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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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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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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

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Snowballs + Leonardo for all!

One winter, long ago, we Blackbirds made a box full of snowball catapults to giveaway at a conference. When I came across a few remaining stragglers, I smiled to myself. “Just in time for December!”

So, I have have been a busy little elf recreating ONE HUNDRED catapult kits! ENTER TO WIN HERE & you might be the happy recipient of one of the 100 kits we have ready to mail off!

Of course, when I think “catapult” I think Leonardo DaVinci, polymath extraordinaire!  What a persona to consider as we stand at the dawn of a new year. A bit of history:

You, of course know, Leonardo Da Vinci was a man who wore many hats: painter, sculptor, musician, engineer, father of flight, medical entrepreneur.  But did you know that he was known to sketch mechanized throwing devices just for fun?

The catapult design, conceived and put to use many, many years before Leonardo, intrigued him.  And so he went to the drawing board to do some tweaking.

Da Vinci recognized a simple fact that was likely overlooked by most: Gun powder was not 100% dependable! It just needed a bit of tweaking. And so he set out to refine the tool.

Da Vinci concocted two ideas: the single arm and the double arm catapult. The mechanisms he imagined would enable an increase in the throwing arm speed with ease. Like many of his notebook ideas, there is no historical record of the single or double arm catapult being employed but there are small scale and large scale models that have proved efficacy. More importantly, Loenardo’s tenacity to put his ideas to paper continues to inspire innovation. And this is worth celebrating!

For this reason, we will giving away one  Leonardo DaVinci catapult kit in addition to the 100 Snowball catapult kits.


And may you be inspired.


~Kimberly ❄️❄️❄️

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Dinosaur Bones


Ready or not… Here come the holidays!

Give the gift of bones.

Not real bones.

Put together a kit containing Qtips, a bottle of white glue, a stack of assorted handcrafted pre-cut imaginary dinosaur skulls, and a stack of black construction paper. Make a sample to put in the kit. And be sure to include a book or two. Here are some ideas recommended by the Smithsonian and others:






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How to Read a Great Character and Become One

Characters do things. They feel things. They hear things.
They say things. They think things. They go places. They can walk, run, leap,
and jump. They may sit and rock in a rocking chair. They may just lie in bed,
sleep, and dream. But the important thing is that characters act. And it is
precisely these actions that show us just what kind of imaginary people characters
are—friendly, sad, nosey, happy, confused, angry, or inventive. And we need to
know because something always happens in great stories. Character determines
the outcome. 

Earlier this month, my son Søren sat on the couch chuckling
to himself, turning the pages of an old favorite. It’s Lewis Carroll
re-imagined. Christopher Myers keeps the text the same but re-imagines the
beast as a basketball-playing-Jabberwocky. And the protagonist? Well, he
becomes a small boy with basketball-shaped-stars in his eyes.

What fascinated me about the scene was what happened when
the book was closed. My son smiled, got off the couch to rummage around the art
cabinet for paper, scissors, and tape. Silently he concentrated, cutting shapes
and connecting them until the characters emerged. Then he swept up the scraps,
set his characters to hold the gesture, and walked away from the table without
a word.

I know what he was up to. This was literary analysis at its
best. Carroll’s Jabberwocky is a larger than life, but there is no doubt that the
storm of neologism and nonsense qualifies it as a very difficult read. To most,
Søren’s hive of post reading activity might be deemed at best a responsive
craft. But Søren was actually deep in thought. This post-reading activity was
uniquely contemplative, was Søren’s way of unpacking Lewis Carroll’s poem and
the consequent reimagining of Christopher Myer. 

And I know where Søren’s pondering will lead. It will lead
to an idea. Sometimes we begin with a study of someone else’s idea to incubate
an original idea of our own. So it might not be this week, maybe not even next,
but I’m sure Lewis Carroll and Christopher Meyer offered fodder that has been
sufficiently tucked away in the mind of my son.


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Break the Cycle of Boredom: Build a Habit of Being

My son Taylor has remarked more than once that Danny Champion of the World is his all time favorite elementary
read. Having a dad who is a real life inventor, I’m my son could really relate
to this story. But like many young readers, I’m sure Taylor was simply drawn
into Roald Dahl’s clever tale of the antics of Danny and his loving
poacher/inventor dad.

Obviously Taylor did not build a habit of being for reading and
writing over night. The arduous process involved days upon days of providing my
son with the tools that pressed him into the work of becoming literate—in the
not just able to read and write sense, but in the able to apply and create
sense. The work was complex and the process was longitudinal. Looking back,
providing consistent opportunity for Taylor to participate in a series of small
steps, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other over time while incrementally increasing
the complexity of the reading and writing expectations was key.

Still, sometimes the task of helping Taylor learn to read and write
was like a game of limbo. Increase expectations too much and the pole was
knocked down. Increase the expectations too little and Taylor would knock the
pole off just for fun. The game all said and done, I’m pretty sure that my
son’s investment in learning to not only read great stories closely, but to
mine for applicable riches and learn to communicate his spoil in the form of
words has strengthened his ability to bring an original idea to fruition. Taylor
built a habit of being and that habit of being keeps him on his toes.

