would easily stretch to an hour with my little ones contentedly choosing two leaf shapes and stitching them together tenaciously. This seasonal tradition began with me teaching the running stitch, re-threading all the needles and moving quickly to my children confidently whip stitching and blanket stitching, even threading their own needles!

And guess what? Writing an idea became less painful. Skills gained during sewing transfers directly to the stitching of ideas crafted with pencil on paper.

Check out our brand FREE new Letter Forms worksheet!



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More Leaves for a Friendly Letter

Accentuate your friendly letter with a fall-themed crafty insert!

This project began with a package of fall leaf table confetti. But you can just as easily begin by tracing real leaf shapes on colored craft paper, cutting out the shapes, and drawing. From there, all you need is imagination and a fine-point marker. Fill each leaf with a repetitive design of lines! You might even add a little message to your design! These handcrafted fall leaves, inserted into your friendly letter, will be a delightful surprise to the recipient and a fresh addition to any fall table.

Don’t forget to check out our FREE resources on letter writing and letter forms by hand!


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Fall Leaves for a Friendly Letter

It’s November and we’re celebrating the art of letter writing, let’s embellish!

Once you’ve composed a friendly letter first draft, it’s time to choose stationary. There are all sorts of envelopes and flat cards in many colors, shapes, and sizes available everywhere. Choose a shape and color that is perfect for fall. Accentuate these simple cards with a fall-themed crafty insert. What’s more symbolic of fall than fallen leaves?

The best place to begin is with a little exploration of fall science. Why do leaves turn from green to the colors of fall? In fall, days are shorter, sunlight is less intense, and temperatures are cooler. This causes leaves to stop photosynthesizing. When this happens the leaf’s  chlorophyll (the pigment that makes them green) breaks down, and its green turns to the beautiful yellows and oranges and reds that are quintessentially fall.

Let’s make some fall leaves!


Begin with one sheet of watercolor paper. Cut it in two pieces then fold each into an accordion.


Open the sheets back up and paint some fall colors.


Once the paint is dry, draw a leaf shape and cut.


Now punch holes.


Now fold the leaf and staple the stem. Thread a piece of embroidery floss through the leaf stem to wrap the little leaf up for its journey to the recipient of your extravagant letter!



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A Reason for Handwriting

About a dozen years ago, a friend shared with me that she decided to bypass teaching her children the art of penmanship. Her children would jump straight to keyboarding: “This is the computer age. Cursive handwriting is archaic. Why do the work?”

What about beauty?

When I pressed her, my friend agreed that handwriting is an art form. She simply did not see the value of her young children expending effort to master an art form that would not be useful in college a decade or so in the future. This was my first encounter with creative illiteracy.

Mastering the art of handwriting fosters the ability to concentrate, to contemplate, and to communicate confidently.

Let’s face it. We are a distracted people. We are technology-centric, and our children are at risk. We are obsessed with digital signals that tickle our attention.

But we all, somewhere deep down, appreciate ideas that are beautifully inked by hand. I, for one, long for this personal touch. Of course, there are countless typographical fonts that mimic hand-written text. We download them for free. Sometimes we even pay for these fonts. But can the illusion of written-by-hand really fill the void?

Technology is here to stay. We all need to be technologically literate. I’m connected to my iPhone because I value the many benefits this technology offers.

But what if a technological world without the balance of human artistry is shrinking individuality?Taymusic copy
My eldest son is a composer. Until recently, he composed all his pieces by hand on archival paper. When he was a college student, his professor pulled him aside and praised his melodic compositions that are equally beautiful to the eye. However, while he crowned Taylor one of the last “by-hand” composers, he suggested that purchasing a notation program such as Sebelius would be imperative. This is not because the program will make Taylor’s work easier, but because most musicians who will read his work have never played music that is handwritten and the foreign individual nuances are challenging to interpret. Taylor purchased the program, but assured the professor that he will always begin the process of composing by hand hoping to, in the end to also be known for the individuality of his hand on the page.

This got me to thinking, how many times do children come to me and say, “I can’t read cursive.”

Handwriting is an extension of the writer’s voice. Lettering by hand—whether it’s verbal or musical—is beauty, is unique voice. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien encouraged one another as writers, still, their voices on the page are vastly different. Voice is the fingerprint of the writer, that one-of-a-kind something that no two writers have in common.  Our handwriting is a beautiful extension of that voice. We are known by the whisper of our loops on the page.

Remember, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” That’s Hemingway, of course, from A Moveable Feast. I want to add:  Ink your one-true-sentence by hand onto paper in the most beautiful way you can!

This month, try carving out fifteen minutes a day to compose one true sentence, but not just the truest sentence you know, the truest-most-beautifully-handwritten sentence you know!

Begin with these things in mind:

Choose the right writing implement and the right
. The feel of the pencil or pen on the page is a personal choice. The balance of resistance and flow has to be just right. Take time to explore the options.

