New Year, New Garden, Same Passive Aggressive Lesson in Manners.

Some of you remember my post about Manners in the Garden. Last summer we had a few issues with kids not respecting the growing plants… stepping on seedlings, playing football too close to the bed… typical kid stuff, all *mostly* accidents.
Well, this year I planted my garden in the backyard of the library again. Wasn’t it Van Gogh who said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Am I insane? Did I expect different results? Who can say?

It is May 23rd. I put all of my beautiful little seedlings in the ground about 2 weeks ago. Admittedly, this garden is MUCH less precious to me than gardens of the past have been because I chose not to start any plants from seeds. I just don’t have it in me anymore. I’ve buried too many seedlings. 😦
Anyway, I digress.
This is a young garden. The plants are still getting acquainted with the ground. They are still adolescent plant babies and I am obsessed with checking on them constantly.

Another difference with this year is that I no longer work at the library, and therefore can no longer log garden time as work. BUT, my BFF Izzy (my 10 year-old pal/sister from my library days) is sharing the garden with me. Basically agreeing to help me water and weed it, in exchange for taking veggies and flowers home for her family all summer long. Also it’s an excuse to hang out more, which is dope. I love Izz. But Izzy and I went out to check on the garden yesterday, and to our HORROR our beloved dill and young tomatoes were victim to RECKLESS BACKYARD ROUGH HOUSING. We were appalled.
Izzy ran into the makerspace and started frantically pulling materials off of the shelves muttering something about “showing them what we’re made of” and “protecting the children”. I have never been more proud.

20 minutes later, we were sitting on the floor surrounded by cut up lengths of canvas and multi-colored sharpies, and determined to make our voices, and those of the plants, heard.
We created a slew of signs, ranging from peaceful “Respect the Garden” to more graphic “Don’t kill us like our ancestors”. Izzy really showed me what she was made of, as if I didn’t know who I was dealing with… (a sass queen). At the end of our impromptu maker sesh, I was left with all of these random pieces of canvas, and no real idea of how I was going to display them in my backyard raised bed.

Enter stage left, the true hero of the story, MY SEWING MACHINE.
In my opinion, there’s nothing some bright yellow thread, hand-dyed yarn, and a solid zig zag stitch can’t do. IMG_1053.jpg
I got home from work today and strung these signs together faster than I could spell “ancestors”. My sewing machine is such a beloved tool that I feel like I never get to use, and it brings me such joy to see her humming along, especially when she’s helping me create this fun and random project.

With some help from a teen library patron and a few close encounters with a hammer (and some duct tape), I successfully strung up the cutest little garden signs you ever did see, and I am SO PLEASED with how they look.

IMG_1068.jpgHere are some close-ups of the actual signs. They are gold.

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Anyway. Another exciting day in the life of Nora, the eternal Maker Educator.
Thanks for reading, if anyone’s reading. 🙂 Send good vibes to my bb plants!

How many projects is too many?

I’ve been absent from this blog for a few months, and I’m so sorry!
In September I got a new job, transitioning out of the world of 100% Maker Ed and into a more literacy-based educational role with Reading is FUNdamental Pittsburgh. I’m the director of the Everybody Wins! mentoring program, which matches adult volunteers with 1st 2nd or 3rd grade students as “Reading Buddies”. It’s a pretty great program that gives these students a space to learn to love reading and grow a relationship with a caring adult, but it doesn’t leave much time for maker ed…
Luckily, I have no concept of being TOO busy or overcommitting, so my after-work life consists almost entirely of projects.

