The Mommy Rush

Learning, Exploring, Creating, and Growing.

Archive for the category “Crafts / DIY”

Thinking inside the box! The Little Free Library in the neighborhood…

Ok, I’ve been inspired… I only just learned about this concept of the Little Free Libraries that is spreading all over the country, and the first thing I said when I did was, “I want one of those!” When I did some digging into this amazing movement sweeping the country, I learned that it is not too difficult to create one. And so this past Friday, when the Little Son had the day off from school, we began a project: The Carlson Court Little Free Library Project.

In case you’re not familiar with what a Little Free Library is, here’s a quick intro (as excerpted from

Little Free Libraries are small structures that serve as an informal book exchange. Usually positioned atop a post in someone’s front yard, by a bike path or in a park, they seem to have an almost magical effect on people. Once people realize that they can “take” any book they want, they also become aware of a desire to share their favorite reads.

NPR interviewed the founders of the movement this past March, “Give a book, return a book. That’s the motto of what are known as Little Free Libraries.”

USA Today published about them in February – read the article here.

NBC Nightly News caught wind of the Little Free Library in March – watch the video here.

And the article that I read,on was all the inspiration I needed to make it happen for my community.

The concept is simple: put a charming box full of books in a public place, encourage people to share them and to contribute their own.

From the Little Free Library FAQ:

If this were just about providing free books on a shelf, the whole idea might disappear after a few months. There is something about the Little Library itself that people seem to know carries a lot more meaning. Maybe they know that this isn’t just a matter of advertising or distributing products. The unique, personal touch seems to matter, as does the understanding that real people are sharing their favorite books. Leaving notes or bookmarks, having one-of-a-kind artwork on the Library or constantly re-stocking it with different and interesting books can make all the difference.

What I love about the idea is not just that I can give away some of the books that I’ve been holding onto for years – I can do that any day of the week, in fact I dropped a box full off at the Goodwill on Monday. No, what I love about the idea of the Little Free Library is that it is a way of connecting people through sharing books. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that our family is definitely living in the digital world, but there is something about the idea of sharing a good book with a neighbor or friend, that just makes me feel good.

The founders of The Little Free Library movement have designed several standard versions of LFLs, and for a mere $250, you can have one shipped to you ready to be put into use. For some reason, it didn’t seem like the way I wanted to start our LFL. And $250 seems pretty steep for something that could be put together using recycled or reused items. So, this past Friday, on his day off from school, Little Son and I hopped in the car and headed into town to round up some recycled materials from our favorite reuse stores.

We started at The Rebuilding Center, which is a favorite of mine when I need some inspiration for upcycling projects. Little Son loved it because it is on one of the coolest streets in Portland, Mississippi Avenue, which is home to our very favorite ice cream shop, Ruby Jewel, the coolest organic gardening shop we know, Pistil’s, where we got our first batch of redworms for composting several years ago (RIP, little buddies!), and one of several locations of our favorite breakfast (at any time of the day) restaurants, Cup and Saucer Cafe. On this day, we didn’t have time to stop at any of these favorite places, because we were on a mission. At the Rebuilding Center, we managed to find a good-looking cabinet that had been pulled out of a kitchen remodel, and a matching door with glass window panes, so that you can see inside the cabinet. We paid for the items ($20 total) and loaded up, headed for our next stop, Rejuvenation.

Now, Rejuvenation is quite different than The Rebuilding Center, though with kind of the same idea. Depending on where you enter, you’ll think you’re either in a high-end home furnishing store or an antique salvage yard. We entered on the high-end side and bee-lined it to the salvage section for just the right fixture for the handle for the door – a wrought iron sprinkler head from a bucket that had been dropped off recently. Little son immediately chose one with letters along the outside. “What does ELLPOW mean?”, “I think it’s POWELL…”, “Oooohhh, that makes sense, like the street? Cool!” He decided he’d paint the knob electric blue; we paid ($5) and were on our way to find some recycled paint – SCRAP was our next stop.

SCRAP stands for School Community Recycling Action Project and is all about keeping craft and office supplies out of landfills. The first time you walk into the place you will just be amazed, it is literally a warehouse of random junk that you would find in your junk drawer, but sorted to make it easy to find something that you’re looking for. We were looking for paint but on the way to the paint, Little Son found a cool piece of bare wood in a hexagon shape ($.25) that he thought would be perfect for a sign. We grabbed it, found the paint section and were on our way ($3.25 total)

We were home before noon and couldn’t wait to get started on the project – we had some spray paint left over from heaven knows when – we primed and painted the cabinet, removed the old door and put on the new one, painted the knob and the hexagon sign. Little son actually painted the sign with chalkboard paint; he thought it would be cool to change the message on the Library, every once in a while.

It was all looking good until we realized we didn’t have anything that could shelter the LFL from the wonderful Portland weather. So, yesterday morning after the baby girl’s gymnastics class, the 3 of us headed out again with another mission, this time to find and build a roof. We were very lucky to find all we needed at the Habitat for Humanity Restore warehouse in Beaverton . They had roof shingles 6 for $1, plywood and beams 2 for $1, and we left with everything we needed for the grand total of $3.28. Home again to put it all together – cutting, hammering, and painting some more – and now the Carlson Court Little Free Library is ready for it’s debut. Please come for a visit, if you are ever in the neighborhood!