Consider grip and posture. While I don’t believe there is a single right way to grip the writing implement, I do believe the pressure of the grip matters. The grip should always be relaxed, not cramped. The posture should be upright, comfortable, and the arm should rest on a table so that the arm directs the stroke, not the wrist.

Beautiful handwriting begins with beautiful lines. Remember, our alphabet is a set of symbols developed by human beings to represent spoken sound. The symbols, from an artist’s standpoint, are arbitrarily looped and curved lines that
represent the spoken word. There are many letter forms in the world. You might even add one of your own!

Be the tortoise. Slow handwriting is nimble. Slow and steady is non-chaotic. Fast handwriting is mindless, awkward. Fast and rickety is chaotic. Consider the metaphor. An investment of time practicing the art of handwriting will generate much more than beautiful strokes on the page.

Click through to access our FREE lettering by hand activity to get the tradition started.



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I Modinnari Apples

I Modinnari is a tradition that many communities have adopted to honor an Italian tradition that began way back in the 16th century. Once upon a time itinerant artists commissioned for bigger works, would,  at the close of the project, create a related work of art in tempera on the pavement.

For many years this was a tradition with my children, and later with my students. These two are perfect examples for fall. The copy below, after René Magritte’s Listening Room, was created on our driveway during COVID. The above image after inspired by Paul Cézanne’s Apples but re-imagined to fit into a particular space.

You can I Modinnari too!

Here’s How:

  1. Use a white, water-based tempera paint, to cover the space you will be using to create your art.
  2. Choose an image to copy. Apples are obviously recommended!
  3. Using a collection of chalk pastels, begin drawing and layering up colors. Begin with light colors and add darks last!



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Pop Art Apples

It looks simple. It is. But what makes it read “apple” is the fact that it began with observation. The most important thing that observation teaches, is that apples are not perfect spheres.

One fun way to observe is to observe a black and white photograph. Here’s how:

  1. Take a phot of a single apple or a group of apples on your phone. Edit the photo to black and white.
  2. Turn on the edit option and choose a color of your choice.
  3. Choose an apple color for the pen tool. Have your student scribble-trace the apple contour with an Apple Pen or finger.

Now get to know artist Roy Lichtenstein. Read about him here. This is work, Two Apples, was created back in 1972. Take some time to observe. Here are some things to notice:

  1. It is horizontally oriented, divided into two unequal parts, the bottom being larger than the top.
  2. We see: Red, blue, black, and white.
  3. The apples shape is created by a strong, single outline that creates a beautiful organic shape.
  4. The stem is a single stroke of paint.
  5. The upper background is dotted.

Now you try!

  1. Begin with very light pencil drawing. Divide the horizontal space. Fill the space with two large apples.
  2. Choose colors (we recommend using gouache or acrylic paint on smooth Bristol paper) . Limit the palette to two colors, plus black and white.
  3. Paint the sold background at the bottom of the painting. Next paint the apples. Let this dry thoroughly.
  4. Next paint the dots in the upper background. This should be done slowly. Let the paint dry.
  5. Use white paint to pop a highlight onto the apple if you like (our students did not create the highlight).
  6. The very last step is to outline the apples and the horizon line with black.

When it come to apples, the possibilities are limitless! This is what the pop artist reminds us:

“Pop art looks out into the world. It doesnt look like a painting of something, it looks like the thing itself.”

There is no doubt in the viewer’s mind that these pop art apples look like the form of the real thing! This is because the artists began with observation.



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Pumpkin! Pumpkin!

Pumpkins are everywhere this time of year! Time to harvest, right? Following are three ideas to help you “switch it up” with pumpkin activities that will surely keep the fall mood stirring!


Read (or listen to) a pumpkin story, or two! How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas, is a wonderful story that integrates math and inquiry.  We love this story so much that weve included it in our Hatchling for Kindergarten Collection! Pumpkin Circle by George Levenson, photographs by Shumel Thaler, is a terrific book that takes the reader on a beautiful book through the life cycle of the pumpkin. Continue the pumpkin science by observing two different pumpkins from various perspectives. Discuss discoveries. Talk about color. You might even compare colors to paint chips from the hardware store! Count the lines. Compare weight. Observe the stem and the bottom of the pumpkin. Cut the pumpkins open. Count the seeds. You might even pick up a sugar pumpkin and make a pie or some muffins! The possibilities are endless.


Stitch a pumpkin. This one was made years ago for little hands to learn the running stitch. The pumpkin is a simple drawing cut onto fabric fused with Wonder Under, a material that allows the design to stick with heat to the background fabric. The outer frame, the bordering crooked strips of fabric, are optional. Without these, no sewing machine is necessary. Of course, if you have access to a sewing machine, by all means create a border!