Current projects include:

  • Stitch Party (check it out we’re dope)
    We hand-dye our own yarn, design our own knitting patterns, and create hand-curated beginner knitting kits for those of us who still haven’t learned or who need a little extra support.
  • Picture Book Maker Prompts
    I went to SXSW to present this project. You should all know about it by now… book-based maker prompts printed onto stickers and stuck on the inside of children’s books. Since I don’t work at the MCL anymore this is a completely hobby-based project of mine. It’s still happening, just quite slowly.
  • Nelly’s Nose Children’s Book
    If you don’t follow Nelly’s Nose on Instagram I don’t know if we can be friends. Nelly is my parents’ dog who is more famous than I will ever be, all because she can balance almost anything on her talented little nose. She’s adorable, and I love her, and am working with my friend Adam Dove on a children’s book that has changed forms about 100000 times, and will likely change a few more before it’s release.
  • Marshmallow Magazine
    I don’t have a link for this one because it’s the newest, but potentially one I am most excited about. I am partnering up with one of my talented pals, Murphi Cook, to create a small-scale children’s magazine for kids in the city of Pittsburgh. A quarterly publication, Marshmallow will be a free portal into a magical world that connects the ordinary with the secret histories and stories of Pittsburgh. Giving kids an opportunity to explore and discover, this project is really blowing my imagination wide open…

 

BUT, as you can see, I am spreading myself a little thin. I want to keep you all up to date on what I’m working on, so I’m making a goal to post at least once a week to this blog. We’ll see if I can keep it up…

 

Thank you to everyone who actually takes the time to read my ramblings… I dedicate my overabundance of projects to you. ❤

 

‘Til next time, Internet.
(next time will be before next week, I promise)

The Sewing Machine as a Tool for Artists and Educators

Sewing is one of my favorite things to do. I love how quickly you can see progress, and how it’s relatively simple to make something impressive. Fabric hoarding is in my blood, and I have boxes, baskets, and bins labeled “small fabric pieces” and “trims/pompoms”.

My mom tried to teach me how to sew when I was little, but the frustration quickly overpowered the enjoyment. I didn’t decide to really jump back into formally learning how to sew until I was in high school. My high school had a “fashion arts” program that became my safe space for four years. I blew through the elective courses offered in the space, and by my junior year I was in Ms. Simon’s class more periods than out of it… using my mornings, lunch, and study hall time to work on the clothing garments I was learning to make. I spent countless hours in the back of her classroom swearing under my breath about an invisible hem or misplaced pleat.

In college I learned to see the sewing machine as a useful tool. My university didn’t offer sewing classes, but I used my trusty Brother A-Line to whip up curtains to spruce up my garbage apartment, patch up holes in favorite jeans, make presents for friends or roommates, and eventually make sculptures! It was a creative break through when I realized how freeing it could be to use the machine without a pattern! The sewing machine became an artistic tool that I used as frequently as a pencil sharpener.

When I graduated from college, I began working with kids and found that the way I saw my sewing machine had changed again. From a way to escape math class to an artistic tool, my machine became an important feature in the maker space where I was working with kids. Learning to use the machine created this sense of pride that was so amazing to witness as a young educator, that it quickly became my favorite thing to teach.

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“Fiber Fridays” during the summers at the library filled the back room or maker space with laughter and creative sparks as learners left wearing homemade shorts or sundresses. When kids hear that I am going to let them use the machine, their eyes light up with some combination of fear and excitement, and usually they ask how fast they will be allowed to go. The feeling of empowerment and strength that comes from using the foot pedal and “steering” the fabric is usually worth all of the stress surrounding getting little ones on the machine.

I just finished teaching a camp where the end result of three days of sewing was a handmade skirt. I loved seeing the fabric choices and unusal combinations that these creative kids decided on. At the end of the three days, I was completely exhausted, but also totally inspired by the pride that these young seamstresses exhibited when strutting their creations through the library and neighboring tea shop.

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For me, it’s really important to remember that it was too hard for my mom to teach me how to sew because of my frustration. Sewing is hard! It requires patience and accepting imperfection as not only a possibility but a reality. That’s something I still struggle with!

Do any of you use sewing machines in your work with kids? Share your experiences below! I would love to hear from other educators!