Minds in the Making: 6 Tips to Engage Your Kids This Summer

Last week, I had an idea, one that I think has the potential to be a great idea. Since October of last year, I’ve been self-employed which doesn’t really tell you much except that I have an awesome boss. In my case, I’ve spent the last several months splitting my time between consulting work (emails, phone calls, and reports) and research for a book project on how to improve the American education system (emails, phone calls, and writing). So, really I could be considered a ‘professional communicator’. If it weren’t for the fact that I am generally talking to some pretty amazing teachers and school leaders, who are at the helm of some extremely innovative education initiatives, I might just lose my mind. In truth,the last several years of my unusual career have given me the opportunity to work with and learn from programs from around the world that are having an amazing impact on kids.

So, what is this idea? Since this year is all about balance, and it is the first summer that I will have the luxury of sharing a good portion of it with my littlest kiddos (Little Son-8 and Baby Girl-4), I decided I wanted to try out some of what my research is telling me about how best to engage kids through informal learning experiences. I imagined sort of “home-brewed” summer camp. As I began to think about how I might be able to engage Little Son in a project, I immediately had a vision of him throwing a fit because he would much rather hang out with his friends! LIGHTBULB… Why not create a camp for Little Son AND his friends to engage the group in some informal learning experiences? And the spark was lit…

It took me less than an hour to put together an email that clearly articulated the idea and I sent it out to the parents of the friends of the Little Son. Within 3 days I heard from 13 families who were interested! The responses were pretty consistent, with an approximate 2:1 “brilliant to crazy” ratio, which made me think I may be onto something. So, I set to work coordinating calendars and came up with about 4 weeks where there were enough kids interested and available to plan a local DIY summer camp!

If you’re looking for ways to engage your own children this summer vacation, here are some tips to help nurture their curiosity through informal learning experiences. These techniques are all derived from educators around the US who are using interest-based learning, place-based learning, project-based learning, and service-based learning to ignite students’ natural curiosity about the world around them, to empower them to take control of their own learning, and ultimately to build the skills necessary to be successful in the global economy.

  1. Assess their interests and learning styles. What are they naturally interested in and how do they learn best? Research tells us that when a child is engaged in an activity that falls into their “interest domain”, they are more motivated to learn. It is this intrinsic motivation that has the greatest impact on a child’s abilities and achievements. Find out what interests them – it is the key to their motivation! (I’ve developed an Interest Assessment for use with K-5 grade level, feel free to access and use to help identify interests and learning preferences for your own kids)
  2. Get outside and explore! I recently posted on my own experience recognizing my disconnection with nature. My experiences with Nature University as well as conversations with teachers have convinced me that Nature has a unique power to fully engage your senses and to inspire creativity. I recently interviewed a teacher in Massachusetts who manages the Eco-Explorer program for elementary teachers. One of their techniques for teaching with the outdoors is a “10-minute field trip”, which is just enough time to sketch a flower, test some soil, or clear your head for that next great idea.
  3. Play lots of games (yes, including video games) and create new games! I am not a huge fan of video games, but I will admit my kids do enjoy playing them. And I tend to agree with the research that tells us that Games are NOT the enemy, despite the fact that so much of the world’s problems are blamed on video games. It’s hard to imagine there could be anything good about having our children spend hours staring at a screen and plotting and strategizing about how to reach the next level of Super Mario Brothers. But research tells us that process of learning how to play a new game actually develops the very skills we hope kids will hone by the time they reach adulthood. I am of the philosophy that if playing video games has some benefit, then designing video games must build useful skills as well. The fact is that there are few activities that will provide more training to solve real-world problems than designing a video game. Give kids a chance to play games and use the experience to create something new!
  4. Explore your community. A couple months ago, I spent some time talking with an amazing teacher in San Diego who took this approach with her science students; they spent one day a week out of the school building. And the results were astounding, kids made discoveries about the world just from observations in their own backyard. But even more important,this helps kids to understand what it means to be a part of a community. How are we all connected and how can we contribute to our community to solve a problem or serve a purpose? No matter where you live, there are rich experiences available to introduce your kids to different perspectives.
  5. Ask questions, research, and learn. Do people ever read a newspaper anymore? Well, in our community they do, though information overload is a very real problem and one that our children need to know how to manage. Access to information is no longer a luxury. For kids growing up today, digital natives, the critical issue has become how to cut through the overwhelming amounts of information to determine what is important, relevant, and accurate. Spend time reading and looking for information through available resources and build experiences around what you find. These experiences are building a foundation for lifelong learning, a skill that is necessary in the fast-moving economy we live in.
  6. Learn about another culture. Last summer , our family took an extended vacation to a small-town in Mexico. Instead of staying in a big resort, where we would have met lots of people from places just like our hometown, we rented a home in a small fishing town and attempted to integrate our selves in the local community. I can’t put into words how powerful it was to watch my children adapt to a new environment with a different language, different foods, and different challenges. Although the stay was only 2 weeks, it was long enough for all of us to appreciate that we are just one piece of the global puzzle, and it sparked a desire in the kids to learn about cultures different from our own. Travel is a wonderful way to do this, but it is not the only way, there are organizations and institutions everywhere that are dedicated to sharing their culture with the public. Take advantage of these opportunities for you and your children!

If you’re looking for ideas to keep your kids busy this summer, with worthwhile activities that will allow them to continue to grow, this should get you started. And stay tuned for more information about how to develop your own DIY Summer Camp with your kids!

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