Begin like this:

  1. Have your child look at and draw a pumpkin.
  2. Trace elements of drawing to the select fabrics prepared with Wonder Under—stem, body, inner shapes.
  3. Cut out the shapes, place on the background, and heat with an iron to adhere to the background.
  4. If you have a sewing machine, run a stitch around the pumpkin to add strength. If not, run a stitch by hand.
  5. Provide your child with a needle and embroidery floss in bright coordinating or contrasting colors to decorate.=


Try to yarn bomb a pumpkin! Several years ago, I bought a white pumpkin and a skein of orange yarn. I set out scissors, glue, and the yarn in a basket next to the pumpkin. Together with my four elementary and middle school aged children we created this fun activity, one length of yarn at a time. Pant the pumpkin with glue, cut a length of yarn to reach from the stem to the underneath of the pumpkin, and attach, one by one. This slow, contemplative work is a terrific activity to set up during October!



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Speaking of Apples

Cézanne said: “Everything is about to disappear. You’ve got to hurry up if you still want to see things.”

What does he mean?

I think he means: “LOOK!”

This little painting by 9th grader, Kingsley, was accomplished during Session 1 of Pages online live! Under the expert tutelage of Mr. Taylor,  inspired by the colorful still life paintings of Paul Cézanne, in five happy, peaceful hours over the course of five weeks, this student painting took shape.

How did she accomplish this beautiful feat?

By engaging in the slow work of observation.

The skill of observation enables us to recognize, slow down, perceive, decide, appreciate, and ultimately, to know.  Observation engages all the senses. Yes, we can see with our hands. And it is through the senses, that we will make sense of the world. But don’t take my word for it, Da Vinci, master of observation says it with eloquence:  “All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.”

Art making is academic.



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Three Ideas with Fall Leaves

It’s fall! Leaves are turning. Following are three ideas to help you “switch it up” with fall leaf activities! While reading the following ideas, listen to Vivaldi, Autumn from The Four Seasons performed by the Netherlands Bach Society. This will surely get the fall mood stirring!


Listen to a fall leaf story, Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert is amazing place to begin! This one is also a fall leaf favorite.

Read a fall poem.

October by Robert Frost
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with a
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.


Stitch a leaf. These leaves began with a leaf walk. Grab a basket and collect some freshly fallen leaves. Look up and, if possible, pluck a a few fresh leaves too. Once home, observe the different shapes you collected. Trace your favorite onto a piece of felt. Felt squares can be found at your local craft store. The felt we used was purchased on Etsy from an artisan who dyes beautiful colors with natural materials. Once the leaf shape is drawn on the felt, cut out the leaf. Now stitch the veins with matching embroidery floss using a simple running stitch.

This project is a really fun throwback to a classic that my sister-in-law, Tracey, beautified with unexpected bright fall colors and simple organic shapes! These leaves, once cut, are unfolded and embellished with a hole punch (all terrific fine motor for little ones), then veins are drawn with colored pencils. String these paper leaves for a decorative fall garland. Collect them in a little basket. You might even use these leaves as a little greeting card!


Haiku are the little powerhouses of the poetry world! They are a fun challenge involving the best of word play, mixed with a little finger counting to get the syllables just right! Here’s a brief “Haiku 101” to help you get started:

1. Haiku poems consist of a three-line stanza that has a total of 17 syllables written in the following pattern:

Line 1: 5 syllables
Line 2: 7 syllables
Line 3: 5 syllables

*Slight variations in syllabication is appropriate as this helps the poet maintain the “one thought in three lines” rule.

2. Haiku poems are observations of nature, often making reference to the seasons.

3. Haiku poems are like photographs, which capture moments in time. A  “haiku moment” describes a scene that leads the reader to a feeling.

4. Haiku poems were originally written as introductions to longer works of poetry and should be written as one thought in three lines.

Consider this simple, but lovely, fall haiku written by the Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho:

In the autumn night,

 Breaking into

A pleasant chat.

Ready to write? Try crafting a leaf haiku. Use photos in this post to inspire.


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Arts Discovery, Pages Online

Like learning phonics and grammar and punctuation and rhetoric, artists too have tools that enable them to bring shape to an idea so that a “reader” might engage and be inspired by that idea. Color is one of the important tools the enables great art to tell a story.



During Session 1 of Pages Online, we are offering our very first class in visual arts for storytellers! We are so excited! Students will not only learn about the mechanics of color, the physics of color, and how artists use color to tell stories, but they will be using color to create an original idea!


Click through to learn more and enroll. Space is limited. Don’t miss out!

Tuesdays 5th – 8th Grade, 9:00

Thursdays 9th – 12th Grade, 9:00

Visual art is language. Blackbird & Company is excited to introduce a series of visual art classes through Pages this coming year because learning to read art extends literacy—Read well! Write well! Make well! Think well!

“Color is the place where our brain and the universe meet.” ~Paul Klee