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!

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!



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.


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.


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)

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

They All Saw A Cat

Fridays at the library are “Small Fry Fridays”. Tiny humans and their grown ups line up at the doors awaiting a morning filled with stories, maker crafts, snack and free play. It’s one of our more successful programs, as it combines several initiatives into one day full of activities for PreK kids and their families. 

With the Picture Book Maker Craft Project well underway, I am trying to make more visible connections between the book read during story time, and the hands-on activity done during Mini Makers. This week, the kids read the book “They All Saw A Cat” by Brendan Wenzel. For those of you who aren’t as familiar with picture books, this book is ah-mazing. It explores how different animals all see the same thing, a cat, in very different ways.  A child, a mouse, a dog, a bumblebee, a goldfish… all seeing a cat from different perspectives. I have plans to work with slightly older kids (k-2nd grade-ish), reading the story and exploring looking at something through different “lenses”, but with my mini maker crew, I changed the project a bit to fit my audience. 

After reading the book with our partnering librarian Ms. Jan, the kids came to a table covered in construction paper and oil/chalk pastels. I simply asked them to draw a cat, highlighting the passage of the book “the cat walked through the world, whiskers ears and paws.” I really loved seeing how the grown ups helped their kids with the project, allowing them to interact with the materials, but continuing to ask “Where are the whiskers? Where are the paws?” 

It seemed like a simple project, but I find that something really valuable happens when the hands-on exploration connects to the early literacy experience of listening to a book.