 

It’s tough to teach manners in a garden…

I wear many hats as an educator. At any given time I could be the librarian, the director, the camp counselor, the entertainment, the rule-enforcer, the “it” when playing tag, the teammate, the devil’s advocate, or the friend. But in the summer I am also the gardener. I manage the large garden bed in the back yard, all of the potted plants on the deck and steps, and this year I am also in charge of two smaller beds at the community garden down the street.

Something that has been a challenge for me as a garden educator is teaching kids how to respect the plants. Garden manners if you will.

Last summer I was trying to grow sugar baby watermelon in containers on the deck. From tiny seedlings, I supported these plants (with minimal help from uninterested kids) as they grew, blossomed, and eventually produced lots of teeny tiny watermelon babies. I feel like maybe you all can sense a tone shift coming… I’m afraid this story doesn’t have a happy ending…

I came to work early one day to check on the garden before summer camp, only to find all of the baby watermelons missing, and several of them broken on the deck and thrown about the yard. It was heartbreaking.
I mourned… but I wanted to find a way to show the kids that what they had done, potentially with very little malicious intent, really hurt my feelings, and ruined a lot of hardwork that had gone into growing these young plants.
Luckily, I am as dramatic as I am crafty. (watch the video)

 

This year, I am facing similar difficulties in keeping little hands away from fragile growing fruits and veggies! Specifically my tomatoes have been picked too early to use as artillary in backyard vegetable fights… It’s really discouraging, especially because the gardens are a part of the summer camps, and we will need all of those tomatoes to turn red if we want to make yummy salsa with the kids in a few weeks!

 

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I plan on pointing out these signs as I see kids playing in the backyard, just to show that we are paying attention to the plants, and they belong to someone. Do any of you have ideas as to how else I could create a culture of respect around the garden? Have you ever had similar problems?
I would love to hear any stories, ideas, or suggestions!

Summer Learning in a Library Maker Space

Summer at the Millvale Community Library is a frenzy of slamming doors, popsicles, bike helmets, and (more recently) hover boards. Most days there are kids at the doors before we open, and kids in the library until the moment we close at the end of the day. In the past, summer programming at the MCL has functioned as a drop-in model, where there would be a time window where kids could drop by and participate in as much or as little of the decided activity. This proved difficult to plan for and hard to accommodate the growing number of interested children. So, last year we moved to a summer camp model.
Summer 2017 brings 12 summer camps and over 150 campers to the MCL. I would say that our first two camps were huge successes, and having two weeks off before the next camps was a genius idea on past Nora’s part.

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MakeShop Campers with their cardboard creations… Something about cardboard and hot glue made us feel like warriors…

Our first camp was a collaboration with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, and was so so so much fun. Just so fun! The two groups of campers, younger kids in the morning and older ones in the afternoon, learned so many new words and became comfortable with new tools… what an awesome way to measure a good time.
Words like “ply”, “kumihimo”, and “conductor” were thrown around like no big deal… I’m still impressed tbh. Three days jam-packed with cardboard construction, weaving and braiding, and circuitry explorations… Those were some lucky kids. Big shout out to the Children’s Museum for lending us one of your magical teaching artists for a few days.

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Learning how to keep our watershed and rivers clean with Allegheny Cleanways… ON A BOAT!

Our second camp was Environmental Camp. A little less directly related to the traditional ideas of “maker education”, I was tasked with connecting the dots between “green” learning experiences and building and learning with our hands the week before. Campers met a real screech owl with the Audubon Society, went on a nature scavenger hunt (that ended in a water fight), and learned about single point pollution while cleaning up the Allegheny River on a boat with Allegheny Cleanways! It was an action packed week full of quotes like “I learned what a watergarage was today!” (Watershed… oops), and “Birds don’t have teeth but they have really lopsided ears.”

Summer learning is so important. Libraries are here to fight summer brain rot. Teaching artists are here to show your kids that learning is fun and exciting! Support your local library… and follow mine on instagram! (@millvalemakers)

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Stay tuned for more summer updates. Summer Nora is a little less reliable, but be patient. She’s probably sunburned and sleep-deprived. 💕