A habit of being is forged over time as our children engage in the
work of learning to tackle complex processes, processes such as exploring
literature and the process of mathematical problem solving, such as the process
of crafting a poem or an essay or a fictional story. Establishing habits of
being, best achieved slowly over time, is like transforming coal to

Habits of being spark imagination and imagination sparks curiosity
and curiosity is the stuff from which we forge original ideas. And guess what?
Bringing an original idea to fruition simply will not leave room for boredom.

Recently my seventeen-year-old son,
Taylor, was bored.

Not for long.

One Cannon FD lens, one
iPod, and a stack of cardboard. I watched my son think in threes.

The next thing I see can not exactly be
captured in words. Think the bump and jolt of stop motion. Think the colorless
blur of fast motion. Think the patience and precision of a piano tuner.

This mom moves into his kitchen studio on
a pretense. I am not noticed scouring a counter or two to spy on his process.
Soon the lens projects the screen of the iPod onto a white wall surface.
Problem is the image is in reverse.

I see his interior voice utter, “Hmmm.”

Then I hear, “WAIT.”

I see my son scramble to the art cabinet and reemerge with a piece
of tracing paper. He constructs a screen.

“I made an iPod television!” Suddenly my
presence in the kitchen studio is acknowledged.

“Let's see if I can get the image bigger
on the screen.” A few seconds later, “Whoa!
Look Mom!”

And so, the next time your child is
bored, slide a book across the table. And when they’re done reading hand them
paper and pencil and ask, “Now what’s your idea?”



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Imagine a Big Idea: A State Quilt

The big idea was to study our state in detail for one full school year, learning its basic geography and all the state symbols. There was no pattern. We just designed it the way we wanted it as we journeyed through our study. We decided to spell C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A on little pillows to create a relief effect. Each letter was cut out of different fabrics that had Wonder Under applied to the back. Different embroidery stitches were used to embellish the ironed on letters. The pillows were then hung on little safety pins.

Along the left of the quilt are laminated hand drawn watercolored state symbols—state rock, flower, bird and so on. Our children were delighted to safety pin each symbol randomly.

The middle of our quilted California is made of muslin and is a quilt all it’s own with two sides and batting in the middle. Using a large state map as a guide, major features like deserts, mountain ranges, valleys and lakes were either applied using fabric or paints.

We had children bring in photos of themselves from different places in the state or just photos they had taken in different places. We cut them small, then laminated them and attached them with safety pins. All the quilters painted California poppies and signed their names.

For the finishing touch we used bright yarns to tie the quilt together at random spots. We entered our geography unit in the Mid-state fair and won a first prize ribbon!

It’s pretty obvious that a project like this takes hours and hours. Really, there was no rush… except the deadline for the fair!

– Sara

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Cooking with Teens: The Marshmallow Bake Off!

I’m fascinated by the diversity of recipes.

My good friend recently gave me her recipe for marshmallows. Let’s just say, a certain western cooking and lifestyle magazine published a very different recipe claiming they would be easy and good. So I invited my teenagers into the kitchen and the bake off began!

The tiniest of difference in recipe ingredients, I suspected, would make all the difference, but I kept it neutral, wanting my kids to discover the miracle of chemistry in the process. Thing is, the magazine recipe calls for egg whites and the other is egg white free.

Ultimately the egg whites created a “Son of Flubber” bouncy marshmallow. My friend’s recipe had a thick heavier bite that would do well at the end of a roasting stick and would hold up well in a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

If you want to have some fun making your own yummy mallows for "Give Me S’Mores" here is the recipe for you to try.

Kari’s  Marshmallow Recipe

Step 1 ingredients:
– ¾ cups water
– 4 envelopes of unflavored gelatin
– ¼ cup cornstarch
– ¼ cup sifted powdered sugar (don’t skip sifting or you’ll be sorry)
– 2 teaspoons vanilla (or another extract of your choice, think peppermint at Christmas)

Step 2 ingredients:
– 3 cups of granulated sugar
– 1¼ cups of light corn syrup
– ¼ teaspoon salt
– ¾ cup water

Step 1:
Line a 9 x 13 inch glass baking dish with heavy duty foil and brush it with vegetable oil. Mix the powered sugar with the cornstarch in a bowl, then coat the foil dish with it, (you don’t have to use it all). In the bowl of an electric mixer, sprinkle in the water and gelatin and let it sit for about 5 minutes.

Step 2:
In a medium saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, light corn syrup, salt and water. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan, cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees, and then remove from the heat.

Next, with the mixer on low speed, using the whisk attachment, very carefully pour the hot syrup into the gelatin mixture. When the syrup is incorporated, increase the speed to high and continue beating until stiff peaks form and mixture is cool about 20 to 30 minutes. Then beat in 2 teaspoons of vanilla. Poor the mixture into the prepared pan, smooth with an offset spatula( oiled well), and let stand overnight, uncovered, until firm.

Dust the top with a combination of cocoa powder and powdered sugar, then cut into squares using a sharp knife lightly brushed with oil. Coat the sides of each marshmallow with more of the sugar/cocoa mixture, trying not to eat too many. Enjoy!

– Sara